“There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”
With Disney’s live-action revamp of its 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast, that something, first and foremost of course, begins with three-dimensional flesh and blood actors, even more so if you catch the 3D presentation. And they’re as solid as rocks: Emma Watson as the outspoken and bookish Belle, Kevin Kline (wearing well) as her fanciful father Maurice, Luke Evans as Belle’s supremely ill-suited suitor Gaston, a blunderbuss of a man if ever there was one, and Josh Gad as Gaston’s squirely sidekick, the foolish Le Fou.
But wait, there’s more!
What wasn’t there before includes a few additional musical motifs, which composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice (Howard Ashman, Menken’s original writing partner, passed away in ’91) weave seamlessly into the existing soundtrack of popular showtunes: “Belle,” “Gaston,” the aforementioned “Something There,” “Be Our Guest,” and the title track. This time around we’re treated to some fabulous outfits, by costume designer Jacqueline Durran. I can’t say I typically notice costumes, but I did here, right on down to the little ties on the shoulders of Belle’s blue peasant apron. Once the spell was broken in the original film, the animated objects—Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the mantel clock, Mrs. Potts the teapot, Chip the teacup, and the Beast himself—all morphed into humans, albeit animated humans. Here they turn into actual humans, in the relative guises of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, and Dan Stevens, all of whom provide their characters’ voicework prior to the transformation.
Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, parts 1 and 2 of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) keeps things surprisingly aligned with the original film, but since it was the first animated feature ever nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, why the heck wouldn’t he? I remember being thoroughly bummed when The Beast finally changed back into The Prince in the first film though; Belle was way better off with the hairier version. Condon keeps things so faithful to the original, in fact, that the disappointment of that big “reveal” carries over too!
Princely quibbles aside, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast maintains all the elegance and the enchantment of its predecessor with lavish production design, a stalwart cast, and rousing musical numbers. There may well be something here that wasn’t there before but, thankfully, there’s also plenty that was.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth