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I’ll be the first one to admit it, I was really nervous about seeing the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. I was terribly disappointed in Maleficent‘s twist ending, and Cate Blanchett’s intrusive meddling in the design of her own costumes left a huge stain on Cinderella for me. So naturally, I was worried for our latest Princess. When the trailers were released, there was so much eye-candy and detail present I began to feel hopeful. I had the great pleasure of seeing Beauty and the Beast yesterday, and by the time the Bill Condon’s trademark, elaborate credits were rolling, I was clapping my hands.
This film had huge shoes to fill. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive a 1991 Academy Award® nomination for Best Picture and it then won two Oscars for best original score and best song. Along with a handful of Golden Globes and Grammy Awards, it also was the first animated feature to earn more than $100 million at in its initial release and the Disney’s first animated feature to become a Broadway show, running for a lengthy 13 years. When recently interviewed, Bill Condon said the 1991 film was so perfect, he didn’t want to get near it. Menken’s music, Benson’s beast, even the storytelling was beautiful.
In my opinion, you will love the film. With its incredible detail and homages to the original movie, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is a formidable opponent at the box office. Here what the movie nails, what it falls short on, and what you’ll want to keep your eye on when it’s your turn to become enchanted with Disney’s latest feature:
What it Got Right:
Beauty Comes From Within
This theme holds true for the entire film. Those with beauty within themselves survive, and those without wither on the vine, so to speak.
Speaking of beauty within, Disney’s animated Beast, played by Robbie Benson, was enraged. It was a huge leap to see him change from beginning of the film to the end, and sometimes his journey seemed to stutter and leap. Dan Steven’s Beast is incredibly real. As the Prince, Dan Steven portrays a man so extravagant and gross, is appalling. I felt myself wincing and drawing back from his lack of pity and feeling. When the Enchantress cursed him, I was glad to see him end.
But as the Beast, Dan Stevens shows remorse, depth, feeling. His rage has footing, and his kindness has growth. By the time Dan Stevens rocks us with the song, “Evermore,” you are so entwined is his journey you can’t let go. Not to mention his voice is so smooth with a range not seen in a good while. Dan Stevens rocks this character, and as Menken says, “knocks it out of the park.”
I often have the nerdy debate with my husband about which Disney villain is the least evil. Gaston routinely wins this contest, as his motives are “just to get the girl he wants.” Our reasoning for this is the 1991 film shows his as a pompous, competitive brute, full of strength and self-love, and as a small-town villager, naturally sees the danger in an outlier, as well as a physical Beast to be hunted.
This time, in the live-action film, Gaston is deeply developed. Gaston’s “dangerous obsession with a woman” goes so far as malice, envy and more murder than you thought him capable of. Luke Evans, in discussing his character says, “Gaston doesn’t see the world the way everyone else sees it. He’s at the top of the pyramid and everyone else is below him. He thinks he can do no wrong and does not understand why Belle does not want to be his wife.” While Gaston does have his typical comedic moments (which Evans plays very well), by the end of the film, Gaston’s deep hate, jealousy and malice show through to the point where you’re terribly afraid of him. He’s finally a real villain.
Josh Gad as LeFou
Normally viewed as a sidekick, Gad’s LeFou is well rounded. With slightly more screentime than his animated counterpart, Gad appreciated Condon’s dedication to making the characters more fully-realized individuals, too. “Bill is a very intimate director,” he says. “So many of his films have an intimacy to them, so to do a big tentpole film like this with these incredible sets and to have someone like Bill Condon who grounds it all with these amazingly fleshed-out characters and ensures that the intimate moments are what the audience has the biggest emotional response to, has just been a tremendous experience.” I think this is also a nod to Condon’s public note that LeFou is Disney’s first outwardly gay character (everyone please have a moment for poor Oaken… I’m fairly certain he was open, too, but I digress). I applaud Disney for its step forward in diverse character writing.
Casting AUDRA McDONALD as Madame de Garderobe
As my friend Emille would smile and day, “Oh, LORT!” Audra McDonald is a smack-dab, home-run in this film. She is “unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both a singer and an actress. With 6 Tony Awards, 2 Grammys as well as an Emmy, she earns her place as the elegant Madame Garderobe and steals several scenes. Her vocals lead the film’s musical soundtrack to victory!
Beauty and the Beast Production Details
From the production details: Over 1,000 crew members worked around the clock to build and decorate all the mammoth sets, providing an incredible amount of hand-detailed artistry. For the film’s epic opening number, “Belle,” which takes place in Villeneuve, more than 150 extras, hundreds of animals, 28 wagons and countless props and set decorations were used, each with an incredible amount of detail. Also included are ten glass chandeliers (each measuring 14 feet x 7 feet) which are based on actual chandeliers from Versailles which were then frosted, covered in fabric and candlelit. The enchanted forest that surrounds the Beast’s castle was built on stage H, the largest stage at Shepperton, measuring 9,600 square feet. The forest, which took 15 weeks to complete, includes real trees, hedges, a frozen lake, a set of 29-foot high ice gates and approximately 20,000 icicles.
Missed the Mark:
Emma Watson’s Auto-Tune
Remember the accolades I just gave Audra McDonald? After seeing the film, I’m fairly certain that Emma Watson, while not a Broadway singer, couldn’t complete with McDonald’s incredible voice, or Steven’s incredible Beast. But I wish they hadn’t over processed her voice, or perhaps in the vein of the animated feature, Aladdin, had dubbed her with another actress? Either way, it was apparent from the first trailer that the processing was a bit much, and now I’m convinced that it was done to give her a place to stand next to the other vocals.
The Yellow Dress
Oh, the dress. I think what irked me the most was the interview with Emma Watson where she details her choice on Belle being an active girl and Watson requested not to be put into a corset.
Well… the scene with the yellow, iconic gown was nearly 10 minutes, and you couldn’t wear it just for that? The dress left me so sad, due to its lack of visual appeal next to the intricately designed Rococo sets, delectable room decor and Steven’s crystalline justacorps jacket. Durran, the costume designer, says, “What we tried to do was re-interpret it and flesh it out a bit by adding more texture and making it feel like a real living costume.” In the end, the dress was created from 60 yards of feather light satin organza dyed yellow, which was cut broadly in a circular shape and required 3,000 feet of thread. Gold leaf in a pattern matching the ballroom’s Rococo floor and 2,160 Swarovski crystals are added by Mdm. Garderobe, the wardrobe. The dress was not made to require a corset or cage so as to give Emma Watson a greater amount of movement.
I wholly disagree with this design choice. As with the Rococo era, the dress requires shape, and without a corset, the result is the organza falling flat (literally), leaving us wanting more. In all of Watson’s yellow-dress-closeups, the non-period detail and layered ribbon of organza on the bodice is, well, boring.
What to Look For:
The Enchantress, played by Hattie Morgan
What a treat this character is. I won’t say any more than this for fear or ruining moments for you!
Moments You Remember from 1991
And moments you shall have. Small things such as the Beast’s grab of castle statuary to fend off Gaston; the Claudette, Laurette, and Paulette (the Bimbettes) inclusions, the gray stuff! It’s all there, and I was happy for it.
An Explanation for Belle’s Family
Did you ever wonder what happened to Belle’s mother? This imaginative story thread is woven into the film, and while it does seem a bit extraneous, it’s a nice touch.
I remember doing such terrible math as a kid… Prince’s 21st birthday…. he wasn’t THAT old when the spell was broken… wait?! How old was he when he was transformed? Did time freeze? Instead of leaving you to your TI-83, Condon’s film answers all those questions fabulously and continues to integrate those themes throughout the movie.
Final review? You will love Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. It is a well-done film by a talented director with a kick-butt cast (Evans, Gad, Kline) and incredible singers (McDonald, Stevens). Don’t forget your popcorn!