THE FILM 4/5
“Kill the beast!”
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated classic which refashions the classic characters from the tale as old as time for a contemporary audience, staying true to the original music while updating the score with several new songs. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within.
Years ago, based on the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney announced that they would be releasing live-action remakes of their animated classics catalog. The response was met with a lot of skepticism. Of course Disney – the most famous brand in the world, and the one most synonymous with finding a way to market and profit off anything they own – would resort to this. They’d already spent years creating direct-to-video sequels to some of their biggest titles: The Lion King, Cinderella, Lady & the Tramp – no titles were sacred. So why wouldn’t they jump on the remake train as every other studio had done?
But a funny thing happened. After the disastrously received Alice in Wonderland remake by Tim “the modern Bruce Willis of directing” Burton, but which broke box office records, a pair of additional remakes were announced. The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon were to be helmed by the somewhat unlikely Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and the very unlikely David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). They would be celebrity-casted, CGI-ridden, and ride on very familiar stories. And yet when the pair of films were released, both were critically adored, with Jungle Book tearing up the box office; Pete’s Dragon landed much more softly, but while packing more of an emotional punch.
Disney, considering both films a success, launched several more endeavors. Beauty and the Beast – among the studio’s most beloved animated films – was one of the titles announced. (The Lion King and The Little Mermaid are en route.) It would be helmed by the severely underrated Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters; Kinsey), with the titular roles falling to Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Before a single frame was shot, the announcement was, again, met with a lot of skepticism. Film fans with short memories would recognize Condon’s name from his having helmed a handful of entries in the Twilight series, and memories of the tepid sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass were still fresh in their minds. But upon its release, Beauty and the Beast was met with the same critical adoration of its immediate predecessors, but also embraced by fans of the original.
Yes, Beauty and the Beast will seem very familiar to those who still remember the 1991 animated classic, with a nearly identical screenplay to the original, along with much of the same songs and music (along with some new ones) and the same sense of fun and whimsy of which only Disney is capable. Though it’s been updated in certain spots, much like the controversial decision to make LeFou, friend of the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans), quite gay (played by Josh Gad), Beauty and the Beast reeks, in the good ways, of its ‘90s inspiration. And that’s a large part of its charm. Nostalgia has driven many projects in film, television, and music over the last decade, and this new version of Beauty and the Beast is no exception. Paradoxically, it’s the kind of film, along with the kind of music within, that no one makes anymore. It’s very ‘90s. It’s of the ‘90s. But it works because we know the original film; in fact, it works better as a companion to the original film rather than a remake because of that. (And “Gaston” is still a blast to see performed.)
Beauty and the Beast is impeccably casted, and not a single of the non-singer actors involved stumble when it comes time for their take on a familiar classic song. (Emma Thompson’s take on the titular tune, originally sung by Angela Lansbury, doesn’t hold a candle, but it’s still quite good.) Emma Watson sees the chance to turn Belle from a somewhat distressed and victimized girl into a strong and empowering character, while Dan Stevens has the larger task: that of conveying his emotion through the CGI mask that will soon be drawn over his face. Nearly all of the supporting cast do phenomenal voice work, with Ewan MacGregor’s not-that-great French accent sounding distracting just every so often.
Technically, Beauty and the Beast is gorgeously realized, with stunning cinematography and wardrobe, and after one look at the production design, you’ll be struck with the realization that bringing this film to life was very, very, very…expensive. But every dollar is up on the screen, because it’s all been expertly executed.
THE PICTURE 5/5
Perfect. Beauty and the Beast‘s video presentation is flawless, exercising excellent color, contrast, stability, clarity — all of the above. Having been one of the most effectively photographed films of the year is sure to do that.
THE SOUND 5/5
Equally perfect. There is a lot of constant activity in the audio presentation, from the dialogue to the boisterous musical numbers (seriously, “Gaston” is as fun as you remember it), to the overall ambience of the Beast’s forlorn castle. Especially effective sequences were the initial sequences where Belle’s father flees from a pack of wolves on horseback, and naturally during the chaotic finale, which sees the Beast’s castle coming apart.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5
The only notable missing supplement on this release is an audio commentary with Bill Condon. Otherwise, the supplements on hand are exhausting. The main menu even offers the option to play the film with a pre-credits musical overture, which, frankly speaking, is classy as hell.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Enchanted Table Read
- A Beauty of a Tale
- The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast
- Making a Moment with Celine Dion
- From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences
- “Be Our Guest”
- “Beauty and the Beast”
- Deleted Scenes
- Introduction by Director Bill Condon
- Gaston Courts Belle
- Bread and Jam for Agathe
- Storming the Ice Gate
- Lumière Torches LeFou
- Monsieur Toilette
- Cogsworth Rescues Lumière y.
- Treacle the Lasses
- LeFou and Monsieur Toilette Reunite
- Extended Song: “Days in the Sun”
- “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video
- Making the Music Video
There’s a bit of melancholy in the realization that people who took their kids to see this new iteration of Beauty and the Beast were likely kids themselves with the original was released twenty-five years ago. And whether or not this was an easy cash grab on the part of Disney to ape one of their IPs for another round of profits, at least they went about it the right way, putting the perfect people in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a film that can stand proudly along with its very celebrated original classic. The PQ and AQ on this release are reference quality and absolutely fantastic, along with a large collection of special features to allow a glimpse into the making of this lush and loyal new classic.
For over 90 years, The Walt Disney Studios has been the foundation on which The Walt Disney Company was built. Today, the Studio brings quality movies, music and stage plays to consumers throughout the world. Feature films are released under the following banners: Disney, including Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios; Disneynature; Marvel Studios; Lucasfilm; and Touchstone Pictures. The Disney Music Group encompasses the Walt Disney Records and Hollywood Records labels, as well as Disney Music Publishing. The Disney Theatrical Group produces and licenses live events, including Disney on Broadway, Disney On Ice and Disney Live!