Based on Disney’s 1991 animated classic, the live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast tells the story with most of the familiar arcs and refrains, characters, and songs, while mixing in some new ideas and even some new songs, to give the film something fresh. Other slight changes include returning alternate lyrics back into the old songs written by Howard Ashman before he died in March of 1991. His music partner, Alan Menken, came on board to score the live action version, which helps maintain the original feel of the story, despite any small changes along the way.
The pretty, well-read, and determined daughter of town inventor Maurice (Kevin Kline), Belle (Emma Watson) has a nice life in her small French village, but she dreams of more. For starters, some place where people don’t scoff at her unique worldview, and she isn’t constantly pursued by boorish war hero Gaston (Luke Evans). One day, Maurice leaves town for a trip to the market but only his horse returns. Belle quickly learns that her father has been taken prisoner by an angry, and reclusive Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) whose person and castle are under a spell of enchantment until he can earn and give love selflessly. Once Belle arrives at the castle, she quickly volunteers to take her father’s place in prison.
As it stands, the Beast’s only company had been the former humans, now transformed into various pieces of living furniture that run the castle. There’s Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), all of whom are anxious for Belle to help them and their master regain their humanity. As time passes, Belle begins to learn the story of the curse and that there’s only a finite amount of time before the curse becomes permanent.
Set in France rather than the fairy tale world of the animated version, a major change occurs quickly with an expanded opening sequence in which the prince becomes the Beast. It’s not not necessarily a major change to the story itself, but it does allow director Bill Condon to remain true to the original story, while allowing for the expansion to explore other threads of the story. While a number featuring Gaston and his pal LeFou (Josh Gad) dancing and singing Gastonia praises, and involving the fate of Belle’s mother might make the film feel a bit long, it all makes for a fun experience.
Emma Watson was a wonderful choice for the role of Belle. Her singing voice doesn’t exactly rattle the rafters, has a soft, reassuring quality. While I’m certain Dan Stevens had his voice digitally manipulated to achieve the more guttural sounds of the Beast, he like Emma Watson, handles his singing duties with confidence. As Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson offers up equal parts warmth and pluck. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have a nice back-and-forth patter as the candlestick and clock. Luke Evans offers a rousing singing voice in Gaston’s numbers and acts the part of the egotistical jerk turned monster and Josh Gad simply shines as his lackey, LeFou. Kevin Kline is excellent as Belle’s loving father. Young Nathan Mack is a fun-loving Chip, Audra McDonald brings her incredible singing talent to the role of Madame Garderobe, and Hattie Morahan pops up here and there as the Enchantress and the townswoman Agathe.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, it should be noted surprise that Disney has provided another reference quality 1080p presentation. Sharpness is on point, revealing the most intricate details in facial features, textures, and set pieces throughout. Colors are vivid, and expertly saturated, while human skin tones have been realistically rendered. Contrast is consistent throughout, and black levels are spot on, resulting in superb clarity.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix offers the kind of reference quality sound design you would expect. Dialogue is concentrated in the center channel, with the exception of some occasional directionality. The numerous songs and memorable score get the full surround treatment, enveloping the listener in a wall of sound without ever crowding out the dialogue. Appropriate atmospheric effects are panned throughout the soundstage when called upon.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- Enchanted Table Read (HD, 13:31) The cast assembles for a read through of the script, and an impromptu performance of three musical numbers, “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
- A Beauty of a Tale (HD, 27:08) Director Bill Condon, Emma Watson, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, composer Alan Mencken, producer David Hoberman, co-producer Steve Taub, production designer Sarah Greenwood, and actors Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor offer their thoughts on adapting the animated film, the new songs, the visual effects, and more.
- The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (HD, 5:17) Emma Watson introduces five women with critical roles to play in the crafting of the picture: production designer Sarah Greenwood, costume designer Jacqueline Durran, film editor Virginia Katz, set decorator Katie Spencer, and casting director Lucy Bevan.
- From Song to Screen (HD, 13:26) A discussion on the production of the four major song sequences: “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” “Beauty and the Beast.” Speaking are director Bill Condon, production designer Sarah Greenwood, producer Steve Gaub, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and choreographer Anthony van Laast.
- Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” (HD, 4:08) As Bill Condon explains, they needed to reshoot parts of the scene, so this becomes both an alternate version and an extended one.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 6:23) Eight scenes introduced by director Bill Condon. They can be watched together or separately.
- Making a Moment with Celine Dion: (HD, 3:24) The singer discusses her involvement with the animated version of the film, and the difficulty involved in deciding to take part in the live action adaptation.
- “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video (HD, 4:02) Ariana Grande & John Legend music video.
- The Making of the Music Video (HD, 2:07) Ariana Grande and John Legend discuss the fun they had making the video.
- Song Selection (HD, 33:09) Twelve songs that can be selected immediately with provided sing-along lyrics, together or individually.
- DVD/Digital Copy: Disc and code sheet are enclosed in the case.
Editor's Notes: Portions of this review also appear in ...
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