Is it really a tale as old as time? Well, as old as 1740 which is when La Belle et la Bête, a traditional French fairy tale, was written and published by author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Seeing as it was rather lengthy, the tale was rewritten for children in 1756 by another author, and again in 1889 to a version that is most similar to what we know today.
Walt Disney attempted to revive the story for an animated feature in the 1930s and again in the 1950s. But the story didn’t come into popular culture until 1991 in one of Disney’s most ‘beloved’ animated features.
The new live action version of Beauty and the Beast, based on the screenplay from the 1991 film, has been one of the most anticipated films in my circles of Disney fans. Well, anticipated by everyone but me. Here’s why.
In 1991, I was in college. I did go and see Beauty and the Beast in the movie theater but only because I had a brother that was ten years younger who wanted to see it (at least that’s what I told myself at the time). I was dazzled by the ballroom scene which was groundbreaking realism in animation at the time but other than that, I thought it was a pleasant fairy tale.
I’ve learned that women of a certain age (probably about ten years younger than me) absolutely adore this movie. The 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is to them what Cinderella was to me.
Enter the live action movie and you’ve already got a huge built-in fan base. Those 90s girls? They want to see it for nostalgia’s sake. And BONUS: they’re all moms now!
I’m going to be honest. There has been a LOT of hype around this movie and I had pretty high expectations. The real question is… were those expectations met?
Here it is: I liked the movie. I didn’t love the movie. But I want to explain why.
When I recently met a lead animator for Pixar, he explained that a good Pixar movie has to have four key ingredients: heart, entertainment, setting, and a reason for animation. In other words, it has to be a story so unique that it only makes sense (or really is only possible) through animation.
Using this logic in reverse, I like to think that a good animated story should be made into live action for a reason. Maybe it’s a new twist on an old story (like Cinderella). Maybe it’s a back story that makes you look at a fairy tale in a new light (like Maleficent).
What was missing for me in Beauty and the Beast is the reason. It felt very much like a scene for scene (shot for shot even) remake of the original.
There was something else that I didn’t love and it’s something that I’m having a hard time with when it comes to many new movies. It’s that fine line between live action and digital animation.
In a movie like this, it only makes sense to animate a good portion of the characters because, after all, it’s not easy to find a talking candelabra. But there were times when I wasn’t sure if this was an animated feature or live action feature. The Beast couldn’t possibly be a man in a beast costume and yet I wanted him to be so I knew he was right there in the scene, in the moment.
While the blending was mostly seamless (there are a few parts that look too computery), it still makes me wonder if they even build movie sets anymore.
But I did like this movie and there’s one big fat giant reason why. The cast.
Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are just perfect as Belle and the Beast. Watson is a beautiful singer and Stevens plays the Beast with the right blend of aggression and ultimately humility. And his gorgeous piercing blue eyes aren’t bad either.
Other cast members included Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, and the perfectly cast and ever-so-gorgeous Luke Evans.
Can we just pause for a moment and talk about Gad and Evans? You know, the pair known as LeFou and Gaston? The ones with the bromance sparking the G-A-Y controversy?
I’m actually embarrassed for anyone publicly declaring they wouldn’t see the movie because of the “gay portrayal” in the film. I wouldn’t have even noticed or given it a thought had someone not even told me. It’s that minor and subtle. In fact, kudos to Disney for what seemed to be a fairly diverse cast.
The most surprising turn of events, though, was how much my 10 year old son loved it. Even the songs.
Recommended for: Kids and adults of all ages. If you loved the original and you’re a bit of a purist, you’re going to be thrilled.
Discussion points: You know the moral to the story: beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Be nice to everyone because you never know who will turn out to be a prince (or enchantress).
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars; visually stunning, beautifully sung, stellar cast, but lacking in originality. (P.S. Don’t hate me)