Thursday, July 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Live-Action Film Surpasses Expectations

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Version: Library borrow

It can be so difficult to translate an animated classic into a live-action film. Disney has proven itself up to the task with Jungle Book (2016) and now Beauty and the Beast.

With an all-star cast, a fantasy village set, an expanded mythology, and two new songs added to the original list of memorable tunes, this new version of "a tale as old as time" succeeds with ease in recasting one of Disney's most loved films. 

Emma Watson is incandescent as Belle, slightly re-envisioned as the tinkerer in the family and a self-reliant maiden who won't settle for just any man. Dan Stevens is a sturdy, turbulent Beast, vulnerable when he needs to be but irritable when inconvenienced and threatening when endangered. Luke Evans is wonderful as self-obsessed Gaston, putting on a commanding performance in the musical portions. Josh Gad pretty much steals the show as irascible LeFou, less bumbling and more comical than his animated version. Also putting in notable performances are Ewan McGregor as Lumiere the candlestick, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth the mantel clock, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the tea pot -- honestly, I didn't know it was them doing the voice work until their transformations into human form at the end. 

In case you don't know the story line, Belle is a smart maiden in a small French town pursued by Gaston, who has just returned to his home village from war looking for a wife -- and he's made up his mind to marry Belle, who simply isn't interested. They have nothing in common. LeFou is Gaston's aide de camp, returning with him. Maurice is Belle's father, an inventor and artist. The Beast was once a self-centered prince who was put under a spell by an enchantress when he failed to give her shelter during a storm, and she turned him into a beast and his servants into various pieces of furniture. The enchantress gave the prince a rose and when he refused it, she made it part of the spell: If the Beast didn't find true love by the time the last pedal fell from the rose, everyone in the castle would remain as they were in the spell for all time. If he does find true love, everyone would come back to human form and live happily ever after. Maurice comes to the castle after becoming lost in the woods, looking for shelter during a storm and is imprisoned by the Beast. When Belle comes looking for him, the Beast lets her exchange her life for her father's and becomes the Beast's and the servants' last hope to return to their lives.

There are parts of this film I liked much better than the original, and there are parts of the animated original you just can't replace. For instance, it's impossible to replace the magic of the ballroom scene in the animated film, hard though they tried. On the other hand, the dance sequence in the real ballroom was much lovelier. And the barroom musical scene had far more power to it with real actors than could be shown in the animated piece. So the transition to live-action film was a mixed blessing for me. It's also easier to make a village come to life in animated film, but the set decoration in the live-action film was simply amazing, built to exquisite detail on a stage lot.

The Blue-ray version of this film has extras, including the making of the film that explains the intricate detail the set decorators went into in creating the village. They also show the masterful effort the director and actors went into for the first reading of the script, including singing the music and dancing the scenes. These extras are well worth watching -- after seeing the film, of course. You will appreciate the magic of the film even more, I assure you.

While I originally wasn't convinced enough of the need to see a remake of Beauty and the Beast to see it in the theater (my wife and daughter were), I'm glad I finally saw it, on DVD. If you missed it in the theater, too, make a point to see it now. And as I said, it's worth getting the Blue-ray for the extras.

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