Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson
Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has a special place in my heart because it was released the day after I was born (literally) and my mom loves it. When Disney announced a remake, I was natural a little heartbroken, but I did have faith in Disney because I loved Kenneth Branagh’s remake of “Cinderella.” Branagh’s magical adaptation was one of my favorite movies that year. Bill Condon delivers what I would call the perfect remake. Doing a good remake is harder than the making a good sequel.
Condon joins James Mangold in the front of the pack for the Best Director race at this year’s Oscar’s. What he does with the “Be Our Guest” sequence is BRILLIANT! Yes, I used all caps for that because it is that well done. It is Busby Berkeley-esque, he makes what is easily Disney’s – hell, one of cinema’s – greatest musical numbers even more magnificent and even contains an allusion to the guillotine. “Be Our Guest” is was the show-stopper from the original and is still the show-stopper here. The musical aspects aside, based on the fact he wrote the film adaption of “Chicago” and helmed the adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” which are two of the great recent musicals. It should be no surprise that he hit the musical numbers out of the park, but he also expands the narrative beyond what Disney gave in 1991. He gives more of a back story to the Beast and Belle that does an excellent job of fleshing out their characters.
That brings us to the iconic music of “Beauty and the Beast.” Condon uses all six of the songs that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote for the 1991 original. Menken also returned to score this movie and wrote three new songs with Tim Rice (lyricist for the additional material added for the Broadway adaption). Menken does make some alterations to the music. The arrangments of the classic songs and the familiar pieces in the score are different; they are not note for note recreations of the original songs and score. Which I think is fantastic because it allows the remake to stand on its own. Menken adds plenty of new music to the score, and it works well with the elements of his preexisting score he adapted into this score. The new songs are okay, nothing special. Why mess with perfection? “How Does a Moment Last Forever” was an excellent way to bring in the subplot about Belle’s mom. “Days in the Sun,” which I liked better than “Human Again,” worked better to explore how the servants were affected by the curse. “Evermore” which I thought was the strongest of the three new songs, worked well for the Beast because of the placement of the song.
Emma Watson was divine as Belle, even though there is a part of me that would have preferred to see Anna Kendrick in that part. Watson was great in the part and was able to make the part her own without going too far from the character set up in the original movie. She sings well too, even though she is singing in the alto range, while Paige O’Hara sang in the soprano range. Frankly, if that is a deal breaker for you get a f***ing life, who care what register she is singing in. Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor were also great in their respective roles. The only casting I did not like was Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts; it was too Angela Lansbury. They should have just had Landsbury reprise the role.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a perfect remake of a perfect movie. Bill Condon manages to stay faithful to the original while putting his unique stamp on the film. I can easily see this film attaining a few Academy Award nominations: Best Production Design, Best Score, Best Song (because it is often a weak category I could see all three new songs getting nominated), Best Costume Design and Best Director and Best Picture. The latter two categories depend on what those races look like when the campaigning for Oscar’s kick off at the end of the year. Bravo Disney and Condon for showing people how to do a proper remake.
Correction: The Academy chnaged the rules so that one film can only have two songs nominated in the Best Original Song category. I am willing to guarantee that two of the three new songs can easily be nominated.