With the recent successes of Disney’s live-action adaptations it was only a matter of time before BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (releases March 17th at a theater near you) made the leap. The 1991 feature film made history as the first and only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, and one of the first to use digital 3D technology. It is the film that empowered little girls everywhere to be who they are even if that means not always fitting in with the popular crowd.
The new film is set up like the original where we get to know the characters from the point of view of the townsfolk as Belle wanders through the village picking out books. They all think she is very peculiar while singing the iconic opening number, “Belle”. Emma Watson fits this role perfectly (after the first minute you forget she is another iconic and powerful character – Hermione Grainger). She brings a strong but humble sincerity even as she’s turning down Gaston (Luke Evans), the town hunk who can have any other girl he wants. This time Gaston’s not just a brute for brute’s sake, he’s a war hero who is a big fish in a very small pond.
Kevin Kline plays Belle’s father, Maurice, an inventor with lots of crazy ideas. However Kline does not play him in a cartoony manner. Maurice feels like an actual character, not a caricature. We even dive into some backstory as to why Maurice and Belle find themselves in this village. They also address the elephant in the room: Belle’s mother.
Four new songs help broaden out the story for several characters. Maurice and Belle both sing “How Does A Moment Last Forever.” “Days in the Sun” is a different take on “Human Again”. Like the latter, “Days in the Sun” is sung by the inanimate objects longing to be free of their captivity. “Aria” is a little expositional piece sung by the incomparable Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) describing the castle and life before the curse. And for the first time on film we hear the Beast sing as his love for her overcomes him and he sets Belle free so she can go back to her father. Dan Stevens as The Beast sings “Evermore” in this moment.
The enchanted characters such as Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) among others are back, and take a little getting used to. We are introduced to them in the Beast’s very dark castle and this in turn made them a little eerie at first glance. However, Lumiere dazzles with the Baz Luhrman-esque musical number, “Be Our Guest”. It seemed very appropriate to have Ewan McGregor belt this one out, not just because this is Lumiere’s song but because of McGregor’s role in Luhrmann’s MOULIN ROUGE.
As beautiful as this remake is, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at times focuses more on the scenery and art direction than the story. The songs are a tad bit slower so we as the audience can take in Belle’s village and the Beast’s ominous castle. If we were in a whole new world I can see where this may be somewhat effective, but since the majority of the audience will be made up of fans who know these environments it is not needed here.
Dan Stevens is a highlight as The Beast. He has real human moments even while buried under all the digital make-up. Like Kevin Kline he played this character in an understated way – it was very believable. In fact, the moment where the Beast does start to soften up is when he and Belle are playing in the snow. She softly hits him with a snowball. He hurls a beachball sized snowball and beams her square in the face. (Disclaimer: it’s not funny to hit anyone in the face with anything, however this got the biggest laugh of the film.)
And now for the big controversial moment of the film. Is that LeFou (Josh Gad) dancing with another man? If you blink you just may miss it. And if you don’t miss it then stand up and applaud Walt Disney Studios for broadening out their scope to show kids there are homosexual people in the world. Gad’s character is effeminate and clearly has a crush on Gaston. If parents are worried their kids will be exposed to this kind of behavior then I don’t think LeFou is the problem. Even though there have already been boycotts, I hope Disney looks forward and broadens out their adaptations in the future.
I am very curious as to the longevity of this retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. If your looking to recapture the feel you had as a child with the animated film, just know there are considerable differences as stated above. it’s not fair to judge a film based on one’s nostalgia, however you may not be able to help it. As for the darkness of the film’s tone I am anxious to see how it plays for the little kids. In general, the performances are very true to form especially the voice cast of the enchanted objects. Seeing Emma Watson in the iconic yellow ball gown will bring a smile to your face.
Want some behind-the-scenes stories from Emma Watson (Belle), Josh Gad (Le Fou), Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston)? Tune in below to Episode 160 of Skywalking Through Neverland to hear. Read about the four new songs and why composer Alan Menken and director Bill Condon chose to add them in.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be released in U.S. theaters on March 17, 2017.