This tale as old as time has been told once again. But is it an unique way to see the original tale or simply a rehashing of a classic?
Disney seems to be running out of ideas a bit. Once a land of imaginative innovation and original stories, Disney’s creation of original stories has been reduced or simply passed on to Pixar. Instead, Disney has taken to using other properties (Marvel Comics, Star Wars) to expand their movie library, and even simply remaking their own popular works. Enter Beauty and the Beast. While certainly not the first of Disney’s live-action remakes (Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book), this certainly is one of the most anticipated, as the original Beauty and the Beast is far more widely renowned by adults and children alike. Many were skeptical about this adaptation of the story, which only grew with the news of a gay character being added to the mix. But the results should put those skeptics to rest.
Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful iteration of the beloved fairy tale, providing much of the magic that the original motion picture had as well as a few changes that allow the film to stand out from its predecessor. Beginning with the tale of a prince (still without a name) turning away a homeless woman who turns out to be a witch that enchants him and his entire castle. Cursed to possess the appearance of a hideous monster, the Beast now must find love in order to break the curse. After many years, a young woman from a small town named Belle finds her way to the cursed castle and is taken captive. However, over time, Belle begins to understand the man beneath the Beast and falls for him. From a plot stand point, few changes are made. While many may see it as redundant, the decision to leave the plot the same is the correct choice rather than attempting to “remake the wheel”. However, there are certain plot points that take on new details for a more complete story.
For example, the fate of Belle’s mother is made clear through a scene which takes the Beast and Belle to Paris, where she lived before moving to the small town. It is there that she discovers that her mother fell ill to the plague and this disease forced Belle’s father, Maurice, to take an infant Belle to the small town where she could be safe from harm. This gives more background information for Belle’s desire to travel, while also giving Maurice a far more moral ground to stand on rather than simply being stubborn. Another example is the addition of the Beast’s father turning him into a horrible person. In an attempt to give the Beast some more character depth, the story was told of how the Beast’s mother passed away while he was young, leaving him under the care of his father. That father was said to be a cruel man and desired to make his son the same. This explains the horrid personality that the Beast has when we first meet him, and also gives more reason why the servants remained in the castle with him (they said nothing while his father changed him, now they feel obligated to help him in his time of need).
Even some of the characters were given different traits to help them stand out or simply become more complete. The most talked about change was to LaFou, the short lackey of the villain Gaston. LaFou was portrayed as a gay character, whose admiration for Gaston may have in fact been infatuation despite being cast aside by Gaston. Later in the film, he gets his comeuppance, realizing that the object of his desires was not as great a person as he thought. Gaston is another character given more depth, described as a war veteran who has returned home as a hero. It helps to explain why he is so admired by the entire town. While many of these changes are well included into the story, some elements feel unfinished by the film’s end. Nevertheless, they help complete a story told many times before.
As for the special effects, Disney has once again done an excellent job of transitioning the magic of animation to live action. The scene where the servants perform the extravagant “Be Our Guest” number is beautifully done and the views of the castle were astonishing. All of the cursed members of the castle were expertly created, giving life to these objects that were also given a realism to fit into the live action world. The Beast was most impressive, finding an excellent balance between the intimidating horror that he was meant to be seen as and the gently giant that he soon reveals himself to be.
The casting for this film was excellent, with the ensemble cast making a mark on the film without overshadowing the major players. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen stand out as the bickering pair of servants Lumiere and Cogsworth. Kevin Kline makes a sympathetic Maurice, a far cry from the bumbling buffoon from the original film. While Emma Watson and Luke Evans both play their roles exceptionally well, it is Dan Stevens as the Beast that really makes the film. Despite the CGI appearance, Stevens conveys the emotional changes of the Beast superbly and provides an excellent performance throughout, including his performance of “Evermore”, one of several songs that were created specially for this film.
Grade = 8.5/10
All and all, the film is a wonderful ode to the original animated movie, capturing the magic that many of us have come to love about Beauty and the Beast. With several more live action remakes coming in the near future, including The Little Mermaid, Mulan, and The Lion King, let’s hope that this film is a sign of good things to come from the ever-magical Disney.