Movie Review – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ taking live-action to a whole new level

Ever wonder why Musicals have never been able to really breakthrough in Hollywood? As a said a few weeks ago, Musicals used to be the cornerstone for Hollywood whereas now we’re lucky to get more than one in a given year. So it’s actually quite surprising we are already talking about one this year with “Beauty and the Beast.” But, by the looks of the early box office numbers, that won’t change as this film has already earned over $760 million and it has barely been out two weeks. That’s good enough to be the new leader for musicals at the box office, finally trumping the previous owner “Grease.” Although, it might not be a fair comparison given “Grease” played in only 892 locations in 1978 compared to the 4,210 for “Beauty and the Beast.” This according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. That said, it still took nearly 39 years to move “Grease” down the list, but we are talking about a genre that again has not been as prevalent for the big screen. So a lot is riding on the success of “Beauty and the Beast” in my mind, as it might start a trend of getting some of these beloved musicals green lit.

As I sat down to watch this remake the other night, it dawned on me that I actually never saw the original in the early nineties. Figure that was back when I had just turned 14, so the last thing I was doing was going to watch some animated musical. If only I knew then what I know now, as simply watching that film all the way through at least once over the past 25 years could have given me some context here. Then again, without watching it allowed me to go into this new film with no preconceived thoughts or expectations. That was a blessing considering I was able to experience the wonder of this story in an entirely different way; one that I found was derived from the eighteenth-century fairy tale of the same name. Talk about a ‘Tale as Old as Time.’ But, that’s what we are dealing with here, so it’s good it took that many years before a live action version was attempted. That respects not only the original tale, but the 1991 film that so many people love. Because let’s face it, it’s not often you have a singing candelabra and clock stealing the show from the rest of the cast.  I think that helps it in a way because you can sort of get lost in this world where some other fairly serious stuff is going on, like Belle (Emma Watson) sacrificing herself for her inventor father (Kevin Kline) who was being held captive by a cursed beast (Dan Stevens). Although as we learn, being in this castle was more like a vacation than punishment; especially when she discovered the Beast was as into books as much as she was. So instead of spending her days avoiding wannabe princes like Gaston (Luke Evans), she was now caught up in a world full of things she never expected, including love.

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Without a doubt when you see any image or video from this film, Emma Watson stands out. There’s just something about her that makes you want to tune in, so I was happy to see her cast as the titled role of Belle. It’s one that has a history to it, but one that she was proud to make her own. It’s a tricky story and one that has not gone without criticism, but Watson has maintained that Belle keeps her independence and freedom of thought despite being captive. All of that led to her version being different and one that is hard not to love the longer you watch. Watson has grown up a lot since the days of “Harry Potter” and while that Hermione persona may never leave her, its roles like this that will allow her to grow into something even greater. And here she was lucky to have quite the star studded cast with the likes of Ewan McGregor as the candelabra, Ian McKellan as the clock, Emma Thompson as the teapot and Stanlet Tucci as the piano just to name a few. But, it was both Dan Stevens and Luke Evans who nearly stole the show away from Watson.  Playing the beast couldn’t have been easy, but Stevens made it look that way with the how he was able to show emotion through his eyes and overall demeanor. Then there was Evans playing Gaston, who really made every second count when the camera was on him. What a performance and one that I would say this film could not live without. So kudos to Evans (see below) for really getting into being the token “bad guy” within a musical.

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When I first heard about this film, I was not sure it would work. Figure, musicals alone can be tricky and none have ever caught fire like this one has thus far. So it’s good Disney trusted their judgement after the success of films like “Frozen” and went Bill Condon to direct. Here’s a guy who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-winning “Chicago” and was behind the camera for “Dreamgirls.” So he knows a little something about musicals, which I think can be felt as you watch this film. It takes a certain eye to capture everything this famed story has to offer, and Condon made sure he zoomed into all the right moments. Whether that was Belle riding through the woods on horseback or the quieter moments between her and the Beast, Condon was there. Sure, there was plenty of singing because this is still a musical, but Condon also allowed Stephen Chbosky’s script to play out in all the right places. So even if it’s a tale we all know or have witnessed before, it still felt ‘new’ which I give Condon and his staff credit for. All too often a film with a legacy like this might get stuck trying to be like its predecessor, but this live-action version deserves to stand on its own. Virtually everything you see was real too and not animated which made a difference in the overall look to the film. It’s like Condon said though in an interview with EW, “I was intent on making as much of the movie exist in reality, make it flesh and blood…because we knew we’d have CG objects and a CG Beast, so I wanted ‘those’ to be surrounded by a real world.” Well it worked for a film that might end up becoming bigger than the original when it’s all said and done.

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