This tale as old as time is truly a beauty, not a beast.
Every once in a while a movie comes along that has people buzzing with anticipation. Disney has done this several times now, but now with some excellent PR, the “house of the mouse” had generated a new level of excitement for this latest “animation to live” remake of the classic 1991 animated feature Beauty and the Beast. The only problem with building that level of excitement is running the risk for disappointment. Well now that we here at TG2 Studios have seen this latest cinematic telling of this classic tale, the question must be asked… Does Beauty and the Beast actually live up to the hype and expectation that has been building since its announcement back in 2015? Yes it does! Put quite simply, I absolutely loved this film!
Given that this is a remake of the original animated film, along with the songs and music, it would be difficult to spoil it in any way. We are all familiar with the story along with its variations from the classic fairytale La Belle et la Bête, and yet some of what is attempted in this remake allows for those details to suddenly feel new. Even when some iconic scenes and moments arrive in this film, they don’t necessarily feel like they are re-treading on familiar ground. There is an honesty in all of the performances, even those that are done through CGI, that even just an expressive look by a single character at a key moment will cause for you to get a catch in your throat.
Much has been made of the casting for this film, especially that of Emma Watson in the role of Belle. There has been some concern that perhaps she was too young to be able to take on a role of this nature. I would disregard those concerns as she gives a performance that shows a fully realized, three-dimensional character. Even after the opening production number, “Bonjour,” we understand Belle. As the movie develops, so does our understanding of her. This can be a tricky thing to do since most fans will forever link her to her character of Hermione from the Harry Potter series, but Emma commands every scene she is in, and her experience working in such a popular series of fantasy movies has certainly helped her in being able to work with the delightful CGI characters that make Beauty and the Beast such a beloved film. Scenes where she interacts with the personnel in the castle, ranging from Mrs. Potts all the way to the Beast himself, her acting is strong enough to the point where we believe that these other characters are real. If Emma has any shortcomings it’s only in her singing. She is not a trained singer for the stage, so her voice doesn’t project (even though the singing was all pre-recorded in a studio) like everyone else’s does. It has a muted quality to it that I found disappointing, and I did not care for the way she shaped words and phrases in the songs. They all felt clipped that only supported the thought that she really shouldn’t be singing. Mind you, her voice wasn’t terrible. It’s just not Broadway musical quality. However, that’s not the same with Dan Stevens as Beast. Even though he doesn’t do much singing in the film, he does get one additional song that is new for the film titled “Evermore,” and while Dan’s voice was modulated in a way to make it more “beast-like” during his time of transformation, he nonetheless showed that he has a natural talent for singing. Whether or not he has had any proper vocal training, what he delivered in the film shows that he could easily have a career on the stage, or at the very least, musical television or movies.
Another couple of standout performances are those of Luke Evans as narcissistic bad boy Gaston, and Josh Gad as LeFou, the faithful friend to Gaston. There has been much made about a possible “gay moment” in the film, with plenty of people pointing fingers towards LeFou and Gaston. Whether or not that comes in to play is up to the viewer to decide. What can be commented on is how well both of these actors took to their roles. Up until now, Luke Evans was probably best remembered as Bard by most movie going audiences. However one look at his resumé and it’s clear he has some serious acting chops, and he makes the most of that playing this villainous character, but never at the risk of making him two-dimensional. For a character that is totally shallow, Evans allows for Gaston to have some depth to him, but never to the point where he becomes the sympathetic character of the film. He also shows his training in musical theater with the two big musical numbers he’s a part of, the songs “Gaston” and “The Mob Song.” However, the biggest surprise in this movie is Josh Gad as LeFou. Without giving anything away, all I can say is that his character is probably the biggest departure from the animated film, and what a pleasant change that was too! While he shows his loyalty to Gaston throughout much of the movie, it’s in the song “Gaston” that he is finally given his moment to shine. His antics during that production number are so well played (but never overplayed) that he pretty much steals the movie from that one scene alone. And yet his character has some surprises in it that definitely had me smiling throughout the film.
There are other notable actors in this film, ranging from Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and even Stanley Tucci. While they are not central to the story, they help to give the movie a certain credibility with their performances and do a marvelous job serving as supporting cast.
There are two other details that must be addressed. The first is the production of this film. From the moment we started to see teasers and trailers for this film we knew that we were in store for something truly magnificent. This is a magical story, so the setting must also be totally magical, and no detail was missed. As I alluded to earlier, the look of this film in terms of set design and direction is more than just a faithful reproduction of the animated movie. The filmmakers went that extra step to give us something so wondrous that it feels both familiar and new, all at the same time.
Lastly, there is the music. From the beginning we are introduced to familiar melodies that fans of the animated film will immediately recognize, but when the songs arrive, especially the big production numbers, the music goes in new directions. This is a tribute to original composer Alan Menken, who returned to score the film’s music. The big production numbers were so spectacular that I caught myself nodding my head in rhythm to the songs, and when we got to the end of the enormously popular “Be Our Guest” I actually wanted to literally stand up and applaud. However, even the humble numbers were unbelievably, exquisitely gorgeous, and Emma Thompson’s turn with the title song, “Beauty and the Beast” not only pays wonderful homage to Angela Lansbury’s famous rendition, but the entire number with its orchestrations and visual direction was so amazing that it had both the Two Gay Geeks crying quite freely. To say that it was beautiful would be a gross understatement. The movie does spotlight all of the original songs that Menken co-wrote with Howard Ashman, but this is a 2 hour film, so more musical content was called upon and Menken, along with lyricist Tim Rice, crafted more songs that allows for some of the other cast members to have their moment in the sun.
While some people have been criticizing Disney for their lack of originality by going on this huge spree of animated to live remakes, their track record thus far has been pretty amazing. They have managed to produce something that is not meant to replace the original animated feature, but to actually stand shoulder to shoulder with it. It pays honor to those classics in such a way that would probably want to make fans watch those animated versions again purely for their own sake. Beauty and the Beast is no exception. While I found this film to be totally engaging from the moment you hear the familiar piano opening from the animated film, it’s stunning beauty in no way ever made me feel like I could never the original Disney classic.
To sum it all up, Beauty and the Beast is a magnificent film. While there are a few, small shortcomings, there are even more moments that do more than just makeup for it. Those “plusses” this film delivers are so wonderful that they overshadow any disappointments I may have experienced during this viewing. This is one of Disney’s finest films.
I give Beauty and the Beast 5 out of 5 Long Stemmed Roses
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