Disney's first version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) was an animated classic. It was the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Three of its songs were nominated for Best Original Song, with the title song winning the Oscar. In April 1994, it was also the first Disney animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical.
When it was announced that there would be a live version of this beloved film, I had my apprehensions. However the hype was so strong and unavoidable. Each trailer that came out was immediately viral, especially when we started to hear the stars like Emma Watson and Luke Evans singing. I was excited, but I did not want to get my expectations too high.
An arrogant and selfish prince was punished by an enchantress, turning him in to a horned and frightful Beast, the people in his castle as living furniture and the weather around it in constant gloom of wintertime. Only if he learns to love and be loved in return before all the petals of an enchanted rose fell off can the spell be broken.
Meanwhile, in the village, pretty but bookish country lass Belle has caught the fancy of the hunky but haughty hunter Gaston. However, when her eccentric father Maurice was taken prisoner by the Beast in his castle, Belle offers to take his place. All of the cursed prince's staff hoped she will be the one to finally break the spell.
While the main plot points and several scenes are very similar, this live action film is not exactly a scene-for-scene remake of the animated version. Old favorites like"Belle," "Be Our Guest," "Something There," and "Beauty and the Beast" are all still there for us to reminisce fondly about as they came alive. There are now new songs written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice to highlight the drama of scenes not even in the original like Maurice yearning for his wife or the Prince in his childhood, and best of all, a grand moving solo song for the Beast to fully express his sincere love for Belle.
This is not exactly a rated G film, as the sense of violence, danger and dread is magnified when using real actors and realistic computer-generated effects than animated drawings. Gaston had an additional unexpected scene of particular cruelty against Maurice that was quite disturbing. His inflammatory "Mob Song" and fatal shooting of the Beast with a rifle are already known from the previous film, but these felt scarier in this live-action version.
I was most concerned about Emma Watson being not the right choice for the role of Belle. In that teaser for the song "Belle," she sang very well, but her acting felt bored and unenergetic when compared to how I remembered the cartoon Belle before. However, in the full film, Watson really grew into the role very well beyond that first song. She gave her Belle a distinctly stronger and more independent personality than ever before.
The new Beast had brown fur, larger horns and ugly fangs thanks to computer-aided facial and movement capture technology, but I thought the absence of a huge snout allowed him look more gentle in the romantic scenes. I did not know Dan Stevens before his role here, but he was certainly able to convey torment, desperation and love on that Beast face. The incredible modulation of his Beast voice was hypnotizing in its depth.
Luke Evans may be smaller in heft than we would expect from Gaston who was supposed to be "roughly the size of a barge," but he played his comically evil role with glee and his singing was unexpectedly solid. As played by the ever-scene-stealing Josh Gad, the role of Le Fou was expanded and developed than just Gaston's blind fanatic. The gay controversy around this character was needless. Kevin Kline gives Maurice a tenderness and dignity not felt as much in the cartoonish version of this character in the older film.
For Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci, we may or may not catch a glimpse of them at the party scene in the beginning. They definitely gave the enchanted palace staff Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Madame de Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza their colorful personalities by their voices alone. There were some unexpected reunions of certain characters with their families towards the end which was a very nice touch.
This film is now the most expensive movie musical ever made at $160M, and it was obvious where the money went. The cinematography was breathtaking, especially those gorgeous winter scenes. The opulent production design worked seamlessly with the astounding visual effects, I could not distinguish where reality and CGI began and ended. The costumes were expectedly lavish and splendid to look at. As early as now, I am already predicting Oscar nominations in these categories, as well as for at least two new songs "Evermore" (with versions by Dan Stevens and by Josh Groban) and "How Does a Moment Last Forever" (sung by Celine Dion over the closing credits).
So overall, despite my initial fear that this film may disappoint the loyal die-hard fans of the original movie, I think they won't be. Comparisons are inevitable, but the original film had its own charm, and so did this one. This new film by director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls" director, "Chicago" writer) will be an enduring classic in its own right. 9/10.