Movie review: Disney scores with a ‘Tale as old as time’
–“Beauty and The Beast” was a unique accomplishment when it was released in 1991. The animated film – which introduced audiences to Belle – has endured as one of the most popular animated films, and it was also the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards total, and took home Oscars for its score and Best Original Song.
For Disney, what was old is new again. Beginning a few years ago, the company began transforming its classic animated films into live action films. “Cinderella” got the live action treatment in 2015, though it dropped its classic musical numbers. “The Jungle Book” roared into theaters last spring, albeit with just a couple of its classical music numbers.
But for the adaptation of “Beauty and The Beast,” it only makes sense that music has to be a critical part of the presentation. And this new, live-action version features an incredible cast and all the incredible musical numbers audiences have come to know and love.
And audiences responded. The film earned more than $170 million in the United States opening weekend, making it the biggest March release of all time. And it’s a film that lives up to the hype.
The film centers on Belle (Emma Watson), a girl living in a small provincial town in France. She has a love of literature and adventure, which means she doesn’t fit the mold in her typical town. Her father (Kevin Kline) is a clockmaker and has done his best to raise his daughter on his own.
In the town, the local prototypical male, Gaston (Luke Evans), has all the women fawning over him, but not Belle. Naturally he’s set his sights on making Belle his wife and, with the help of his friend LeFou (Josh Gad), he sets out to woo her.
When her father goes missing on a return from the market, Belle sets out to find him. Instead, she finds he’s been taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens), a prince who is suffering a curse because of his lack of compassion. In fact, his whole household is suffering under the curse, forced to live their lives as common household items – a tea pot, a clock, a candelabra – until they can find a reverse for the curse before it becomes permanent.
Belle offers to take her father’s place and becomes the Beast’s prisoner. But soon she comes to see there’s more to him than she first believed.
Everyone is familiar with this classic tale, which has been told and re-told many times. But this classic live-action film from director Bill Condon seeks to follow the narrative from the animated film – including the musical numbers – while adding some flare all its own. And it’s wildly successful.
This is a film that looks beautiful and has a very stage musical quality at times. And I mean that in the best sense. You can see the care that was taken in creating the elaborate set pieces, which were built specifically for this film. The sets, costumes and production design really help set the scene and give the film a beautiful and engrossing quality.
The performances are also great. Watson – best known for her role in the “Harry Potter” franchise – is enchanting as Belle. She’s great in all the scenes, and does a beautiful job with the demanding musical role. Stevens, best known from “Downton Abbey,” is also great, and the CGI used to make his Beast come to life works well.
The rest of the supporting cast – including Evans, Gad, Kline and voice work from Ewan McGreggor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, among others – all do well. There are some incredible and lavish musical numbers that are beautifully done and a joy to watch. I particularly loved “Be Out Guest,” one of the most famous pieces from the film, which seemed like a lavish ride at a Disney theme park in the best of ways.
There was a lot of hype and expectation for this film, and it hit the mark. This was the best film I’ve seen so far in 2017, and I imagine it’s a film that will be remembered for any number of reasons come awards season in the fall. It’s a must-see film for fans of the original and anyone who loves a story beautifully told.
“Beauty and the Beast” has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for some action violence, peril and frightening images.
Four stars out of four.