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Three Views: Beauty and the Beast

March 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

There is perhaps no bigger test as to the resilience of Disney’s current trend of doing live action remakes of their animated classics than Beauty and the Beast.  This is a pretty much beat for beat recreation of their iconic 1991 release, a film so beloved and perfectly constructed, that the question arises as to why there was even a need to remake it at all?

But this remake does now exist, so we can all at least breathe a sigh of relief that it does justice to the material, delivering a glitzy and often enchanting musical extravaganza that captures the essence of what made the original work so well.  Although the animated film is still superior in my book, I personally liked this new version quite a bit as well.

As we all know, this “tale as old as time” follows a young prince (Dan Stevens) who is transformed into a beast as punishment for his selfish ways, a curse meant to teach him that true beauty lies within, and can only be broken if he falls in love before the last petal falls from a magical rose.  Belle (Emma Watson) is a young woman who lives with her eccentric father Maurice (Kevin Kline) in a small French town, and is seen as an outsider for being free spirited and loving books, things that were frowned upon for women at the time.

The ghastly and boorish Gaston (Luke Evans) is determined to marry Belle, but she is disinterested in his increasingly overt advances, while he remains seemingly oblivious to the crush that his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) clearly harbours on him.  When Belle’s father is taken prisoner at the castle for accidentally trespassing, she decides to take his place instead, and starts to form a mutual understanding with the Beast as she comes to see the wounded soul behind his exterior.  But with Gaston hatching a twisted plan to “rescue” Belle, the Beast and their romance is threatened.

The casting is a big part of this film’s success.  Emma Watson fits the role of Belle quite nicely, and we can tell that she harbours a lot of affection for the character, who she grew up admiring in the animated version.  Dan Stevens also delivers a good performance, making the Beast as sympathetic as he needs to be for this story to work.  Luke Evans embraces the conceited buffoonery of Gaston and makes for a solid villain, and Josh Gad is a comic highlight of the supporting cast as LeFou.  Kevin Kline is also quite good as Belle’s caring father, and the star-studded cast is rounded out by fine performances courtesy of Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, just some of the delightful household items sprung to life who remain scene stealers in this version.

The actors also do a good job in the singing department, which is a good thing because the songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS before the original film was released, remain a big part of the story here.  Pretty much all of the iconic moments from the animated film are recreated, with mostly successful results.  Although “Be Our Guest” was a little more dazzling in its original hand-drawn form, it’s still a showstopper here, as is “Gaston,” which has been updated a bit to make it a touch more suggestive.  The ballroom dance remains almost as magical, and it’s hard not to get a bit choked up when Emma Watson walks down the stairs in that beautiful yellow dress.

The film isn’t quite as successful at carving out its own identity as previous live action remakes like Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which acted more as new iterations of classic stories rather than beat for beat remakes of their animated counterparts.  But when viewed as a companion to the animated film rather than something meant to surpass it, Beauty and the Beast still succeeds on many levels.  The few tweaks that the film does make to the original material all work well, mainly serving to flesh out the backstory of Belle’s mother, and to spend a bit more time showing Belle and the Beast forming a mutual bond through books and their shared loneliness in one of this film’s best sequences.

The other aspect of this remake that has been getting a lot of attention is LeFou, who the creators have openly said is meant to be gay, a fact that was arguably hinted at in the animated version as well.  The thing is, his sexuality is still very much coded here through body language and double entendres that suggest his unreciprocated pining for Gaston, and the much talked about “exclusively gay moment” at the end flashes by so quickly that some audiences might miss it.  The whole thing seems more like Disney testing the waters for future LGBT characters than a huge part of this film, but it’s still a positive step in the right direction that will hopefully lead to more representation from the studio.

The other big difference is that the animated film was a concise 84 minutes in length, where as this version runs for over two hours, a running time that is mostly justified through three added songs and some additional character moments.  A few elements have been added to make Belle, who was also pretty headstrong in the original, appear even more independent in a welcome sign of the times.  Some basic changes have also been made to the other title character.  The Beast’s anguish and pain actually felt somewhat more guttural in the animated version, which packed a greater emotional wallop because of it, where as this film presents him more as lonely, perhaps because the filmmakers felt his anger might have been harder to portray in live action.  It’s a slightly different approach to the character is all.

Director Bill Condon has assembled a visually sumptuous film, with pretty much everything on screen from the impressively detailed production design of the castle to the gorgeous costumes, providing a true feast for the eyes.  Put simply, this new version of Beauty and the Beast is good where the animated film was and still is great, but the excellent cast and the reverence they hold for the many classic moments ensures that this film delivers a pretty enchanting experience in its own right.

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The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Belle (Emma Watson) in Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on the 1991 Disney animated film (which in turn was based on a classic fairy tale), this live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is the newest telling of the story.  Disney has recently been remaking some of their classic animated films in live-action instalments (The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland…), and Beauty and the Beast is the most-recent on their list.  It’s an interesting idea, taking old classics and retelling them in a new way to bring them back to audiences, and in many ways it’s what Hollywood has always done so Disney may as well do it themselves.

The story for this version remains largely the same – Belle is the smart, book-loving daughter of inventor Maurice, who are both seen as different from the others in the town.  The army captain Gaston keeps trying to win Belle’s affection, but she continuously rejects him as he is a buffoon.  When Maurice gets lost in the woods and finds himself in a circle of snow that surrounds a castle – this version is explicitly mentioned as taking place in June and the entire woods around the Beast’s castle is enchanted in a forest of snow and other enchantments – he is taken prisoner by the Beast after plucking a rose from the outside garden.  When his horse returns to the village alone, Belle sets out to find her father and the horse takes her back to the castle, where she trades places with her father to save his life.  Maurice returns to the village and tries to convince the villagers of the Beast’s existence, while Belle begins to explore her new life at the castle and get to know who the Beast really is.

The set design is very intricate here and, while it is an adjustment from the animated film to see the ornate detailing on the enchanted household items at the castle, it does work here.  The costume design is also very well done, as is the animation of the enchantments.  Emma Watson completely embodies her role as Belle, giving a nice level of depth to the character, and the rest of the cast is well-suited to their roles as well.  Some of the more minor characters are also given a bit more screen-time in this film, and a backstory is added for both Belle and the Beast due to the expansion to 2+ hours (up from 84 minutes).

While it is different and expanded in parts, overall fans of the original animated film will find a lot to like here and the opportunity to revisit the story and characters on screen.  A well put together adaptation.

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Maurice (Kevin Kline) and Belle (Emma Watson) in Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast Review By Tony Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Beauty and the Beast is the live-action Disney remake of their 1991 animated musical classic, directed by Bill Condon with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles. At 129 minutes, it is half again as long as the earlier version, allowing for more back story, character development and music.

The brilliant cast is mostly British-born, except for the Americans Kevin Kline as Belle’s father Maurice and Josh Gad as LeFou, Gaston’s (Luke Evans) sidekick. The enchanted characters include candlestick Lumière (Ewan McGregor), the clock Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen), teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack), Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and the harpsichord Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). The CGI castle and its effects combine beautifully with the live characters. The Beast’s appearance reminded me of the Bête from the 1946 French version, though more bovine than feline.

As suggested above, the script is more mature than the 1991 version, but just as child friendly, despite rumours about gay LeFou. At least his character is more interesting than the bumbling dwarf in the earlier film. In the century or so of movie history, there have been countless gay references, way more blatant than the brief flashes here that one could easily ignore. The difference is that now everyone is aware while almost no one cares, whereas before they were often necessarily hidden to all but those in the know.

To summarize, if you liked the 1991 version you are in for a treat with this latest Beauty and the Beast.

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Consensus: Although Disney’s iconic 1991 animated film remains superior, this live action version of Beauty and the Beast is an often enchanting experience in its own right thanks to the gorgeous production design, and an excellent cast led by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles. ★★★ (out of 4)

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