I know the first question you are thinking: Did we really need another version of Beauty And The Beast? The answer, based on the sheer joy, eye-popping visuals, soaring vocals and pure art of movie craftsmanship on display in Bill Condon’s live-action Disney reboot is, well, yes. Of course this is not a startlingly original piece of musical moviemaking like La La Land, but it is not trying to be. In terms of sheer razzle-dazzle filmmaking it marches to its own drummer in an era when this kind of film was relegated to the animators.
The story, as the Oscar-winning song goes, is a tale as old as time, and in cinematic terms actually as old as 1946, when Jean Cocteau’s wonderful French take on the tale of the enchanting Belle and her relationship with the handsome Prince-turned-horny Beast. Disney got the first-ever Best Picture Oscar nomination for an animated film in 1991 with its tuneful ‘toon based on the story, which was then turned into a major Broadway musical.
Now it has come full circle, continuing a trend of making live-action versions of the studio’s animated classics from Cinderella , Maleficent and The Jungle Book to the upcoming The Lion King and Dumbo. Before this idea gets completely burnt out (and I am tiring of the format just listing all these titles), it is a pleasure to have this dazzling beauty of a Disney musical back in a bright, bouncy and shiny new package since this is the one that started the trend and revived Disney’s animation house all those years ago. Yes, it feels all so familiar and soooooo Disney, but as I say in my video review (watch above) in the hands of Condon, who certainly knows his way around the movie musical having done the magnificent screen adaptation of Dreamgirls as well as the screenplay for Chicago (the last musical to win Best Picture), it is pure delight, fully cooked, and featuring a near-perfect cast.
Emma Watson is the ideal Belle, the young woman who is held captive in the castle where the Beast (Dan Stevens) is holed up full of self-doubt and self-loathing after being cursed and turned from a handsome Prince into this nightmarish vision of a human being. It is no spoiler to say they eventually warm up to each other, culminating in the beautiful scene sporting that title song I can’t get out my head since seeing the film at last night’s Hollywood world premiere.
The villain of the piece is the dashing but devious Gaston (Luke Evans), who pursues Belle relentlessly, accompanied by Le Fou (Josh Gad), his sidekick who seems to be more interested in Gaston than Belle would ever be. Le Fou is said to be Disney’s first gay character — and already stirring a bit of controversy in Alabama — but the inference is not overt and lands more into bromance territory than anything else.
Of course, the Beast’s abode is populated with all those singing and swinging inanimate objects come-to-life, and the big worry for me was if in a live-action picture like this they would lose half the charm they had in the original. I am not about to forget those indomitable characters from 1991, particularly Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts, but this group gets it right in their own way. The candelabra Lumiere (Ewan MacGregor), the clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and the Wardrobe (the luminous Audra McDonald) have all been meticulously cast right down to their gold-plated CGI’d incarnations, and they deliver — particularly in the film’s signature production number “Be Our Guest,” which has been gorgeously filmed and choreographed in a number that even Busby Berkeley (part of its inspiration) would love.
In fact, the memorable score from Alan Mencken, the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, soars in every sense of the word. To hear McDonald’s glorious voice on the big screen is just one of this film’s many pleasures. There are differences from the ‘toon to be sure, including a drawn-out subplot involving Belle and her relationship to her widowed father (Kevin Kline), but those who require the letter of the book in adaptations will be happy this is as faithful to the source as it can be. Condon clearly tips his hat to Cocteau’s version as well, including the wording on the sumptuous end credits. There are also moments — such as Belle running up a grassy hillside where I thought she might launch into singing “The Sound Of Music” — that recall what we have seen before, but we haven’t seen it all come together like this lavish and expensive effort in a while.
Cinematography, production design, costumes, special effects, editing, orchestrations and everything else have been meticulously crafted to deliver the ultimate Disney treat. Families will eat it up. Beauty And The Beast is not afraid to be exactly what it is: a blast from the past for a time that desperately needs some good old fashioned fun. It may indeed be a “tale as old as time,” but in this case as least, it is nice that time has come again.
The screenplay is by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Producers for Mandeville Films are Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman. Disney releases it March 17. Do you plan to see Beauty And The Beast? Let us know what you think.