BY ROGER THOMAS
Over the last few years, Disney has decided to remake their animated features as live action films. “Cinderella” started the trend impressively; “The Jungle Book” came next and was simply stunning visually with a tremendous new climax to the old story. Now comes a younger animated film transforming into a live-action classic.
I have been a fan of “Beauty and the Beast,” the Disney Classic Animated feature, since I first saw the trailer. Disney re-jump-started their animation division with “The Little Mermaid” but then two years later they knocked it out of the park with “Beauty and Beast.” I know I mixed my metaphors there, but you understand what I meant.
This new live action version has all the songs from the original film plus other tunes that were written for the Broadway production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Both the original and newer songs are Disney music at its best.
We expect great tunes from Disney, but there is so much more here. First, few films recently have offered as many spectacular effects as this one. In every frame there is magic. So much to see and all of it amazing.
Then there is the cast. Emma Watson has hung up her “Hogwarts robe.” Now as a young lady, she is adorned in Belle’s blue dress among many others. Emma’s singing voice throughout the film is outstanding, but she is even more charming as a young woman discovering that not everything is as it first appears.
The rest of the cast are all fine, though many of them spend most of the film heard but not seen. For those who might not know the story, many of the best characters are handy objects for much of the tale.
As I stated above, “Jungle Book” surprised me at the end with a twist. “Beauty and the Beast” stays a bit closer to the original version overall. However, there are some changes. The enchantress that curses the prince and makes him a beast, plays a larger role in this film. There are more scenes with the villagers and more occasions at the tavern. Belle’s father also has more to do this time around.
There is more exploration of the Beast’s castle, more rooms are seen this time around. A couple of other original moments that draw Belle and Beast ever closer in their relationship. All these additions enhance the story and never hinder the plot.
I, for one, am glad the filmmakers did not do too many alterations. I would have been disappointed if the film departed in large ways rather than holding fast to those things that made the original such an instant classic.
There is one very slight and subtle change that comes as the story moves to its climax. For some it might go unnoticed. For those who might not know the story, Gaston is the villain. He believes he is entitled to have Belle as his wife because he is the only one worthy of her. Gaston has a sidekick named LeFou. Luke Edwards plays Gaston and Josh Gad plays LeFou. In this new film, as Gaston, LeFou and many of the villagers move to attack the castle of the Beast, there is a very clear moment when LeFou sees a clear choice between what is right and what is easy. His revelation is powerful.
This story has always been about seeing more than just what is right in front of you. Or it is about forgetting first impressions, and getting to know the real person. Or it is about loving enough to sacrifice what you want or need. And, of course, it is about love. All these things and so much more are in this “Tale as old as time.”
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.