Any challenges of adapting one of Disney’s classics that happens to be one of their best mostly fall by the wayside in Beauty and the Beast. Over a quarter century ago, the 1991 Mouse Factory version earned the status of being the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was deserved and Beauty helped usher in a renaissance for the studio with Broadway level music coupled with its tale as old as time storylines.
Our new Beauty doesn’t rock the boat by any means. Is it a factory made production meant to fog up our nostalgia goggles? Sure. Yet it’s crafted with reverence, the music still holds up, and it looks lovely.
It seems silly to recount the plot that’s been around for our collective childhoods in one form or another, but let’s get through it. We have Belle (a strong Emma Watson) living a rather boring existence in 18th century France with her doting dad (Kevin Kline). She’s being pursued by the chauvinistic Gaston (Luke Evans) who wishes to marry her. Her ho hum existence takes a turn when Dad is captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who lives in a dilapidated castle that the other French villagers have long forgotten. He was cursed many moons ago for his inability to love. When Belle travels there and trades her father’s freedom for her own, the strange relationship between the title characters commences.
There really isn’t too much new from this reboot compared to 1991. We have a couple more musical numbers, lest you forget the animated version was a mere 85 minutes. Alan Menken returns to do the music and those magnificent staples like the title track and “Be Our Guest” are happily intact. Bill Condon (whose varied filmography includes Twilight pics and more adult fare like Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes) directs with an eye on preserving what we appreciated about what came before.
Like the drawn Beauty, the Beast’s castle is filled with inanimate objects who are quite animated. Ian McKellen is clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor voices candelabra Lumiere, and Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts. She acquits herself just fine in the part, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Angela Lansbury singing that iconic dancing tune toward the finale. Speaking of animated, Josh Gad has his proper comic relief moments in the role of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick.
Disney has unleashed a gold mine with this recent strategy of updating their canon with live-action. Some have worked better than others and Beauty falls on the better side because it had incredibly strong material adapt from. The team behind this recognize it and are content knowing they had something there to begin with.
*** (out of four)