This review contains spoilers for the original 1991 animated classic, and shared storylines of the 2017 remake.
It really doesn’t feel like 1991 was that long ago. Still, 25 years ago, I was only 5 years old when the Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast film was released, and it was one of those movies that has always remained one of my all time favorite films (along with Aladdin and The Lion King).
The animated film, featuring a stunning cast, iconic music and an even more stunning visual look with cinematic sweeping movements, was deservedly the first full-length animated movie ever to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and was even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Colours, mixed with great architecture, dramatic lighting and incredible scenery fill the stage with interesting characters that can all stand on their own. It really was the first movie that had a maturity that really connected with people.
We can all agree that this is a true perfect masterpiece. But, does it need an update? Showbusiness is a business after all and nothing is ever new in Hollywood. So for the past few years, Disney has been working on creating live-action versions of their classics, with Beauty and the Beast being the latest installment. However, what sounded like a horrible business decision, somehow has turned out some great movies like Jungle Book and Cinderella. Did lightning strike again?
Well… yes. Having seen the original and all of its special features on the Blu-ray yesterday evening, I was prepared to be disappointed. Never have I been more glad that I was proven wrong.
One of the reasons director Bill Condon was interested in doing a remake, despite considering the original “a perfect movie” is the evolution of CGI. “It is 25 years later and technology has caught up to the ideas that were introduced in the animated movie,” he explains. “Now it is possible, for the first time, to create a photo-real version of a talking teacup on a practical set in a completely realistic live action format.”
To create a full-fledged live-action rendition of an animation film, additional depth is sometimes required. This can go from small things like suddenly naming the small village as Villeneuve to adding completely new characters like Stanley Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza, a harpsichord. But the biggest change is the introduction and backstories of characters.
One of those backstories is having Belle’s mother die of the Plague, in what feels like a sad parallel to songwriter Howard Ashman who died of AIDS during the production of the original movie.
On the movie’s Blu-ray is the original 20 minute story-reel for the animated movie. It’s great to see Disney going back to their archives, and reuse all those ideas in a way that not only makes sense, but also truly enhances the movie. Some parts have been integrated from the original fairy tale as well.
The original cast of mostly Broadway-legends have been updated to A-list actors. However, the casting was spot-on.
Emma Watson has been shedding her Harry Potter history without losing her lovelyness and great talent, which makes her an almost obvious choice for the smart and independent Belle. In fact, Belle is more active than ever. Luke Evan’s Gaston on the other hand is even more of an evil bastard than he was before. The character that became gained not only a dimension in art, but also in personality is Josh Gad’s LeFou. And I don’t only mean that ‘one thing’.
A lot of ink has been spilled on Disney’s first “out” character in. All I’m willing to say on it is: Yep, it’s there. And that’s more than we should even bother to write about it. I mean, it’s 2017, and to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda: ”And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.” But, LeFou is much more than ever someone who has real feelings, and isn’t just there for comic relief like the original.
Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have great chemistry together as well, making them great as Lumière and Cogsworth.
Hearing that classic music and song accompany the visuals just ads so much dimension to this movie. Something that I felt was lacking with movies like Cinderella and in some part The Jungle Book. Everyone in the cast has solid singing performances. It especially was great to hear Ewan McGregor bring out his Moulin Rouge singing voice again.
Something that you do feel isn’t there are the new songs, where we miss Howard Ashman deeply. Having Tim Rice come in with veteran Alan Menken does add a lot, but the new songs Days in the Sun and Forever More feel a tad odd. However, with some time and repeated listening, my opinion might change. That’s the sad thing about advance press screenings. You can’t line up again and see and hear things a second time to give it the full impression.
Interestingly enough, Forever More was created as a song for Beast, with the Broadway musical song If I Can’t Love Her reportedly not fitting in with the film’s events
One dubious honour that the animated classic has, is that it’s the first ever Disney movie to create a pop-version of their main song. No matter how popular she became, in my opinion, Celine Dion’s duet with Peabo Bryson is no match for Angela Lansbury’s iconic movie version. Same here, as Ariana Grande and John Legend’s single Beauty and the Beast doesn’t again come close to Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts.
The biggest problem is the same as with every remake. You know exactly what is going to happen, and how it is going to end. Something that even the trailers did not try to hide. But then again, we all know the Titanic is going to sink. That doesn’t mean retelling the tale will be any less exciting.
However if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.
So did this movie had to be made? No. But I’m glad they did, as it’s truly a tale as old as time. (kvds)
Beauty and the Beast will be released March 22 in Belgium. Photos © Disney.