Disney has been upgrading all their classics from their animated to live-action versions, among them “Maleficent,” “Cinderella” and now “Beauty and the Beast.” The latest installment is definitely the crown jewel of the updated princess classics.
Tale as Old as Time
The tale might be as old as time, but this film does not feel like that. We all know the story and yet this version brings new life to the timeless classic. To be fair, the film had very big shoes to fill as the animated 1991 classic is one of the most beloved Disney films and yet it managed to exceed all our expectations. It gave us a story with the right amount of nostalgia, freshness and most of all, heart. If there’s anything this film has it’s a lot of heart. Bill Condon’s retelling gives an updated version of the story we already know. Most of it is the same but it has a few changes here and there. Those changes make the story flow and fills in the gaps that the animated version left out. We get to see why the Beast turned out the way he did, we learn about Belle’s mother and even the supporting characters get their chance in the spotlight.
Much has been said of LeFou’s character being gay, but he is so much more than that. Here he gets to shine and have a character arc of his own. Josh Gad’s performance adds so much more life and soul to a character who in the original was just the funny sidekick. Along the same lines, Luke Evans is absolutely thrilling as the vain, selfish and murderous Gaston. In bringing the character to life he gets a lot more sinister and Evans portrays this perfectly. He’s equal parts hilarious and vicious; it’s a joy to watch. Kevin Kline is perfect as the overprotective single father Maurice. In this version he’s an artist rather than an inventor, Belle is the inventor in the family, and it works so well. We get a reason for why he’s so protective of his daughter and he brings a softness to the role, which makes you end up loving him even more.
The castle’s inhabitants feel like flesh and blood characters despite being objects. They all warm themselves into your heart, and how can they not when the characters are portrayed by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, and Audra McDonald? Of course, the ones that shine the most out of the castle’s members are Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere.
Finally, there’s the matter of the leading roles. A movie is only as good as it’s leads and they could not have been more accurately cast. Having watched the movie, there is no one else that I can imagine for the roles other than Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. The roles fit them like a glove. One of the things that made this film a success was the expanded roles of both Belle and the Beast.
Here Belle is an inventor which is part of why the village thinks she’s so strange. The beast shares her love of books, which is a change from both the broadway show and the animated version. He calls it his expensive education, which makes sense because he was a prince after all. The additions to the story gives more weight to the relationship between the two of them. Dan Stevens only appears in human form in the prologue and at the end, but he’s forever present in the film. After all, he had to do all the motions twice while dealing with a 40 lb suit and 10-inch stilts. Even with everything, you can still tell he gives a wonderful performance. He gives a humanity to the Beast that wasn’t always there in previous versions.
Song as Old as Rhyme
The music of Beauty and the Beast is iconic, no matter what language it’s in, so of course one of the biggest worries in this film was how they would handle the songs. Well, they kicked it out of the park. Alan Menken is truly a genius and no one can deny it. The music in this film helps transport you directly into the story. Between the songs and the score pieces, you are taken on a magical journey filled with adventure, love and, yes, nostalgia.
It’s a glorious mix of the old with the new, mixing all the most famous songs like “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” “Something There” and of course “Beauty and the Beast” with new songs that are just as beautiful as the older ones. And with Broadway darlings like Josh Gad, Luke Evans and Audra McDonald among the likes of Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson and Kevin Kline, we knew we were in for a treat. Emma Watson might not be as professionally trained as most of the cast, but she still does a pretty good job with what she is given.
Sadly there was no way to include songs from the Broadway hit, but the songs in their place are just as good. “Days in the Sun” is like a more melancholy version of “Human Again,” while “How does a Moment Last Forever” takes the place of “No Matter What” when it comes to songs about Belle and Maurice. And “Evermore” is definitely as powerful as “If I Can’t Love Her.” Not to mention the fact that a lot of them were included in the film in clever ways like the score for “Home” in the background of Belle coming into her room or the conversations either between Maurice and Belle or Gaston and LeFou including lyrics from said songs.
The crowning jewel of the new songs is “Evermore” sung by Dan Stevens in the movie and Josh Groban on the soundtrack. It’s a truly gorgeous sound that is a delight to the ears, and I would be very surprised if it didn’t get a nomination in next year’s Academy Awards. Dan Stevens was truly magnificent in the song, and in the film, his singing voice was a very welcome surprise.
The additions we had mentioned worked perfectly here too and they added so much richness to the songs. Some of the late Howard Ashman’s lyrics were added back into “Gaston,” making the number even better, and that particular number is just all around fun and incredible to witness. That along with “Be Our Guest” make incredible ensemble numbers that will probably be rewatched many many times. Even minor songs like “The Mob Song” got an upgrade and it works so well.
From the phenomenal acting to the wonderful music, and of course the glorious costume and beautiful cinematography, this film is a hit and a joy to watch. If you haven’t go see it, you will not regret it.