Review: Beauty and the Beast

Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopolous
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Released: March 23, 2017
Grade: A-

Beauty and the Beast
Since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves back in 1938, Walt Disney Animated Studios has been a powerhouse when it comes to animated features.  Their films continue to enthral young children and create life-long memories.  I have a colleague at work who has seen Frozen a few more times than he’d like… but that’s because his own kids love the characters and the songs so much.

We’ve seen an interesting shift over the past decade with Disney translating some of its iconic films in a live action form.  Alice in Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016) were all based on animated features previously produced by the studio.  Beauty and the Beast continues the run and will be followed by more in the coming years including Mulan, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.

For those a little too young to remember, the original Beauty and the Beast was released back in 1991.  It reeled in $145 million at box-office and became the first animated film to ever be nominated at the Academy Awards for best picture.  It was surprisingly short by today’s standards.  The film had a running time of just 84 minutes.  It’s worth noting because this remake clocks in at 129 minutes – highlighting that a few parts of have been changed to add more detail to the narrative.

The broad story is relatively the same however.  There’s an unkind prince who levies high taxes on his kingdom’s poorest citizens.  Instead of giving back to the community, he wastes the money on lavish parties in his expansive castle.  He’s about to learn that what goes around, comes around.  An enchantress places a spell on the prince and turns him into a ugly beast.  He will only return to human form if he can find true love and have the feelings reciprocated.  That won’t be an easy task given his hideous appearance.

Through the use of an elaborate opening musical number, it’s now time for Belle (Watson) to enter the picture.  She’s a farm girl who loves her father (Kline) but has grown tired of the provincial life.  She wants to leave behind the small minded people from the village and explore what the rest of the world has to offer.  She’s also keen to get away from Gaston (Stevens) a high-ranking soldier who is trying to win her affections but won’t take no for an answer.

Through a series of well-timed events, Belle ends up at the beast’s castle and an unorthodox love story begins.  Helping push them together are a group of talking objects including a candelabra (McGregor), a clock (McKellen) and a teapot (Thompson).  They all have a vested interest in breaking the spell since they too were once humans who served loyally under the prince.

In terms of spectacle, director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) has spared no expense.  The sets, the costumes and the visual effects make this a true epic.  As the Beast, Dan Stevens looks as real as anyone could imagine.  He’s not wearing a mask or a costume.  His character was created using head-shaking digital imagery.  The talking objects, all with recognisable voices, are adorably cute (especially Chip the teacup).

The cast didn’t need to spend too much time learning the song lyrics.  That’s because they’ve been singing them since 1991.  This updated version uses many songs from the original with a few new ones thrown in.  Several cast members have a background in musical theatre and that’s evident when you see the choreography throughout.  Singing on screen is something new for Emma Watson (Harry Potter) but she has a voice and charm that fits the material.

Given the love for the original and the fact this is a faithful adaptation, there’s a familiarity about the material that’s a little difficult to shake.  Trying to stretch it out beyond two hours with its simple message (beauty lies within) also creates a few lulls in the second act.  The supporting characters do a great job picking up the slack during this phase.

With La La Land winning the Oscar for best picture (well, at least for a few minutes) and Beauty and the Beast getting released, it seems that musicals are back in fashion.

You can read by interview with star Josh Gad by clicking here.