Bravo Disney! Take a bow. If you’re going to make a shameless, expensive remake of one of your all time classic animated films, do it as well as this new “Beauty and the Beast.” Make it as explosively colorful, graceful and charming as Bill Condon’s film.
The new “Beauty and the Beast” lovingly and painstakingly recreates the original as though it were a shot for shot fan video. That may sound like a step down from the animated film’s originality, but Condon devotes such loving care that it’s not hard to get caught up in the magic.
It’s a tale as old as time. A horrid Beast holds the lovely and brainy French girl Belle captive inside his magical castle, but she overtime learns to see the goodness inside him, and the two fall in love. Condon hasn’t toyed with the Disney version of the classic fable one bit. And why should he? The ideas of inner beauty, kindness and redemption are timeless.
Instead I’m plenty dazzled by the color and Busby Berkeley extravagance on display in “Be Our Guest” or in the thunderously operatic and invigorating “Kill the Beast.” These are worthy musical set pieces no matter the source material. In the title song and dance number, Condon’s camera glides gracefully over the Beast’s ballroom, and the snow-drenched castle or the shimmering chandeliers and gowns never quite glistened in the original as much as they do here. Condon has made good use of the film’s 3-D and tangible dimension. Like Disney’s live action “Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” may technically be an animated film, but it doesn’t feel like it.
The casting too plays into the film’s charms. Emma Watson is a natural princess, poised and elegant, and by God she can sing. The people criticizing Watson for not being as good of a singer as they’d prefer need to get over their own failed theater kid dreams. They’re the same people who pointed out that Ryan Gosling looks at his toes when he dances. Her casting as Belle is perfect. The same goes for Luke Evans’s scene-chewing, self-absorbed scumbag Gaston and Josh Gad’s jubilant Le Fou. He’s probably gay, but this gag is so slight that it’s amazing anyone tried cooking up a controversy.
Still, if you need a reminder that the original film is superior, the humor of a few of Alan Menken’s songs gets lost in slight ways. During Gaston’s song, he belts, “I use antlers in all of my decorating,” a ridiculous statement for a he-man like Gaston to declare out loud. When Luke Evans and Josh Gad sing it, it’s just another joyous part of the verse and not also a clever punch line. When Lumiere interrupts “Be Our Guest” to give a comic lament of the castle’s loneliness before Belle arrived, Howard Ashman played it for silly, exaggerated melodrama in the original. Condon however speeds by it and on to the next synchronized swan dive.
But these are miniscule nitpicks. The new film has added just enough to fill in the plot hole cracks of a beloved fable everyone already knows. We get some much-needed clarity about both Belle and the Beast’s mothers, details that go a long way toward bolstering Belle’s innate feminism. On the other hand, it’s likely no one will be humming even one of the film’s several new songs, but they never get in the way. In fact, the Beast is even given a rare showcase absent from the original.
You can’t replace the original “Beauty and the Beast,” and the whole point of Condon’s film is to serve as a reminder. But when your reminder is as good as this, well there might be something there that wasn’t there before.