While watching Disney’s live action remake of the animated classic Beauty and the Beast, I kept thinking about one line from the titular song; “Ever just the same, ever a surprise.” There is, perhaps, no better way to describe this film. It’s instantly familiar and recognizable, yet different enough to stand on its own.
It would be nearly impossible to replicate the success of the 1991 best picture nominee without the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman music. To this remake’s benefit, it wholeheartedly embraces that fact and even adds four new songs to the score. I was initially taken aback that none of the additional material from the Broadway version had been included, save for the melody from “Home,” which has been incorporated in the background. However, these new songs fit the film so perfectly and having seen it, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lyrics to the original songs have been modified occasionally, with Tim Rice returning to assist Menken. These tweaks mostly occur with the character Gaston, who is far more villainous this time around. Perhaps the most unnatural change is the omission of the line “And every last inch of me’s covered with hair” from the song, “Gaston,” since actor Luke Evans noticeably lacks that quality.
With a runtime of 2 hours and 9 minutes, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the story has been expanded from its 90-minute animated form. The prologue has been extended, giving more credibility to the enchantress’ curse. Borrowing from the stage version, when the last petal falls the servants will become inanimate objects. More backstory has also been added surrounding Belle’s mother, which serves to enrich her character and provides more common ground between Belle and Beast.
Emma Watson proves inspired casting as Belle. She’s so charming, intriguing, and capable of holding the entire film together. On top of that, she has a beautiful singing voice. While she may not have the same resonance or vibrato as Paige O’Hara, the final result is very pleasing and I have no criticisms of her acting or vocal performances.
In fact, I will say that all of the acting performances are top notch. A list of elite actors fills in as the enchanted objects, including Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Audra McDonald as wardrobe, and Stanley Tucci as a new character, Maestro Cadenza. Kevin Cline was also an excellent choice to play Maurice, who is now an artist instead of an inventor.
Dan Stevens is incredibly powerful as Beast, with the brilliant blue eyes and low growling voice to bring the character to life. One of the few criticisms I can give the film, however, comes from the mostly unnatural looking motion capture performance, which is by no fault of the actor. Trailers avoided showing too much of the character, and the reason is that he is often so obviously CG that those moments take you out of the film. Prosthetics and makeup with light CG enhancements would have made for a more convincing performance and this is the biggest fault I can give the film.
With a flurry of recent controversy, I would be remiss if I did not address LeFou, played by Josh Gad (voice of Olaf from Frozen). To be honest, if director Bill Condon had not revealed in a recent interview that the character is homosexual, 90% of viewers wouldn’t have even picked up on it, save for one harmless shot at the very end which serves merely to confirm the suspicions of the 10% to whom it would have been relevant. But on this subject, Beauty and the Beast is a story about love coming in all shapes and sizes and a celebration of the real you deep inside. If there’s one Disney property where this inclusiveness makes complete sense, it’s this one. If you take offense, you’ve somehow missed the entire point of the story.
Aside from motion capture Beast, there’s not much to pick apart here. If you love the animated classic, then there’s no reason that you shouldn’t thoroughly enjoy this live action adaptation. While the character designs are nowhere near as appealing, they still allow for enchanting performances. The staging of the musical numbers are a pure delight, and Singing in the Rain fans should be on the lookout for some borrowed choreography during “Be Our Guest” (a number which got an applause from an audience of critics at the screening I attended).
Overall, I was delighted by the results of Beauty and the Beast. Of the live action adaptations that have become Disney’s latest trend, I rank this below The Jungle Book, but above all others. And as I said at the beginning of this review, it’s “Ever just the same, ever a surprise.”
I give Beauty and the Beast 4.5 out of 5 “T”‘s in “Gaston”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.