Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was a timeless classic for many reasons, but the biggest one was its understanding of what used to make musicals so magical. The musicals of the golden era mostly died off in the 1960’s, but when they left they did so in the most boisterous manner possible. Musical numbers got bigger and more populated. They were filled with tons of extras and large sets. The cynical young eyes of millennials seem to look on these films with a level of disdain, but I believe most of the populace can still feel the majesty of this art form. Which is an art form that is vividly realized in Disney’s live action reiteration of this classic tale.
Almost everything in this film is old fashioned. The sets are rich with detail and purposely over the top. Alan Menken’s new musical numbers are steeped in a classic romanticism that melds smoothly with the notes of the original. The cast is properly subtle and then occasionally larger than life. And the special effects almost always blend seamlessly into overtly extravagant set design. It’s like someone gave James Cagney or Gene Kelley the sets of the 1950’s and the visual effects of today. Which to some might just mean that it doesn’t look realistic or gritty enough for them, but to musical lovers and film connoisseurs it will be a beautiful thing to behold.
I honestly stared at most of this film with wonder and joy. Two emotions I expect most audiences to bring lovingly into theaters around the world. Sadly, a number of people will and already have questioned the reason for this sequel. They may also even dig at the very style of this old fashioned film, but most will embrace it with an open heart, and this is sure to be a huge hit for Disney. If you fit into the narrow minded or uncultured cynics who scoff at live action musicals while openly loving the animated ones of the 90’s, then this film may turn you off. There are certainly plenty of morbid and realistic films out there for you. This movie is for the fools who dream in the pallet of classic Hollywood and those that are just simply romantics at heart.
It seems insane to think that anyone doesn’t know the story. So, I’m not going to waste your time filling you in on the obvious. However, there are a few unique additions that have been made to this telling of the tale as old as time. The most prevalent being a bit of backstory on the mothers of both Belle and Beast. The emphasis on them is a clear shift and part of this movies pro feminist agenda. As a matter of fact, most of the slight changes are all geared towards making Belle stronger and more independent. She was always the strongest of the princesses, but now she is truly the hero that saves the man in every way. This is a great message for little girls.
I guess the biggest question anyone might have is with the casting. I’ve heard mumbles of issues with Emma Watson that I find completely unfounded and I’m here to vehemently paint them false. Emma Watson is the perfect Belle. She is smart, precocious, witty, strong, and she can belt out the musical numbers with true refine. Disney knew that they were going to need a role model for young girls when they chose their Belle and they couldn’t have got a better one.
I also loved Luke Evans as Gaston, Kevin Kline as Maurice, and even Josh Gad as Le Fou. Which is saying a lot because I have openly railed against Gad for years, but he is delightful in this movie. All the voice work is done by the exceptional talents of actors like Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and Ewan McGregor. And they all deliver the necessary charm and glorious pipes that this movie calls for. Some may find issue with the way that these beloved characters like Cogsworth and Ms. Potts were created, but I found them lovely.
The only real issue I found with this movie was on the long shots of the beast. Beast is generally a cool looking character in close ups and they do a really good job with swift motion, but his walk is a bit unnatural. Kind of similar to how old CGI characters looked before motion capture. Which is strange because he is being motion captured. It might have something to do with the CG clothes that he wears, but it’s just a bit unnatural at times. However, this is fleeting seconds that maybe add up to a minute of the film. In all, Beast is wonderful and Dan Stevens does a great job with him.
The most important bit to me is that the songs and music are wonderful. The old songs feel new. The new songs fit in perfectly. And some musical numbers like “Gaston” are actually an improvement over the original. You take these wonderful musical numbers, add in some fabulous sets, with some perfect performances, and you get one of the most wonderful movies you are likely to see this year. So, bravo to director Bill Condon. He has given us another ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for a new generation. I’ll look forward to the next one in 25 years, but for now this is just great.