“Beauty and the Beast” Movie Review


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     Following the success of the live action adaptations of “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book”, it certainly can’t be argued as to why Disney has a slew of these projects in the pipeline, and the latest of which, “Beauty and the Beast”, gives no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.  Armed with all of the latest in motion capture and CGI technology, director Bill Condon delivers an astonishingly detailed and whimsical update to the 1991 animated classic, staying mostly in line with the former’s story, but also allowing for a number of notable and welcome surprises.  “Harry Potter” vet Emma Watson flawlessly steps into the role of Belle, one of the most iconic Disney princesses ever, and is backed by an all star voice cast, including Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, and Ian McKellen, as well as the talents of Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and Kevin Kline rounding out the on screen portion of the cast.  

     Live action remakes of animated classics have a significantly different feel than the also common practice of remaking previously produced live action material.  Whether we’re talking about updating a classic horror film, or bringing to life a decades old television show, my usual reaction is almost always to simply watch the original and skip the remake/reboot.  But I haven’t felt the same about Disney’s decision to bring their animated classics to life with (mostly) real actors, giving the characters the photo realistic presence that cartoon animation simply can't achieve.  And while the aforementioned “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book” proved to be classics in their own right, establishing a sense of life like emotion not possible with traditional animation, “Beauty and the Beast” takes what was good about those films and tries to up the ante by following the lyrical roots of the original and stocking every act with colorful and lavish musical set pieces.  Some of which are timely and fun, others however, may slow down the narrative’s momentum a tad in places where pacing is important.

     The story gives us several glimpses into the lives of the front and center characters that the original did not provide.  We learn early on as to the reasoning behind the curse brought upon the Prince (Dan Stevens) which turns him into the frightening Beast referred to in the film’s namesake.  Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos do an admirable job enhancing the dialogue and creating scenes that further develop characters we are already familiar with, as well as a story we know the ending to.  Standouts among the cast include Josh Gad’s turn as LeFou, billed as Disney’s first ever live action gay character, as well as the man he often seems to swoon for, Gaston, played with a confident and over the top manly presence by Luke Evans.  Both inject life and personality to the proceedings that many of the scenes between Watson’s Belle and Steven’s motion capture Beast lack due to the inescapable familiarity with the material.

     There are also several scenes in which Belle and the Beast converse outside with only the moon serving as a source of light, creating problems for the effects team when matching lighting on Watson with her CGI counterpart.  This results in several incarnations of the Beast that are less than lifelike and ultimately unconvincing.  Now why is this important? Because the whole idea of this remake is to give audiences a larger than life retelling of this classic story.  With characters such as Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth, Maestro Cadenza, and Lumiere CGI creations themselves, it is crucial our two main characters are portrayed with the most life like of imagery.  Otherwise, why not just do another animated version of the film using the modern technology employed with plenty of success by Pixar nearly every year?  With the human element proving to be a crucial reason as to why live action remakes are now all the rage, it is equally as important that CGI and motion capture characters are equally as convincing.  For the most part, Condon and his army of effects wizards are successful in that endeavor.

     For all its glitz and glamour, “Beauty and the Beast” succeeds primarily on the power of emotion and the love story at the center of it all.  Certainly, Gaston provides plenty of punch as the head strong villain responsible for much of the chaos between characters, but the core remains the relationship between Belle and a Beast who seemed to remind me in this version of the story of a certain furry green character who lived atop a mountain overlooking Whoville.  I say this because the stories, coupled with the appearance and mannerisms of the two characters is strikingly similar, as is the transformation from mean and menacing to warm and kind.  But it is the love story that separates the two and drives “Beauty and the Beast” to emotional heights not experienced in the original. And that serves as the primary reason the live action plays so well when the stakes are raised and Gaston leads an angry mob to the Beast’s castle in order to rid himself of the only person standing in the way of him marrying a reluctant Belle.  Condon’s expert direction of his very game cast, the balancing of live action with CGI characters, and careful handling of the material enhances this glossy retelling and provides for an entertaining and often mesmerizing return to one of Disney’s most beloved classics.  GRADE: B+