Disney has effortlessly remade one of its greatest films. That in itself should be commended because of the power that “Beauty and the Beast” still holds for old and young fans of the Disney brand. The 1991 animated classic still has some of the best theatrical music in their catalogue. It also has a story that managed to retell a fairy tale classic while thumbing its nose at formula, something that still feels fresh over a quarter of a century later. So how did Disney recapture the magic?
The sincerity by everyone involved is clear from the costume and set designers to the cast populating the screen. Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle is spot on, from her obvious attractiveness to Watson matching Belle’s powerfully independent demeanor with stoic glares and gentle warmth in her eyes. There is subtle personality changes that evolves Belle from the two-dimensional hand-drawn character of yesteryear into a three-dimensional character grounded in reality that dances off the screen.
As for Dan Stevens, he had a tougher time capturing the brutish nature of his character, since the Beast is CGI. While I’d be willing to place bets that his voice was digitally tinkered with, Stevens’ ruffs, gruffs, and even singing, makes him stronger than Robby Benson’s portrayal back in the early 90’s. It also helps that we get a lot more backstory behind the Beast’s character and an extra layer of geniality beneath the coarse fur and fangs.
Going in I had my doubts that Luke Evans could play such a vain, muscular villain like Gaston, but luckily I was proven wrong by his character’s roguish suaveness and cunning wickedness. Josh Gad pairs with him nicely as a much more good-natured LeFou in this update. The cutlery and castle furniture are just as charming as their voice actors, Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, GuGu Mbatha-Raw, and Ewan McGregor, who’s leading the way as the talking candlestick, Lumière. McGregor doesn’t disappoint when he voices the show stopping “Be Our Guest.”
The story remains true to the original, scrambling up a few pivotal moments, adjusting pacing, sewing in ideas from the Broadway adaptation, and taking some creative liberties (which I’m sure you’ve read or heard about one in particular in the media by now). After 25 years, it makes sense that some nuts and bolts have to be shifted and modernized, but it never forsakes the heart and spirit of the movie. The story’s soulful mix of romance and music remains intact.
There are about 30 more minutes of content that gives the audience a deeper of understanding of the characters, and not just our two lovebirds. We relate and feel more for the talking furnishings and silverware more than we did previously. While purists might fold their arms and slouch in their theater chairs in disgust over these changes and the vision, others will be enchanted by this interpretation, finding something there that wasn’t there before.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a magical retelling that will make fans of young ones and make Disney loyalists fall in love with the story all over again. While the original is still the standard bearer for Disney storytelling and animation, this 2017 version isn’t without its own merits. The 21st century “Beauty and the Beast” is a lot more melodic and even more visually extravagant without ever being gaudy. Its familiarity makes it a must-see, but its newfound charm makes it an instant classic for newcomers.