“Beauty and the Beast” Revives A Classic In Magical Fashion
A tale as old as time is always ripe for a retelling, eh?
That’s the logic behind the latest in a string of live-action Disney remakes/retellings that began with the underwhelming “Maleficent,” continued with the so-so “Cinderella,” and most recently manifested itself in the great “The Jungle Book.” Clearly there’s a slow upswing in quality, and Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” serves as further proof.
If you had a childhood, you likely know the story: in the late 1700s, curious young woman Belle (Emma Watson) wanders off into the forest in search of her missing father and comes across a massive castle full of enchanted objects. As she explores, she finds her father taken prisoner by the lord of the castle, a cruel Beast (Dan Stevens) with no regard for either of them.
Not wanting to see her father parish, Belle bargains with the Beast to let her father go in exchange for her staying at the castle with him. He agrees, and Belle settles down for what she believes to be the rest of her life with this horrible creature.
Little does she know, the Beast is actually a handsome Prince who was cursed many years ago for his arrogance, and the only thing that can turn him back is finding true love — a possibility that seems more and more real as he and Belle grow closer.
Admittedly, the film starts on shaky ground.
The opening prologue feels entirely unnecessary, while the opening musical number “Belle” comes across as rather lifeless. Even Emma Watson’s performance leaves a lot desired.
About a third into the film, however, we arrive at the castle and “Beauty and the Beast” really finds it groove. What begins as a pale imitation of an animated classic morphs into a beautiful gothic fairytale.
A lot of this is due to the visual effects. While worrisome in initial trailers, the Beast looks spectacular. You can see every minor facial expression of Dan Stevens coming through the motion-capture that manages to convey both his animalistic nature as well as his humanity.
Same goes for all of the servants, who manage to add a lot of character despite being household appliances, while the production design looks simply gorgeous. The musical numbers are where the film really comes to life.
Condon injects “Be Our Guest” with a cavalcade of color that borders on sensory overload in the best way possible, whilst the title number is given a sweeping, elegant, emotional treatment that 100% brought a tear to this reviewer’s eye.
It doesn’t hurt that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s songs are just as great as ever.
The supporting cast occupying the film doesn’t do half bad either. Luke Evans and Josh Gad make for a hilariously gallant Gaston and Le Fou, although Le Fou’s sexuality doesn’t play as much of a part as many BuzzFeed articles would lead you to believe. All of the servants are really great as well, with Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen the clear standouts.
Yet the real heart of the film is Dan Stevens. What could’ve easy been the typical “I’m a jerk but not” portrayal is instead something much complex. You can sense the pain as well as the arrogance in Dan Stevens’ portrayal of Beast. His Beast is not an easy character to like, which makes his transformation and learning to be selfless that much more impactful.
His chemistry with Emma Watson makes the movie, as well as enhancing her performance as well. There’s just something so universal about their romance, so palpable, that it makes Condon’s film feel like the romances of days gone by.
Not all classic Disney films should be given reimaginings. There’s even a case to be made that “Beauty and the Beast” shouldn’t have been given one. However, all the talent involved really pulled it together and made this film the best it could possibly be.
If you’re looking for a truly enchanting time at the movies, be Disney’s guest and go see “Beauty and the Beast.”