1991’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to score a nod for Best Picture. It didn’t win, but it sure won a few for musical efforts. Why, then — on earth — would Disney remake it as a live action musical? Well, there are several reasons and they are headlined by having director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and star Emma Watson as the iconic Mouse House princess Belle. Millions will discover that fact as Beauty and the Beast has made itself available on digital download, Blu-Ray and DVD.
There is also the fact that there is a successful box office track record and trend to follow as well for the studio that Walt Disney built. The live action Maleficent and Cinderella previously were critical and commercial smashes. The answer to the question of why redo Beauty and the Beast now seems like it should be answered with another question — why wouldn’t you?
With Harry Potter veteran Watson as Belle, immediately as the film commences and her steadfastness in a time where women were anything but steadfast, leads us to the reprise of an original song from the 1991 film, Belle. With her angelic vocal prowess and searing screen presence, Watson firmly makes us “forget” any previous version of the title character and firmly settle in to her fateful ride. They whole town clearly knows our heroine as their chorus of the opening number illustrates. Witnessing this song come to life where before solely lived an animated version is a cinematic gift.
That is just it.
Condon whisks us away into his Beauty and the Beast and it moved in such a way that hasn’t been felt since seeing the Broadway musical version life merely feet away from the stage. Nothing can replace the live spectacle of theater, but this live action big screen version manages its own multiple levels of charm and adoration.
Most everyone knows the story of the classic tale. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes imprisoned by a Beast (Dan Stevens), who lives in a castle that used to be the centerpiece in our tale’s village. Now it lies dark and only rumors fly when it comes to what happened to the dashing prince who rebuked a witch’s test and landed himself in a curse that made him Beastly until he found someone who could love him, fangs and all. Maurice discovers what happens when one lands on the royal grounds uninvited, circa the present. Belle comes calling, and demands the Beast allows her to switch places with her father. The terms are agreed upon and our leading lady’s incarceration and truthful ascension to fully drawn individual commences.
Also cursed in the castle are the prince’s “help,” who now find themselves in a form that ranges from a candelabra (Ewan McGregor) to a teapot and saucer, (Emma Thompson and Chip (Nathan Mack) and even a prickly piano named Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). They suffer the same fate as their master. Should he not find love by the time the last pedal of the witch’s rose falls to the floor, they will all remain in this form for eternity.
This timeless tale finds another gift for its animated to live action leap — Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans (in what will be looked back on as a breakout performance) as Gaston. A triumph of a story needs a villain to keep its see-saw emotional rollercoaster going. Evans’ extraordinary turn as the village’s conceded center of attention is another spoke in the cinema wizardry wheel of fortune for anyone who gets to experience this piece of movie joyousness.
As is the case with most Disney home video releases, bonus features are a treasure trove of delight.
Clocking in at almost a half-an-hour is A Beauty of a Tale, which takes viewers behind-the-scenes of the making of the film. The thing that is most impressive in this is the production design. The elaborate sets built to captured the elaborate vision of Condon is stunning and to see them out of context of the film itself only enhances this writer’s belief that there is no substitute for practical effects, no matter how much money you have for CG. Although, the magic of CG is touched on her in the exploration of the motion capture technology used to create Stevens’ Beast. The best part… scenes from the original animated film are edited in between the live action sequences to further add to the wonder of what this movie has achieved.
The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast shines the spotlight firmly on Watson and the all-female department heads who brought this uniquely dazzling Disney spectacle to life. All of their presence on the set is clearly painted as a priceless edition to another Mouse House cinematic piece of pixie dust.
A surprise delight is Enchanted Table Read. It is rare that home video bonus features include the moment where the whole cast gathers for the first time and goes through the script. Watching Beauty and the Beast’s ensemble, with their leader, Condon, leading the charge is a true treat. Interwoven in this gem is singing and dancing sequences set to live music.
For those who are fanatics for the animated classic, don’t miss A Beauty of a Tale, which does a stellar job of exploring how filmmakers took a beloved piece of and made it into a live action joy.
Those of you wanting to get your song on after hearing the incredible soundtrack of the film, warm up those pipes. Disney Song Selection is a movie miracle! Are you ready to tackle karaoke versions of numerous tracks from the film, including the aforementioned Belle, the title track, The Mob Song, How Does a Moment Last Forever, Gaston, Days in the Sun and of course who doesn’t want to dive into their own song and dance version of Be Our Guest?
Speaking of sensational songs, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences is a stunner. It goes behind-the-scenes and offers up cast and crew interviews that illustrates how the magic was achieved.
Deleted Scenes follows an introduction by Condon and then includes a myriad of terrific material that wound up on the cutting room floor. They include: Gaston Courts Belle, Bread and Jam for Agathe, Storming the Ice Gates, Lumiere Torches LeFou, Monsieur Toilette, Cogsworth Rescues Lumiere, Treacle for the Lasses and LeFou and Monsieur Toilette Reunite.
It’s hard to top or even equal a classic, but just as the live action Beauty and the Beast achieves itself, so too does the Ariana Grande and John Legend take on Beauty and the Beast. Check out the music video and then dive into the making of it as well and see how these two singers could not have been a better choice to take a classic track and take it out of the past and firmly give it a beautiful place in the present — much like the film itself.
Film Grade: A
Bonus Features: A