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Is Disney’s New Live-Action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Really a Tale As Old As Time?

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Directed by Bill Condon, this remake of the 1991 animated classic tells the now-familiar story of Belle (played by Emma Watson), a book-obsessed young woman who is sick of life in her poor, provincial town. In an attempt to save her father, Belle takes his place as the beast’s prisoner and she is locked up in the castle. At first, Belle finds it hard to adjust with living with the beast (actor Dan Stevens) and his many servants who have been transformed to household items, but as time goes on, she begins to grow a fondness for him and vice versa. From there, it becomes a race against time as the two must learn to love each other in order to reverse the beast’s curse as Belle’s persistent pursuer, Gaston (played by Luke Evans), begins to lead the town on an attack against the monster.  

Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” is easily one of the most pitch-perfect animated films ever made with its powerful story, well-executed and tender romance, developed characters, groundbreaking animation, and memorable soundtrack. All this made the film go down in history as the first ever animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s a poignant masterpiece that has left its mark in history as one of the most important animated films of all time that has allowed people to take animation seriously as a medium for telling powerful stories.   

The remake has some mighty big shoes to fill. And while it fails to overshadow the original, there is clearly enough well-put-together effort that makes this film a nice companion piece.

The cast here does its job very well and each actor brings the charisma that these classic characters are known for. As Belle, Emma Watson helps ground the character with a sense of reality, making her charming, while still coming off as strong-willed and determined. As the Beast, Dan Stevens is fascinating in his portrayal and comes off as my personal favorite character from this version. Unlike the more (for lack of a better term) beastly and monstrous version we had in the original, this beast has more brains to him, while still coming off as fearsome but with a more fleshed-out backstory. The performance is interesting and never feels silly.

The supporting cast, including Kevin Kline as a more in-depth Maurice and Ewan McGregor is a fun addition as Lumiere, while Josh Gad proves to be funny as LeFou, and Luke Evans’ Gaston is even more sadistic than the original.

The direction is a highlight of the film. The beautiful, detailed production design, coupled with the fast and flowing cinematography really help give this film the feeling of being somewhere so new yet familiar at the same time, which helps both with combining the feeling of Belle’s mundane town with the magical elements of the Beast’s castle and with elements of the original film itself.

Another gladly borrowed element from the 1991 version film is its breathtaking musical numbers. Composed by original “Beauty and the Beast” composer Alan Menken, not only is the score beautiful to listen to, but the songs here are bigger and better than ever. All the classics from the original are here from “Belle” to “Be Our Guest” (probably my favorite song in this version) to “Something There.” For someone who hasn’t had a chance to see the original in theaters but loves the songs like crazy, it’s a joyous experience to finally hear these numbers and see the moments executed on the big screen and with such respect to its source material. Some new songs are added as well and while not all of them as memorable as the old numbers, the song “Evermore” is a highlight and fits with the spirit of the original perfectly.

A major problem in this new live-action version? It’s constantly trying to remind us of the original. This makes it nearly impossible to completely immerse yourself in the movie without thinking about the original. Only a few elements are different here, including some minor plot points, character traits, and a rearrangement of certain events (changes that aren’t improvements for the most part). Most of the tweaks are completely unnecessary and make the film feel longer or messes with the masterful tone and pacing the original had going for it.This attempt to be like the original feels forced at times.

At the end, “Beauty and the Beast” may contain the heart and spirit of the original film, thanks to its stellar cast, large-scale musical numbers, and clever production design, but there’s not much else to it. While some the attempts to bring more depth to the story do work out, others don’t add anything to improve upon the original which is disappointing and annoying. If you’re a fan of the original film and want to simply see a version that does pay respect to it, than you’ll definitely get it and this film will be worth your time. However, if you’re looking for something with some more substance to it, this story may not be as certain as the sun rising in the east.

 Mikael, 18, is a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta where he majors in animation. Mikael has made a host of stop-motion and claymation short films, including his award-winning short film “The Tree That Refused To Fall,” and all of them can be found on his YouTube channel, Cyclops Studios.

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