It’s a risky move to bring a live-action version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to the big screen. CINDERELLA is one thing, but remaking one of Disney’s most beloved musicals, with a main character made completely out of CGI, is next-level. The second the film was announced, I have been counting down the seconds ’til its release, and as the release date kept getting pushed back, the anticipation (and nervousness) built. However, with the success of THE JUNGLE BOOK, also a musical and also CGI-heavy, I knew we were in for a treat with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I am already a huge fan of the original, and will freely admit to the fact that at the age of 20, I may or may not have seen the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST half-hour stage show at Disney World three times in one day.
So now that you know where my baseline of fandom is, I want you to know that Bill Condon’s live-action adaption is really good and even more than that, really, really fun. Believe me, you will not be disappointed. Despite a shaky vocal performance from Emma Watson (which I will get to below) this is a nearly perfect adaptation that will make fellow fans clutch their armrests in delight. While it doesn’t really make any leaps in revamping the storyline, it does add some elements to the story, including an awesome new prologue that gets more in-depth about the Beast’s life pre-spell and enhancing the supporting characters’ respective stories (my favorite was the extra screen time for Audra McDonald’s Wardobe).
I won’t bore you with a plot summary of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST… because honestly if you don’t know the story already, I can’t help you. So let’s get to the down and dirty… the music. Composing legend Alan Menken, who has written music for Disney’s golden age of musicals including THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, POCAHONTAS, NEWSIES, HERCULES, TANGLED… I could go on, returns to revamp classic songs from the original film, as well as create four new ones! All of the songs you loved in the animated version are present, with an especially showstopping performance of “Gaston” from Luke Evans and Josh Gad. Because Emma Watson’s voice was not my favorite, to say the least, the musical numbers from the supporting cast were the standouts in this version of the story. And one of the new songs, “Evermore“, sung in the film by Dan Stevens and then by Josh Groban, is a new favorite.
Along with the music, the strength of the film lies in the extraordinary talent of the cast. Audra McDonald’s cameo as the wardrobe is enough to put me in a musical coma, but then they add Ewan McGregor, and on top of that, get him singing again… it’s a wonder I made it out in one piece. Luke Evans, who I was initially very concerned about when the casting was announced, is my favorite part of the film. He is absolutely perfect as Gaston, with the swagger, voice, and muscles that we all love to hate. Every time he came on-screen, I knew we were in for entertainment.
I must also begrudgingly admit that Dan Stevens, who I am still angry at for leaving DOWNTON ABBEY, was also fantastic as the Beast… from his vocal and motion capture performance, he really was the right choice for the role. And let me just say, Josh Gad also was perfectly cast as LeFou, who is apparently the first “openly gay” character in Disney films. However, if it were up to me, the blink and you miss it gay subtext could have been a lot more apparent… especially for all of the hype this is now getting in the media.
Now to a bit of the bad. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is nearly perfect… the only thing holding it back from an A+ review is Emma Watson’s incredibly weak, overly auto-tuned singing voice. It’s never a good sign when I walk out of the theater after a musical and don’t immediately preorder the soundtrack… especially when that soundtrack is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The songs from the original film and stage show are constantly played on my iTunes. I can’t say all of the live-action versions will be joining the collection.
I love Emma as an actress, but as a singer… it’s not good. I have no idea why the powers that be at Disney decided to go this route. There are plenty of talented actresses (cough ANNA KENDRICK cough) that can act and sing. But to have “Belle”, the audiences introduction to our heroine, and one of the most iconic songs in the Disney catalog, sung with so much auto-tune, it doesn’t start the movie off on a good foot. It’s one thing if the studio decided to go with a non-singer to, I don’t know, humanize it a bit… but when EVERYONE ELSE in the movie can sing well and the lead cannot… that theory goes out the window too.
Honestly, though, maybe it was for the best that Emma’s voice was shaky. I don’t think I could have survived a perfect BEAUTY AND THE BEAST remake. I have been waiting for this moment since the cast was first announced, and I think this hiccup was done for my (and other diehard fans’) safety. If possible, make sure you see the film in IMAX as I hear it will have expanded aspect ratio, allowing you to see 26% more of the picture than standard theaters… and the sound in IMAX is just so much better.
My Review: A-