Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci
Released: March 17, 2017
Viewed in theaters: March 21, 2017
After I saw this movie, I tweeted, "I saw a movie where Emma Watson plays a character who loves to read and spends most of her time in a castle surrounded by enchanted objects." I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice those Harry Potter parallels! Beauty and the Beast is the latest of a slew of animated movies to be turned into live action films. And so far, I believe it to be the best. Now I may be biased because Beauty and the Beast, the one that came out in 1991 and is the ONLY animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture before there was an Best Animated Movie category and before they allowed up to ten slots for Best Movie, is my favorite animated Disney movie. I have also seen it twice in the past six years while it's been over a decade since I last saw Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and God knows when was the last time I saw The Jungle Book. I've seen all of their remakes and Beauty and the Beast is my favorite.
Let's be clear here: as much as I enjoyed this live action remake of the 1991 classic, the animated film is still so much superior and remains the better of the two. I've heard people say that this movie is an exact replica of the animated movie which is true...but also not. First of all this movie is longer by about 40 minutes, so obviously it has extra scenes. There's some backstory with Belle's mom (she's not present because she died from some disease) and we do get a few more scenes with Belle and the Beast (just like with the animated movie, I don't think we ever learn what his name is, ever!) Another reason for the added length is the number of songs. They keep all of the songs from the original (which won the Oscar for Best Score and Best Song for the title song), so yay! Believe me, I was biting my lip from singing because I wanted to sing along so bad! I grew up with all these songs; I have the soundtrack and I remember my friend's mom would play it her car when she would drive us somewhere. You better believe I know all the words to "Belle" ("Little town, it's quiet village; everyday like the one before; little town, full of little people; waking up to say...."); I know all the words to "Gaston" ("No one's slick as Gaston, no one's quick as Gaston, no one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston's"); I definitely know all the words to "Be Our Guest" ("Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test. Tie your napkin round your neck, cherie, and we'll provide the rest!"); I know all the words to "Something There" ("New and a bit alarming! Who'd have ever thought that this could be? True, that he's no Prince Charming, but there's something in him that I simply didn't see"); and, of course, I know all the words to "Beauty and the Beast" ("Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, barley even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly)." My favorite number was Belle...even though it did sound like Hermione was singing to me! During the reprise of that song, I did love when Belle tied a handkerchief around her head while singing "his little wife", which is what she did in the movie. And, also, just like in the movie, she ran out into an open field ala Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. It was much more awe-inspiring in the animated movie because in this one you could clearly tell it was a green screen. I did laugh a lot during the "Gaston" number when Le Fou is spelling Gaston's name and sings, "GAST...T...it just occurred to me that I'm illiterate and have never had to spell his name!"
However, those familiar tunes aren't the only songs in the movie. There are quite a handful of other songs. They're okay, but not very memorable. I couldn't sing you anything from them, but that might be unfair since I've known the original songs for the last 25 years. I had just assumed the songs I didn't know were from the Broadway play, but they're not. They were specifically written for the movie. Celine Dion sings one of them (called "How Does a Moment Last Forever") at the end credits which is a nice throwback since she sang the pop version of the title song. This time they have two current pop singers in Ariana Grande and John Legend who sing the pop version of the song. I think they're both talented (well, I might be a little too kind to Ms. Grande as I've only liked one of her songs), but I am not feeling their version of that song at all. Honestly, I don't even know why they even recorded a new pop version of the song. The reason they did it for the animated movie with Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson was to put it on the radio and I remember hearing that song quite a few times on the radio back then. Has anyone heard the Grande/Legend version on the radio? Has it even had any air play? It's not even the first song you hear during the ending credits! I've only heard it on Spotify. Of course, if they DIDN'T have a new pop version of the song, then I'm sure I would be complaining about that, so I should just shut up!
The characters are all the same characters from the original that we all love (or love to hate!) You have Emma Watson as the beautiful and bookish Belle who lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). Gaston (Luke Evans) is the arrogant and egotistical hunter who wants to marry her because she's the most beautiful girl in town (and that makes her the best! And doesn't he deserve the best?) and Le Fou (Josh Gad) is his goofy sidekick. There's a funny scene where we see Gaston saying, "You are the most gorgeous thing" and the camera pans back to reveal he's looking in a mirror. Even Philippe the horse is in the movie!
Of course, those were all the human characters; it was the inanimate animated objects that I was more concerned about. For the most part, I think they did a pretty good job bringing these everyday household objects to life. I loved the way they did Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), but I was SO DISAPPOINTED he didn't make his joke about, "Like I say, if it isn't Baroque, don't fix it!" Boo, movie! Boo for not having that awesome line! Chip was so cute and I loved he did his blowing a bubble trick for Belle. It's hard to imagine anybody other than Angela Lansbury voicing the teapot, Mrs. Potts, but Emma Thompson in this movie is a very good actress to get. There's a scene in the movie when Mrs. Potts get offended when Le Fou calls her the little tea cup's grandmother (which was not in the animated movie) and they do make a good point about how weird it was that Chip was Mrs. Potts' son rather than her grandson. When you see her in the animated movie as a human, she's this gray-haired granny type and Chip is this little five year old boy! They should have just made her his grandmother. Audra McDonald voices the wardrobe and we see her at the beginning of the movie before she changes into her inanimate object as someone who ofter sang and entertained as the Prince's fancy parties. Her husband is the maestro (played by Stanley Tucci) and he is turned into a piano, a character who wasn't in the 1991 film. Lumiere is my favorite character in the animated movie, but something about him in this movie didn't work for me. Ewan McGregor voices him and he's fine, though I don't understand why they just didn't get a French actor to voice him (though, to be fair, Jerry Orbach wasn't French either). It's very interesting that there's only one character with a French accent when the story is set in France! Ewan McGregor does fine on the singing too, but listen to this movie's version of Be Our Guest and the original and you will hear that he sings it a bit differently than Jerry Orbach did. Just listen to the way they both sing, "Try the gray stuff, it's delicious! Don't believe me? Ask the dishes!" But it's not Lumiere's talking or singing voice that I find offputting; it's the way he was designed. I absolutely hate the way he was designed! Now Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts aren't exactly designed the exact same way as they are in the animated movie, but you at least you know it's a clock and a teapot. In the animated movie, Mrs. Pott's mouth is right under the spout so it looks like the spout is her nose. In this movie, her face is painted on the side of the teapot. Lumiere has two designs: the one when he's an actual candelabra (and an actual prop so the actors could carry it around) and one when he's the CGI moving character. And I wouldn't mind that at all except for that fact when he's a talking object, he doesn't even look like a candlestick! He's this weird doll-sized brass man who has candlesticks right above his hands and his head! He doesn't look like a damn candelabra! It drives me absolutely crazy! I suppose they did it this way because it was easier, but ugh!
They must have been worried that Gaston wasn't unlikeable enough because they created a new storyline where, after Maurice has told the townspeople about the Beast and Gaston has asked him to take him to the castle where Bell is trapped, he punches Gaston in the face once it's clear that Maurice can't find the castle, then ties him up to a tree and leaves him to the wolves. Another added storyline is that the Beast has this magical book, where, if you close your eyes and touch the page, you can wish to be anywhere you want to be and he and Belle go to Paris, the place of her childhood. We also get more information about the Beast's background in that he used to be a very sweet young boy up until his mother died, then his awful father groomed him to be a jerk just like him. In the opening scene of the movie, he is having a fancy party with all his fancy friends and turns away an old, haggard woman who is seeking shelter from a storm. She reveals herself to be this beautiful enchantress (personally she freaked me out...I thought she looked like Cate Blanchett as Galadriel when she becomes possessed for that split second in Lord of the Rings) and warned the Beast not to let looks be deceiving and thus cast that spell on him (and the other people in the castle).
The Beast lets Belle see her father in the magic mirror he has and he lets her go when she sees that he has been locked up. He apologizes to the objects, but they understood he let her go because he loved her. It's a little different in this movie, because, and correct me if I'm wrong, in the 1991 movie, if the spell wasn't broken, then everyone would remain the household object they were, but they would still be able to talk (and dance and sing); they would just never be human again. In this movie, the Beast would die and all the objects would turn into literal inanimate objects: no more talking or singing or dancing for them. Belle learns her father has been locked up for his talk about a Beast and talking teacups and a castle full of magic. (This place is a little crazy if you think about it; even Hogwarts didn't have taking teacups!) Belle defends her father and says that there IS a Beast and this makes Gaston and the other wants to kill him and they lock up Belle with her father when she tries to stop them. Of course, she ends up getting them out and goes to stop the Beast from being killed. All the townspeople are in the castle, fighting with the objects. There was a scary moment where Mrs. Potts falls and you think she's going to smash to the floor, but she is caught by Le Fou who has decided to join their side because Gaston, he's learned, is not a very nice person. Belle is too late, though, as Gaston has shot him and she tearfully says "Come back, I love you!" to the dying creature. The last petal on the rose has fallen and all the objects are no longer alive. However, the possessed Galadriel-like enchantress has come to the castle and has witness Belle admitting her love for the Beast, so she lifts the spell and the Beast comes alive and becomes a human and all the inanimate objects return to their human forms. Whew! The townspeople are still on the castle ground and we find out that Mrs. Pott's husband and Cogsworth's wife were among them, so that was a bit of a new twist. The movie ends with Belle and the Beast dancing to Audra McDonald as the opera singer singing "Beauty and the Beast" and I'm thinking, "Ooh, I bet Mrs. Potts is mad that she's singing HER song!", but then she sings the next verse. I absolutely loved the dress Belle was wearing in this scene.
So this movie gets point knocked off for 1)Too many songs I didn't care about, 2)Weird Lumiere design 3)No "If it isn't Baroque, then don't fix it!" line. Other than that, I give it high marks.