“Beauty and the Beast” (2017)
Running Time: 129 minutes
Written by: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Directed by: Bill Condon
Featuring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson
Gaston: “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she even cares for him!“
Belle: “He’s not a monster, Gaston! You are!”
“Beauty and the Beast” is the latest in the live action transformation of Disney’s animated back catalogue into live action versions, following the huge successes of “The Jungle Book” (2016), “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), “Maleficent” (2014) as well as the more modest “Cinderella” (2015) with plenty more to come. Whilst these movies have been expensive to re-make they have all made their money back by all being visually distinct, staying true to their origins, not being sequels or reboots as well as incorporating the visions of their respective directors, who themselves have all been established in the film world for some time – this is more the case with Bill Condon than the others that have been recruited.
“Beauty and the Beast” marks the first time a modern animated film has been remade, not only that, but it also boasts the largest cast assembled for one of these remakes, as well as the most well known. Disney have been wise to have the lead of Belle played by Emma Watson, surely one of the most high profile leading ladies of her age after her part in the Harry Potter franchise. Then building up from there surrounding her with some of the best UK actors around, such as Dan Stevens, Ian McKellen, Ewen McGregor Luke Evans, and many others – but make no mistake this is surely Watson’s film, she shines in it – acting, singing and dancing. For my mind the film has one other ace piece of casting, that of the great Kevin Kline, who has been a superstar not only in movies but is a legendary stage actor – here he brings all that experience as Belle’s father who shines in a role that could have been run of the mill, but with Kline’s casting it becomes something else – bravo on the Director for this choice.
The story itself is fairly simple but offers quite a few complications, it is set in pre-Revolution France, an enchantress disguised as a beggar arrives at a castle and offers the owner, a cold-hearted prince, a rose in exchange for shelter. When he calluously refuses, she transforms him into a beast and his servants into household objects before erasing the castle’s existence from memory. She then hexes the rose and warns the Beast that, unless he learns to love another and earns her love in return before the last petal falls, he and his servants will lose their humanity forever.
Many years later, in the village of Villeneuve, Belle dreams of adventure and brushes off advances from Gaston, an arrogant former soldier. Lost in the forest, Belle’s father Maurice seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle, but the Beast imprisons him for stealing a rose. Belle ventures out in search for him and finds him locked in the castle dungeon. The Beast agrees to let her take Maurice’s place, despite her father’s objections.
I am of an age where I probably should have seen the original animated movie but I have to admit I have never seen it, so I was looking forward to this version (without the baggage) – I am a sucker for musicals so I assumed this was going to be right up my alley. I am so pleased to say that I loved this movie, Watson was good in the lead role, I suspect that this was a role that many would have loved to take, but my real surprise was Luke Evans who has proved over the past decade that he can literally play any role – and here as Gaston he shines in the role as chief protagonist that you can just tell he relishes. With so few musicals being made (although lately there does seem to be a resurgence) if you have a hankering to sing and dance you had better grab it. The other great piece of casting is that of Josh Gad who after almost stealing “Frozen” (2013) as the snowman Olaf, here he to does an amazing job as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou who makes his own part look so easy that you can forget the work it takes to make something look so effortless.
Looking at this movie now, especially when it is possibly going to be the biggest grossing film of the year it seems Bill Condon would have been the obvious choice to direct this adaptation of an adaptation. Over the course of his career Condon seems to have done it all, he has directed a pure horror film, “Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh” (1995), a gothic American drama mini-biography with the excellent “Gods and Monsters” (1998) – oh yes he won an Oscar for best screenplay for that as well – a musical, “Dreamgirls” (2006), two teen blockbusters with the last instalments of the “Twilight” movies, a post modern Sherlock Holes drama with “Mr. Holmes” (2015), now a film that seems to take his past works and meld them into the remake of “Beauty and the Beast” (2017). Condon didn’t need this movie, he has accomplished more in his career than most directors ever will, so the potential downside was quite large, however the challenge must have been appealing, with the success of this film he has been catapulted into another realm of directors, he has made a movie that will end up close to US$1.5 billion, one of the biggest box office successes of the century so far. The pressure for this movie to be a success would have been monumental, it being one of the shining lights of Disney Animation, as well as being one of the key animated films responsible for the second wave of great Disney animated films. That would of course culminate with one of the greatest animated films of all time, “The Lion King” (1995).
What Condon has done is to take the material, not try and fix that which was not broken, used the Disney movie as a template, built around it wisely using new songs, cutting edge animation and wisely using a great physical cast as well as a voice cast that are both uniquely talented, playing to those strengths (maybe except for Ewan McGregor’s accent) whilst pushing them to their limits – remember this movie has acting, singing as well as dancing – something not all actors are able to accomplish believably. What he has had to do is deal with the physical sets, as well as all the elements of a Hollywood musical, a horror film, an animated movie as well as a classic love story. It may seem that all he had to do was copy what came before but make no mistake this movie is a major achievement, one that needs to be seen, as it works on many levels, is satisfying and somehow strikes the right tone in almost every scene. Condon in my mind is at the top of his game, it is no surprise to me that he has been linked to a remake of “The Bride of Frankenstein”, if he is able to marshal the right mix of cast members I can see this being a success – at this stage I would not be against him at all.
This film would be nothing without the music, with Alan Menken back on board, the Disney go to composer of choice and a man coupled with the late Howard Ashman prove that this is indeed of the greatest Disney Animated musicals of all time, it is full of lush orchestrations as well as lyrics that are sublime, are a joy to listen to as well as fitting these characters like gloves, the biggest numbers remain so, and I have to admit to listening to the soundtrack long after I watched this movie.
As well as the music there are two other aspects of the movie that are extremely important, they are the cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler, as well as Jacqueline Durran, the costumer who has cut her teeth on many period films, she does some amazing work here with colors as well as the cut of all the wardrobe – they are as much a character in the movie as the actors themselves are. The costuming combined with the art direction give cinematographer Shliessler a lot to work with, he takes his vast experience working in a variety of genres as well as his long relationship with the director to give us a gothic lite version of this movie. That is not a negative criticism as this what is required as we start in a lighter atmosphere, following the journey of the characters into darkness, working our way back to happier place back to some kind of equilibrium. The relationship between each separate department working together is not more evident than this movie which is taking almost all the genres as well as disciplines and making a product that is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
In case you have not guessed by now my opinion of this movie is that it is excellent as well as humorous, scary, funny as well as bring complex. If you had any part in this movie you need to be extremely proud of the work you have produced. This is truly a film for the entire family; it has so much watchability as well as re-watchability that it is ridiculous. I highly recommend this to all, it is a fine addition to any collection, go and get now!
“Beauty and the Beast” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.