Review: Beauty and the Beast is a Visually Dazzling Love Letter to Your Childhood

The new Beauty and the Beast film has thus far received middling reviews. Having now seen it, I’m really not sure why. Certainly, there is truth to the accusation that this movie lacks originality. But that’s the nature of remakes. In this case, the lack of originality does not equate with a lack of ambition.

This is a movie where everyone involved gave it everything they had. You can see the enormous effort that must have gone into this on every frame. You can hear it in every note.

If you accept that the goal of this movie is not to create something new but simply to stage a perfect adaptation of a beloved story, well, they pretty much nailed it. Think of it as your favorite play coming to town, with the best cast and most lavish production you could possibly have asked for. Even if you know every line by heart, you’re going to buy a ticket to that production. And you’ll love every minute.

The movie is visually stunning. The vibrant colors and elaborate staging of each scene gives it the lively feel of animation even though it takes place in the physical world. It’s as if Director Bill Condon took all of the colors, energy, and life missing from his Twilight movies and deposited them here. It’s impossible not to get swept up by the dazzling light show.

The casting is also perfect. Most notably, Emma Watson who brings a bit of grit and toughness to the historically more refined and bookish Belle. This is a star turn for Watson, who has long deserved one.

But there’s not a weak link in the cast. You’ll be impressed when you see the level of big name voices behind every talking piece of furniture. For example, they got Stanley Tucci to play a piano that I think only speaks about five lines! That’s like catching a production of Les Mis where Gavroche is played by Beyonce.

Every one of them can sing. A lot of modern musicals are content to skimp on quality vocal work if they can get the right actor involved (see Russell Crowe as Javert, or Ryan Gosling in La La Land). This movie took the opposite approach. It seems to look for capable actors/singers first and worry about their names second.

Take Dan Stevens. He’s an up-and-coming actor who most most people only know from his television work (on Downton Abbey and Legion). Yet he gets top-billing here as the Beast. He does not waste the opportunity. Even buried under some uncanny-valley level CGI, he imbues this Beast with life.

There are a few new elements in this film you won’t find in the original. Belle is a bit tougher and more capable of fighting off wolves. You’ve probably heard that Josh Gad’s LaFou character is gay, and I suppose that’s technically accurate, although it’s barely more than hinted at in the film. There’s some largely unnecessary subplots that serve to expand the world and explain the more perplexing mysteries of the premise (why does no one in town remember a famous prince who lives in a castle five miles away from them?)

Most importantly, there are a few new songs penned by Alan Menken, the original composer. While they mostly don’t stand alongside the original classics, I found them more appealing than the usual filler songs Disney has added to pad out its Broadway adaptations. My favorite of the bunch is the Beast’s new solo tune, “Evermore,” which he sings after Belle has left his castle to return to her father. Listen to the aforementioned Dan Stevens belt this thing out:

 

 

That kid is going places.

I have a few nitpicks. It’s a little long. The CGI beast looks goofy at times. Why would they recast Angela Lansbury when she can still sing like this? And yes, I did find it impossible not to wonder: wow, what if they had used all this money and talent to tell an original story? I’m sure it would be something special.

But at the end of the day, if you accept this movie for what it is, it’s hard to find much fault with it. If you like Disney or musicals, you will find a lot to love in the new Beauty and the Beast. If you don’t like those things, what happened to you?

 

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