Ben Zacuto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Film Editor
When Walt Disney first thought to use his new technology of hand-drawn animation to make feature films, he looked to classic European fairy tails as a way of reinventing the fabled stories for a modern generation. While there is no one genius behind Walt Disney Studios’ new sling of live-action fairy tales and musicals based on Disney classics, Beauty and the Beast is in of itself in the vain of Walt’s initial inception. By taking “a tale as old as time” and reinventing it by using the latest and greatest technology available, Beauty and the Beast cements itself as a new modern Disney classic. Not one, mind you, that should replace the original animated masterpiece, but rather a motion picture that sits perfectly right beside it’s predecessor.
Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is not a perfect movie. Most of it’s flaws, however, are minute. Some of the riskier changes to the story, including deeper backstory of why Belle (Emma Watson) does not have a living mother, or how Beast (Dan Stevens) came to be so insufferable, are surprisingly well executed. We could even go as far as to say the new additions make the new film worth the price of admission. Director Bill Condon does a particularly terrific job executing the larger-than-life musical numbers, harkening back to the grandeur of Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music. The opening number entitled “Belle,” in particular, transports the audience into a storybook land, making the film feel like the ultimate inception of what a Disney musical can be. Other standout musical numbers such as “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and the new and terrific “Evermore,” sung by Dan Stevens as the Beast, fully capture the majesty of the acclaimed fairy tale and it’s cast of exuberant characters.
The cast of Beauty and the Beast, however, leaves much to be desired on the musical front. Emma Watson plays a terrific Belle, fully encompassing the girl-ahead-of-her-time, Hermoine-esque inquisitiveness that landed her international fame. However, Watson does not have the singing chops or Broadway prowess that 1991’s Paige O’Hara had. Ultimately, Watson is not able to keep up with the challenging musical material, which inevitably hurts the end picture. This isn’t to say that Belle is the worst part of the film, because she isn’t. It’s just that she can’t sing very well, which turns out to be a problem when starring in a musical.
Similarly, Emma Thompson plays a jaunty Mrs. Potts, but adds a uniquely undesirable cockney accent to the character that makes the titular musical number, “Beauty and the Beast,” suffer from a similar longing for Angela Lansbury’s soft vocals from the animated classic. Luke Evans, too, isn’t able to fully exude the ridiculous, over-the-top animation that Richard White brought to Gaston. This inevitably makes the musical number “Gaston” more of LeFou’s (Josh Gad) show stopper, which shouldn’t be too big of a surprise considering Gad is a Broadway-talent, earning the role of Frozen’s Olaf from his success in The Book of Mormon. And finally Ewan McGregor fails to cement “Be Our Guest” as the film’s biggest showstopper- his reluctance to dive deep into the character’s ridiculous French accent forces his singing to feel reserved. With all that said, Dan Stevens’ Beast, Kevin Kline’s Maurice, Josh Gad’s LeFou, and Audra McDonald’s Madame Garderobe provide enough singing talent to offset the rest of the cast’s lackluster vocals.
While some of the singing quality is arguable, the rest of the film captures pure Disney magic. From the transformation of Prince Adam to the Beast and vice versa, to sweeping shots of the Beast’s castle and grounds, to aerial one-takes of Belle’s village, the majesty of the fairy tale land is captured even more magnificently in the live action film than the animated classic. And while Beast’s motion-capture CG isn’t nearly as encapsulating as the work done in last years The Jungle Book, the storybook nature of feeling transported into another world allows us to forgive the mockup. Similarly, little character moments throughout the film, and particularly near the end, are a little cheesy. But just like Beast’s CG suit, we can forgive these little eccentricities because the nature of a musical is to inherently be over-the-top.
Overall, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is a truly spellbinding musical experience. Yes, the film suffers from minute details that bog down the singing, but new story additions and songs by Disney favorite Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Tangled to name a few) are worthy siblings of the original songs and classic story. The film dives just a bit deeper, just a bit richer into the mythos of the “tale as old as time,” providing the audience with a truly memorable adaptation of simply one of the greatest animated films of all time. Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is a terrific complement to the animated classic. While the animated version is ultimately the best and most iconic incarnation of the French fairy tale, this new live action feast allows us to relive once again the magic and mythos that have cemented Walt Disney Studios as the greatest bearer of the movie musical.
Overall Grade: B+
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