By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
A tale as old as time is at once fresh and familiar, thanks to Disney’s remarkable live-action adaptation of the animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast.”
The story of a beautiful young girl who selflessly gives up her freedom to free her father from being held captive in an enchanted castle by a fearsome beast—and slowly starts to see the wayward prince within her captor—“Beauty and the Beast” is often regarded as one of Disney’s most beloved musicals. That rare feature film that’s pretty much perfect (hence its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture—the first ever given to an animated movie), it may be impossible to improve upon the original animated tale, but director Bill Condon’s (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and 2,” “Dreamgirls”) live-action adaptation comes pretty darn close.
For the most part, the live-action film stays fairly true to the 1991 masterpiece, however, screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“Rent”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) flesh out certain characters and scenarios to give the story a little more depth. LeFou (Josh Gad, “Frozen”) isn’t quite as evil this time around (and, in case you missed the controversy surrounding the movie, there are also ever-so-slight hints that he’s gay), Gaston (Luke Evans, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) is much more dark and twisted, and the Beast (Dan Stevens, “Downton Abbey”) and Belle’s (Emma Watson, the “Harry Potter” films) budding romance doesn’t come across quite as much like a severe case of Stockholm syndrome as it does in the animated feature, thanks to an emotional new backstory in which the two bond over losing their mothers as kids.
These additions are seamlessly woven into the familiar fairy tale, which brings to life such dazzling musical numbers as “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Something There,” “The Mob Song” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast” with such gorgeous detail, fans can’t help but get teary-eyed as they watch them unfold on the big screen. Sadly, the same can’t be said for a few of the new musical numbers featured in the film, especially “Days in the Sun” and “Evermore,” which resemble the tone of “Human Again” (the musical number originally cut from the animated feature and later added to the special edition DVD release after its inclusion in the Broadway musical) and “If I Can’t Love Her” (from the Broadway musical) so much that “Beauty and the Beast” fans will wonder why composer Alan Menken (who wrote the score for the animated feature as well as the stage version) didn’t just use those established musical numbers instead. Of course, it’s obvious the new numbers were added in hopes of winning a Best Original Song Oscar nomination at the 2018 Academy Awards, but they’re not as good as the previously recorded numbers Menken wrote. That being said, Céline Dion’s new end credits song, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” is a great addition to the “Beauty and the Beast” music catalog, and it just feels right having the original “Beauty and the Beast” songstress contributing to the live-action soundtrack. (“Twilight” fans, be sure to stick around for the end credits, as they’ll look a bit familiar to anyone who has seen “Breaking Dawn—Part 2.”)
With regard to the casting, fans can rest assure that Watson, better known for her acting than singing skills, is delightful as the strong-willed protagonist and her voice actually works quite well for the part. There may be better singers out there, but it’s hard to say whether there’s a better actress to play the iconic role.
Gad, Stevens and Evans all shine in their respective parts as well, particularly Evans who is positively a joy to watch as the egotistical Gaston. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Ewan McGregor (the “Star Wars” prequels) as Lumière, Sir Ian McKellen (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) as Mrs. Potts and Kevin Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”) as Belle’s father, Maurice, also do a wonderful job, and are given more of a backstory for viewers to enjoy as well.
While many people will argue that Jon Favreau’s recent live-action adaptation of “The Jungle Book” is now the definitive Disney version of the classic tale, the only reason moviegoers won’t consider this live-action adaption of “Beauty and the Beast” the new Disney go-to is because the original movie didn’t have any noticeable flaws. That doesn’t mean this new version of the cherished tale, however, is any less magical than its predecessor. A stunning visual achievement, die-hard fans who were worried that the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” would tarnish the original movie in some way have nothing to fret: the film is a modern-day masterpiece well deserving of the Disney name.