REVIEW: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ magically retells classic tale


3/22/17 Beauty and the Beast poster

Michael Nied

Following in the footsteps of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” is the latest Disney film to receive the live-action remake treatment.

From director Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn  Part 2″), the film hit theaters March 17 and provides a lively and joyful new take on the beloved fairytale.

The greatest risk with live-action adaptations of classic stories is casting actors capable of breathing life into iconic characters. It’s worth noting that Disney’s first forays into the genre provided the company some leeway in its casting.

The company began by focusing on auxiliary characters in the case of “Maleficent” (2014’s prequel to “Sleeping Beauty”) or by reimagining older stories from their collection, such as the 1967 take on “The Jungle Book,” which still relied heavily on voice acting and computer animation of anthropomorphic animals.

“Beauty and the Beast” is the first project from Disney’s ’90s renaissance to receive a retelling. The risks were higher this time around, but the roles were expertly cast.

Emma Watson shines in the role of Belle, who received a bit of an empowering update from her original portrayal. The determined character is as bookish and curious as ever; however, she’s also taken over the role of the inventor that her father held in the original.

As the only woman in the town capable of reading (and, potentially, unique thought), Belle is distrusted by her peers but she refuses to mask her hunger for knowledge outside the constraints imposed by the provincial farm town.

Watson’s portrayal is headstrong in her relationship with the Beast, but she quickly develops relationships with other inhabitants of the enchanted castle, going as far as to offer whatever help is necessary to break the curse that hangs over them. Determined and loyal, Watson is more lovable than ever and assumes the role of the Disney princess with ease.

Dan Stevens as the cursed Beast and Luke Evans as the overly confident war hero Gaston are both equally dynamic and well-cast. The Beast receives a portrayal that remains true to the animated counterpart and is spectacularly ghastly at first. His appearance becomes less frightening as his cold heart melts. Gaston, on the other hand, remains foolhardy and cruel throughout the film. His selfish exterior is the perfect foil to the Beast as he falls further in love.

The film’s supporting characters (human and enchanted furniture alike) reverberate with life and support the leads on their journey. The casting is effective, and each character helps bring the story to life.

The film largely follows to Disney’s original telling of the classic tale with a few surprise twists and turns to add a fresh take.

Chief among those changes is the addition of a new magical gift from the enchantress that serves the double purpose of bringing Belle and the Beast closer together, while also providing more insight into Belle’s mysterious mother. The enchantress responsible for cursing the Beast plays a larger role this time around.

Beyond the minor changes, many scenes are identically modeled after the original animated film. Lush set pieces (the flowers alone are stunning beyond words, and the castle is utterly breathtaking), exquisite costumes and exceptional attention to detail provides a trip down memory lane that is as gorgeous as it is magical.

“Beauty and the Beast” could never be the same without the iconic music that accompanied the original release, and this retelling delivers in spades. Clever staging and powerful vocal performances from the full cast bring the fairytale’s music to life in thrilling new ways.

The opening performance of “Belle” sets the scene for the poor farm town with Watson’s request for “more than this provincial life” resonating over the hustle and bustle of her morning. The performance of “Be Our Guest” explodes with energy as the candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) dazzles Belle with a spectacular display of opulence, complete with dancing champagne flutes and acrobatic silverware.

Stevens, meanwhile, delivers a stirring performance of the newly added “Evermore” after sending Belle to her belabored father. It’s a heart-wrenching performance that reveals just how completely the selfish Beast was changed by his relationship with Belle.

The musical performances drive the film from one magical moment to the next, culminating in a happily ever after that, while predictable, is undeniably as joyful and evocative as ever before.

“Beauty and the Beast” will undoubtedly be a bright spot in 2017, and the live rendition is evidence that Disney remains capable of creating magic with every project they release. With a record-breaking opening weekend, the film will undoubtedly spur Disney onward with its goals to bring other classic stories to life.

With its latest release, Disney has put a timely spin on a tale as old as time, and the result is simply magical.

Michael Nied is the entertainment reviewer, contact him at [email protected]