‘Beauty and the Beast,’ major disappointment or fresh update on a beloved classic?

By Dora Blaskievich

March 15, 2017

You know the story.

Girl has big dreams and loves to read. Boy chases girl because he wants to marry her. Girl goes to save her father and meets human-animal hybrid with questionable grooming and eating habits. Add in enchanted inanimate objects, a great musical score, and extremely beautiful and detailed set designs, Beauty and the Beast 2017 has arrived.

Now that we have the main story out of the way, let’s talk about what you really want to know. How does the new Beauty and the Beast (2017) compare to the 1991 animated version? Major disappointment or fresh update on a beloved classic? From the opening credits (pay attention to the castle), to the almost shot-for-shot opening sequence, the movie does not disappoint. Seeing the village created as a real life entity makes you wish you could go and visit the quaint town. The village of full of colorful and diverse characters and, yes, I do mean diverse. Unlike the 1991 version, there are quite a few characters of color from the opening ballroom scene, and my favorite, Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). Her singing was glorious and I wish there had been more of it included. But hey Hollywood, feel free to add lots of other people of different ethnicities to make it a truly diverse cast.

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Emma Watson as Belle. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The musical score is the same as the original, with a few new songs as well as updates to Gaston’s raucous tavern sing along. Belle (Emma Watson aka Hermione) does an excellent job, but it took me awhile to get used to hearing a new Belle speaking with a British accent. Papa Maurice (Kevin Kline) and the Beast (Dan Stevens aka Cousin Matthew) have songs that were not in the original movie, but I’m not sure they really add much to the story. We also learn a bit more about Belle, the Beast, and Gaston, as we’re given a touch more backstory for each main character. Belle’s updated story feels somewhat unnecessary and it makes the film drag a bit. Perhaps there will be a Belle sequel that they’re setting us up for?

Speaking of Papa Maurice, he isn’t as spastic as the animated version and he’s an artist rather than an inventor. Belle is the inventor this time around, so keep your eyes out for the washing machine contraption she invents to do the laundry. This gives her time to read more books and teach little girls how to read. A modern and self-sufficient girl, indeed. Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad aka Olaf) are up to their scheming and plotting, but some of their banter felt a bit flat and somewhat off. It’s also implied that LeFou is perhaps in love with Gaston, or at the very least there’s quite a bit of hero worship going on.

The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Belle (Emma Watson) in the castle library in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic which is a celebration of one of the most beloved stories ever told.
The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Belle (Emma Watson). Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

There are certain times in the film where the story drags, but it is more than made up by the song and dance numbers. The ballroom dance scene between Belle and the Beast, as well as the “Be Our Guest” dinner scene are like something out of a delicious fever dream, and much more vibrant and magical than in the original. Overall the visual effects and scenery are like a stylized hyper reality, with perfect golden light falling just so in the village. The Beast’s castle is grand and desolate. The Beast himself is grand and desolate. Even though he’s ferocious and majestic, he’s also petulant and huffy. The humor and vulnerability is missing from his soul, even when he’s desperate to win Belle’s affection. This may be a result of the CGI face of the Beast not portraying certain emotions, but I think it was more of Dan Steven’s portraying the Beast as arrogant instead of a lost prince unsure how to love.

Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Chip (Nathan Mack), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen aka Gandalf) are all there, as well as the new character Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). The voice acting is excellent, except for the new Chip; he doesn’t sound as cutesy and adorable as the 1991 original. The appearance of the characters is noticeably different from the original counterparts; the movie’s designer did not try to recreate the cartoon versions in real life. However, the way that the real-life-looking tea cup, candelabra, and clock are made to look animated is clever and fits well with the overall style of the movie. Also, can we talk about Belle’s dress? After watching the first trailer, there was a debate whether the dress was supposed to be gold or yellow. I said gold, other people said yellow, but the final version does not disappoint. It’s dazzling.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

If fairy tales, magic, and beautiful visuals with a bit of nostalgia for childhood are your thing, definitely go see Beauty and the Beast. The visuals alone are worthy the price of admission, add a timeless love story with great supporting characters and it’s an enchanting time.

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5

Note for parents: There are quite a few intense scenes of violence (you see the Beast get shot) and scary beastly scenes. I wouldn’t recommend taking a child under the age of 6 to see the movie.

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