Of all the live-action remakes Disney has produced and is planning for the future, few if any have garnered as much hype as their remake of the 1991 animated classic “Beauty and the Beast”. Many have waited for over a year to see the film come to the big screen in all its visual and musical glory hoping for an adaptation that does one of Disney’s most cherished films justice and while this new version of the timeless story may not be quite as mystical and magical as its predecessor, it perfectly lives up to expectations none the less.
“Beauty and the Beast” stars Emma Watson (the “Harry Potter” franchise) as Belle, a unique and adventurous young woman seen as strange by her village of citizens who live their lives by the book. Circumstances lead Belle’s father Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”), to be taken captive by the rude and standoffish Beast, played by Dan Stevens (the “Night At The Museum” franchise), who is really a prince transformed for his wrongdoings by an enchantress and must find someone who loves him for who is before the last pedal falls from an enchanted rose. When Belle trades her own freedom for her father’s the story unfolds and we see familiar characters like Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), come to life. We also see the dastardly egomaniac Gaston (Luke Evans) try to woo Belle and become frustrated and violent when his advances are bucked. As Belle bonds with those within the castle her relationship grows with the Beast and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
The best part of the live action adaptation of the classic story is that is takes some liberties that actually work very much in favor of the film from a storytelling perspective. We get more songs, more character development for nearly everyone essential to the story, and we get back stories to Belle, the Beast, and even Gaston that give some method to the madness behind why they do what they do and are who they are, all details that made the animated film a tad bit bland in hindsight.
These characters feel more fleshed out and more real and relatable whereas the animated version was told in the typical fairytale style. That’s not to say the original animated film isn’t worth its merits, but the same approach that Disney took to bringing it’s 1991 classic to life wouldn’t have worked at all in live-action. They needed something fresh while also allowing fans to relive the story they had grown accustomed to. So they took a new direction and what we get are characters that feel human, real, and very grounded. This isn’t just a fairytale anymore, it’s a story filled with moral hardships, emotional struggle, and a relationship that truly starts off as vile and seemingly impossible but grows in ways that real romances and friendships do, through a bonding process filled with misunderstandings and revelations.
That’s not to say this film is completely superior to its predecessor. While “Beauty and the Beast” takes it’s source material and build on it spectacularly, most of its faults lies within it’s attempts to recreate scenes from the 1991 original, particularly in the first 45 minutes or so of the film where the pace seems a little off and at times it feels like they tried to hard to emulate the animated film.
The movie serves itself better when the new material and songs kick in. Once the movie finds its footing, and it doesn’t take long, and the story starts to truly take shape it feels like the characters become more alive and the actors seem to embrace their roles much more fully than they did at the start. Emma Watson is absolutely fantastically cast as Belle while Dan Stevens plays an amazing Beast, portraying the attitude, arrogance, and eventual transformation of the character to perfection.
Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen also shine as Lumiere and Cogsworth, the famed candlestick and clock from the original film, and play off of each other nicely while Emma Thompson is such an appropriate actress to portray Mrs. Potts. But again, these character only really find their charm when they let go of the constraints of living up to the quality of the source material. To that end the original music for this film is actually much more interesting and entertaining, the back stories are much more enlightening, and the new more grounded approach to these characters are much more effective while the iconic scenes and songs that were carried over from the original, while still great in their own right, fail to capture quite the same amount of joy, magic, and memorability of the 1991 film.
All that said “Beauty and the Beast” might not always be quite as good as the original, but it doesn’t have to. This is a movie that does it’s best to balance a respect for the classic film while also trying to be its own story and in more ways than not it succeeds. Seeing this story come to life is a truly enjoyable experience and seeing new details and back stories presented to fill plot holes from the animated film and give viewers a new understanding of the story help “Beauty and the Beast” stand strong on its own merits. Visually stunning, musically fun, and emotionally charged with a grounded and dedicated cast, this is one of the few times Disney has managed to capture the same magic as its animated classics in a live action remake. The tale as old as time feels brand new again and this live action adaptation reminds us all why we loved the original all over again and gives us a new classic to appreciate at the same time. This is probably as close to perfection as Disney will ever get in it’s seemingly endless onslaught of live action adaptations it has in the pipeline.