In 1991, Disney released Beauty and the Beast, an animated musical that became the second release in the Disney Animation Renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid. This original musical was so powerful that just two years later it became a Broadway production that ran for over a decade. With animation and stage conquered, it was only a matter of time for a live-action film adaption of the musical to come to fruition. Directing this movie musical is the director of the academy award nominated movie musical Dreamgirls Bill Condon.
Because this live action interpretation is based on the 1991 animated classic, there are no spoilers. The story plays exactly the same with only a few additional points. In this version, Belle is not only the odd duck for her love of reading but also seen as a troublemaker because she encourages literacy for all women. Gaston is not just a great hunter, but a war hero. The Beast’s human persona is still shallow but there are moments where he speaks of how loved to dance. It is also revealed that as a prince, he was primarily raised by the castle’s help as his parents had no time for him. Maurice (Belle’s father) is eccentric not just as a quirky trait, but its shown he is a widower dedicating all of his to the memory of his lost wife. And LeFou is not just in awe of Gaston, but likely is actually in love with him. Because the story is so familiar and thus predictable, these additions are meant to provide another perspective and thus a new viewing experience. The additions are welcome and do help by providing more character depth without truly altering the whole story. I would say it’s like the “Director’s Cut” of the Beauty and the Beast story.
The performances from the all-star cast are what are likely to be the big takeaway from this live action interpretation. Emma Watson’s onscreen persona since her start in the Harry Potter film franchise is the obvious fit for Belle. She is pretty, feminine, strong willed, well spoken, intelligent and marches to the beat of her own drum. Dan Stevens is best known for his time on Downton Abbey and the new FX show Legion. He is physically seen only in the prologue and the end of the film so his performance is purely vocal. While his voice is deepened through special effects, it is his pacing that really manages to convey the tortured petulant aristocrat persona of a man trapped in a beast’s body. Steven’s singing performance is more than adequate with a strong voice and great range. Josh Gad’s LeFou is Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer and Frozen) playing himself, but that’s not a bad thing. Of all of the characters Josh Gad was the one that we all knew could sing and perfectly matched LeFou in attitude and appearance… no surprises here. Master actor Kevin Kline (Dave, In & Out) takes his character of Maurice and instead of making him a senile joke, brings a nuanced performance of a man that because of great loss is damaged mentally and emotionally and thus sometimes cannot find the right words or express himself properly. Now of all of the physical performances, the one that was amazing and a surprise was Luke Evans as Gaston. While Luke Evans is not the mountain of a man that is the vision usually associated with Gaston, he is able to bring the swagger and athleticism. Being known for his macho roles in the past (The Hobbit Trilogy, Fast & Furious 6), it was a huge surprise to not only see Luke Evans sing and dance but be really good. Of all of the performances, Luke Evans steals the show despite playing such a despicable character.
Now as everyone knows in addition to the characters portrayed by people, there are the characters who were turned into furniture. Filling roles of the help are Ewan McGregor as the candlestick Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock, Emma Thompson as the Tea Pot Mrs. Potts, Audra McDonald as the wardrobe Madame Garderobe, and Stanley Tucci as the piano Maestro Cadenza. While all of these actors do make on screen appearances, the majority of their work is vocal. Ewan McGregor surprised the world in Moulin Rouge when we all learned of his amazing singing voice, so it is no surprise here when delivers the popular song “Be Our Guest” with all of the gusto and personality it deserves. Emma Thompson, recognized widely from her time spent in the Harry Potter Franchise, manages to channel Angela Lansbury in her rendition of “Tale as Old as Time.” Audra McDonald is most known from Private Practice, but apparently has a stunning singing voice as in her human form she is the singer of the balls thrown by the prince. Stanley Tucci, probably best known from his recent work on the Hunger Games Franchise, gets to flesh out the role of the piano by channeling Amadeus Mozart in his performance as Maestro Cadenza, a role I don’t actually recall too much from the original animated feature. Finally, Sir Ian McKellan brings out the curmudgeon of Cogsworth but unfortunately seems to have his role limited throughout the film.
In summation, those that have never seen any iteration of the Disney Beauty and the Beast story (and I can’t imagine who hasn’t) this film is a great introduction as it manages to tell the story of looking past appearances and finding a person’s true character. For the majority of the world that is familiar with this tale as old as time, the story has no new takes but does offer a bit more depth to characters with certain character’s backstories being filled out.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST opens in theatres everywhere now!
You can find more info on the film at the official BEAUTY AND THE BEAST website here http://movies.disney.com/beauty-and-the-beast-2017.
Photos courtesy of Disney Pictures!