Walt Disney is continually proving its efforts at adapting every animated classic in its vault is financially successful, and, because of that, there will be more coming down the pipeline. The Lion King, Mulan, and Dumbo are currently in pre-production, and there are plenty of others that have already been announced. Don’t be shocked if they announce live-action adaptations of Aladdin, The Aristocats, or anything else for that matter. The formula works, and people will flock to see whatever Disney puts out.
That being said, Bill Condon’s update of Beauty and the Beast is practically an exact replica of the 1991 classic, albeit with human beings and CGI instead of being completely animated. Sure, it mostly revels in nostalgia, but it’s packed with such a lavish production value and carries a charming, upbeat tone that it’s tough to be turned off by it. There are some tweaks here and there, such as three new songs, lost lyrics from some of the original tunes thrown in, and approaching some of the characters in a different manner, but, for the most part, it’s a lot like the original.
There’s Belle (Emma Watson), the town bookworm who seeks more than what she has now. Living in a provincial village, surrounded by people with whom she barely gets along, Belle finds herself to be the center of attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the muscular war veteran who’s a misogynistic buffoon and has the arrogance in thinking she will be his wife. After her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), goes missing, Belle soon finds out that the Beast (Dan Stevens) has taken him prisoner. She tells the Beast that she will take her father’s place, and soon becomes a prisoner inside the gigantic castle, filled with household items that were once servants to the Beast prior to having a curse placed on him.
This new Beauty and the Beast is packed with a strong ensemble cast, all of whom are exceptional in their roles no matter how big or how small they are. As Belle, Watson is a standout, making the character more strong-willed and independent as she roams through a town of people that look down on her, and also when she has to confront the Beast. Stevens is mostly hidden behind CGI during the movie, sometimes looking like it wasn’t fully rendered, but he excels at playing this damaged creature looking for true love before the last rose petal falls. Evans is perfect for the role of Gaston, looking like the cartoon character was brought to life, even though his muscular strength isn’t quite as massive.
The update in Lefou (Josh Gad) that caused the controversy prior to the movie’s releasing is actually very minor, but if you play close attention to the character throughout, you’ll notice hints here and there that he has feelings toward Gaston. It’s not just the one particular scene. But Gad is enjoyable to watch in all his bubbliness as Lefou.
The remade musical numbers capture the spirit of the originals very well, and the new songs are welcome additions, even if the first viewing catches people off-guard when they’re introduced. “Evermore,” which the Beast sings near the end, is the best and most emotional of the new batch.
I haven’t even mentioned all the people who make up the household items. There’s an unrecognizable (in voice and human form near the end) Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, and many others. They are all fun, especially when Lumiere performs “Be Our Guest,” a scene that took 18 months to make, as mentioned in the Blu-ray special features.
Speaking of special features, the newly released Blu-ray is packed with them, including a section in which the making of all of the songs are presented. During the segment in which the filming of “Be Our Guest” is explored, Watson talks about how it was the most boring moment for her, because she was the only human actor in the shot. It’s fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes work on the scene without all the CGI, and then watch it in its final form.
“A Beauty of a Tale” is a 27-minute featurette that explores the making of Beauty and the Beast with cast and crew interviews. One of the things discussed is how Stevens wasn’t fully motion captured during the filming of the movie. His facial expressions were done after the scenes were filmed, and learning of that and how the other special effects were created is rather impressive.
The deleted scenes feature a character named Monsieur Toilette who, you guessed it, is turned into a toilet after the curse is placed. When LeFou is running away from the battle between the villagers and household items, he stumbles into the bathroom, which, as it turns out, isn’t the safest place. LeFou gets drenched in toilet water and then runs out screaming. Later, in another deleted scene, after the appliances are turned back into humans, LeFou has an awkward encounter with the man that was the toilet, and it’s played by Stephen Merchant of Logan and Hello, Ladies fame.
It’s understandable why Disney wanted to cut the scene with Monsieur Toilette. It’s not exactly appropriate for a family-friendly film, and Merchant gets only a cameo in both segments. In the long run, it’s best they trimmed it from the movie, because it wouldn’t have fit well.
The most entertaining special feature is the Enchanted Table Read, in which we see the actors casually performing certain scenes and reading their lines. It condenses different days into one segment, such as when they’re actually sitting at a table reading their lines and when they’re performing the musical numbers while not in costume.
There’s an alternate version of one of the new songs, “Days in the Sun,” in which the Beast’s mother sings it instead of the Young Prince character. That’s a deleted scene that gets its own segment on the Blu-ray rather than being lumped in with the rest of them, and it’s nice that Disney did that, so people could get a look at this moment that is much longer than the other scenes that were cut from the film.
Rounding off the features are interviews with the women that were the crew members on Beauty and the Beast, who encourage the young girls watching to go for what they want to achieve. Celine Dion is interviewed in another segment about how the original film helped launch her career, and how her husband would still be championing her if he were alive today. One of the last pieces is a music video of the song, “Beauty and the Beast,” sung by John Legend and Ariana Grande.
I can’t say I liked this version better, obviously. Disney’s original Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite animated movies, and one that I re-watched countless times as a child. Condon’s version doesn’t go out of its way to make itself completely different, and that’s fine. The updated songs are just as memorable, and the performances are all wonderful. The Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent at home, and is a great addition to any Disney fan’s collection. It’s nice that the studio packed it full of special features, too, for people to see how it got made and what didn’t make the final cut.