Review - 'Beauty and the Beast'
Disney has been quite successful with their live-action remakes so far, and though not all of them have been critical darlings, they do seem to be getting better and better as the years pass. Bill Condon's Beauty and the Beast doesn't exactly continue the upward trend that started with Kenneth Branagh's take on the classic Cinderella, but manages to uphold the standard and the songs are still as enjoyable and contagiously catchy as they've ever been.
Beauty and the Beast, if you're one of the two people the doesn't know already, follows Belle, a resourceful young woman who loves to read. After deflecting advances from the town's narcissistic specimen, Gaston, she returns to her home where her father is on the verge of departing to pitch his new invention. When he doesn't return she goes looking for him only to find out that he's been taken prisoner by a reclusive beast in a dark castle filled with living furniture. She makes a deal with the beast to swap places with her father, and he accepts.
During her time at the castle she realizes that there is much more to this monster than she originally believed. While they begin to form an unlikely bond, time is running out for the castle's inhabitants and trouble brews at her home village.
Beauty and the Beast is a film that has to get two things right if it wishes to succeed: the dynamic between Belle and the Beast and the music. Thankfully, Bill Condon accomplishes both of these feats. There are so many places where this film could have gone off the rails but thanks to Condon's experience with musicals, doesn't. I absolutely loved most of the musical numbers here. The classic songs you know and love from the original are fully intact and never stray too far from their 1991 counterparts. Surprisingly, there are also three or four completely new songs that, while not quite as good as the originals, manage to fit right in with the others and even add some welcome depth to some of the characters.
The relationship between the beast and Belle is also well-conceived. I was a bit skeptical at first due to Emma Watson's slightly wooden portrayal of Belle, but once they're out in the snow hurdling snowballs at each other and the music is playing at full-blast, I couldn't help but be swept away by it all. Dan Stevens does an excellent job as the beast. He's mostly a motion-captured CG creation for the film, but the effects team made the wise choice of investing a lot into keeping his expressions intact and creating eyes that actually look alive and not glassy or vacant like they can sometimes seem when they've been sculpted by a computer program.
The rest of the cast is absolutely stacked. The biggest standout for me is probably Luke Evans as Gaston. Evans has the perfect visage, voice and enthusiasm that the character asks for. If there ever was an actor that was born to play a role, it IS Luke Evans as Gaston. Another character that is just about perfect is Maurice, who is played with heart by Kevin Kline. Josh Gad is also good as Gaston's "clingy" companion LeFou. Then we have a whole swath of cursed pieces of furniture that adorn the Beast's castle, most of which are voiced by well-known stars. The two biggest stand-outs for me were Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth. McGregor actually surprised me the most here and ended up being my favorite voice actor. His French accent is not great, but he has the perfect kind of enthusiasm and his version of "Be Our Guest" is one of the stand-out moments in the film. Also memorable is an unrecognizable Emma Thomson as Mrs. Potts and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza.
Now I've showered this film in praise so far, but it does have a couple of glaring flaws, but they may or may not effect your viewing experience based off of what you want out of this movie. If you're looking for a film that sticks close to the original and almost never strays, you're going to get pretty much exactly what you want. But if you're like me and you want something a bit new that maintains the spirit of the original but tries some new things, you might be slightly disappointed. While it's sometimes nice to have a film that plays it safe with its beloved source material, it also runs the risk of becoming predictable. To me, that is this film's largest flaw. I never once was uncertain of what was going to happen and therefor, any sort of dramatic tension or mystery was lost. As I mentioned before, there are some new musical numbers here and there, and they were a refreshing breath of air in a film that sometimes seemed like it was only interested in ticking boxes, albeit ticking them with a great amount of flair.
Beauty and the Beast is a movie filled with heartfelt moments and lavish musical numbers, but it's not so great at transitioning from one to the other. Every time the film flirted with the idea of fleshing out its characters with some original dialogue, it would get scared and spit out another classic moment or song as if it thought it would lose its audience if it wasn't exactly like the original.
Despite my apprehension towards the predictable nature of the film, it always reeled me back in with its spectacular music and its undeniable heart. While Emma Watson might not have been the best choice for Belle, she's decent and she is supported by a vast lineup of amazing characters played by great talents. If you're looking for a good retelling of the now-classic Disney tale, look no further than Beauty and the Beast.