Friday, March 17, 2017

A Tale As Old As '91 : Beauty and the Beast Review

The following is a "spoiler free" review of Disney's new live action version of Beauty and the Beast.
By "spoiler free" we mean that you should see the film first; that is, unless you have seen the original 1991 Oscar nominated Walt Disney Pictures animated classic (that, along with The Little Mermaid, lead to the Disney animation renaissance, and spawned a film and merchandise frenzy that led the way for Tangled, Frozen, and Moana) or own the VHS Black Diamond or Walt Disney Masterpiece versions, Laser Disk, DVD/Bluray Platinum, Diamond, or Signature Editions.  

Disney's recent string of live action reboots has been mostly well received in terms of critics and box office returns, ensuring that Beauty and the Beast is guaranteed to be financially successful.  The film is a direct adaptation of the 26 year old animated adaptation of Le Belle et la Bete, the novel which was first published in 1740, and follows the well-known script and songs to the letter with the exception of a handful of new musical numbers. The studio even dusted off Celine Dion (Peabo who?) for a new ballad.  What elevates this film above a simple studio-funded cosplay is the stunning visuals, costumes, and brilliant casting.

The film was reformatted for IMAX 3-D and the visuals really pop. The contrasts between the summertime brightness of the village scenes and cold, grey eternal winter of the castle and surrounding woods are striking and provide for a clever running gag. The castle and grounds are brought to life in stunning CG and sets for the exterior and interior.  The only disappointment in sets is the infamous forbidden West Wing which, in my opinion, should have been far darker and creepier. The motion capture of the beast and other CG characters is well done.  

The weakest point of the casting is the two main characters of Belle and Beast.  Emma Watson proves to be a capable singer, but doesn't elevate her performance above a standard doe-eyed damsel.  While casting the "insufferable know-it-all" will, no doubt, bring some Potter fans, she fails to convey the odd, book nerd or the strong woman she grows into. Dan Stevens is present as the beast without any of the inner conflict of a cursed narcissistic prince learning to love another.  The story is carried by the supporting cast of Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellean, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, and Luke Evans as a spot on Gaston.

There is nothing objectionable for the target audience of young princes and princesses and their Millennial parents reliving the nostalgia of the 1991 version.  The film is beautiful, the original Alan Menken / Howard Ashman score is brilliant, and the cast is superb.  The film will be a hit out of the gate, and will ensure that the trend of Disney trolling their catalog for more live-action reboots will be continued.