One of Disney’s (several) reliable streams of revenue of late has been live action reproductions of their most beloved animated hits. Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and The Jungle Book have all rode this formula to lofty box office receipts, though the films quality range greatly (Favreau’s Jungle Book easily being the strongest of the efforts). So it’s no wonder Disney got director Bill Condon (known for musical hits Chicago and Dreamgirls) to work on a live action re-imagining of their 1991 animated smash Beauty and the Beast, which has the distinction of being the only animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards before the expansion of the field of nominees in 2009.
With a beloved source material, a more than capable director and a starring turn from Emma Watson, the popular actress best know for playing Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter series, as Belle there was never any doubt that the Beauty & the Beast film was going to be a good movie and a financial success. The film plays out as a live action shot-for-shot remake of the 1991 original, with the addition of 25 minutes of deleted scenes a couple new (and entirely forgettable) songs added, ballooning the film’s runtime to 129 minutes (the animated take clocked in at a lean 84 minutes). Of course, it makes one question the whole enterprise as the film does not really justify its existence beyond being another titanic hit for the House of Mouse.
Unlike the previous live action adaptations, Beauty and the Beast is a relatively recent film having been released 26 years ago (a notably perfect amount of time for millennials with kids to get a nice dose of nostalgia), and the movie does not alter the plot or make any notable changes from the original. At times it seems like watching a Broadway reproduction, but with CGI-furnishings voiced by a wide range of notable actors and actresses. The biggest question I personally have is if anyone would like this new Beauty and the Beast on its own merits, if the 1991 iteration did not exist? It’s somewhat creepy central conceit of a Stockholm Syndrome romance with a CGI-Beast (played by Dan Stevens) that looks ever so slightly off-putting (trying to capture the cartoon’s gruff beast that’s also kind of cute proved a difficult task) might not have sat as well with audiences. If it did make it, it would be due to the terrific songs from the original film, written by the late Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, spiced up with a couple new verses here and there.
Of course, as a child of the 90’s, I cannot deny getting the warm fuzzies throughout. The musical numbers, that is the ones reproduced from the original, are all very well done. Emma Watson was a wonderful choice to play a real-life version of Belle, she’s charming and believable as the intelligent and headstrong lead. Her inventor father Maurice is equally well-cast with veteran actor Kevin Kline occupying the role.
Luke Evans, who did not seem to be ideal casting for the beefy doofus Gaston at first glance, absolutely nails the role as the film’s main villain and braggart. Josh Gad also delivers a terrific performance as Gaston’s best friend/sidekick Le Fou, and, while the controversy surrounding his character’s sexuality is incredibly overblown, the character’s somewhat expanded arc is among the film’s best additions.
The CGI-home furnishings that are brought to life deliver mixed results. Some of the household items, like Plumette (a feather duster played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Maestro Cadenza (a harpsichord that’s also Stanley Tucci) are not at all jarring, while others, like Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts and Ian McKellan’s Cogsworth, take some getting used to. As expected, all the various living objects are perfectly cast with voice actors that fit each item’s spirit. Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere was a personal favorite, as his womanizing flamboyance and constant mischief are among the film’s highlights.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast meets expectations as a lovingly made reproduction that’s gorgeous to look at as well as a calculated product from the Walt Disney Company designed to take all the money over the next few weeks as schools across the country go on their various Spring Breaks. This is the sort of nostalgia trip that most people are going on regardless of critical opinion, so go ahead and grab your slice of delicious Member Berry pie.