Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. In 1991 it was considered ahead of its time – featuring a heroine who was into BOOKS and LEARNING (mouths agape.) Sure, she fell in love with her captor but it sort of seemed by her own volition… and he had adorable singing furniture so, ya know. But above the normal trappings of plot soared one (if not the most) iconic soundtracks in the history of cinema. One by one the songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken swept over you, leaving their indelible print in your memory. It’s Disney at its most powerful and memorable.
So, it makes sense in Disney’s current run of remaking things we love in live action with a heavy-CGI gloss that we would return to that tiny provincial town once again. This is easily Disney’s most naval-gazing pat on the back yet but make no mistake, it mostly captures the essence of what we all remember while not face planting too hard when they can’t quite stick the landing.
It would be utterly pointless to rehash the plot so suffice it to say, it’s all there…and then some. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) sticks rather slavishly to his source material but can’t help but pad the runtime by nearly 30-minutes with some visual flights of fancy (and a couple very unmemorable new songs.) Emma Watson is Belle – the beautiful bookworm of Provence who would sooner spend her days buried in Shakespeare than chasing men around the village. Kevin Kline is her father, crazy-old Maurice who nurtures her intellectualism and scoffs at the testosterone-laden advances of one former soldier in particular.
I’m speaking of Gaston of course. A brutish role to be sure but with the right mixture of gravitas and gusto the perfect actor can pull it off. Completely to my surprise Luke Evans does it. His dunce cap wearing portrayal hit just the right notes as he swoons for Belle while barely masking the fact he’s never read a book let alone looked inside the cover. His relationship with LeFou (Josh Gad) is just as oafish and silly as you remember. Oh, and that ridiculous controversy regarding LeFou’s sexual orientation? Let’s not waste our breath entertaining something so ridiculous.
The early scenes in the new film work precisely because the casting is spot on, not to mention the set direction and stunning costumes. Get ready for a 2017 sweep of those Oscar categories because very few period pieces in the history of cinema have ever jumped off the screen the way this does. The detail in every frame is immaculate that it’s easy for your eye to wander.
That attention to detail continues into the Beast’s castle as Belle travels to retrieve her father. All your favorites are there to greet you to be their guest. They all have wonderful A-list actors voicing them impeccably and I found the CGI-creations to be mostly believable. This is a new-age rendering of one of the most lavish animated films ever yet I never found the new creations to be garish or off-putting. Even the Beast (played amicably by Dan Stevens) won me over after being initially unconvinced at his CGI-fur.
Beauty and the Beast truly only exists to tickle our nostalgia bone and if we honestly want that, that’s ok. The music is still as wonderful as ever (songs like Gaston and Be Our Guest stunningly so) and the characters just as memorable. This new adaptation might be a cynical-cover version of the far superior original but sometimes I’m in the mood for a weird towny-version of a Nirvana song to remind me of the good times.