Beauty and the Beast Movie Review by Dee Marie
Beauty and the Beast
The live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast rivals (and at times supersedes) its award-winning animated counterpart. The film is pure perfection, from the casting of characters, the sets and scenery, the musical numbers, to most notably the visual effects. Director Bill Condon, along with screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, breathe new life into a tale as old as time.
This reincarnation of Beauty and the Beast, is set in the country and time-period (France, 1940s) of the original fairytale, written by Madame de Villeneuve. The art directors, art department, along with the set decorators expertly created breathtaking exterior and interior scenery and sets, paying attention to the tiniest details.
Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and Belle (Emma Watson)
Although the story stays true to Disney’s original, the new version delves deeper into characters’ psychological makeup (including the supporting characters). Plot holes from the animated version of Beauty and the Beast are filled-in with backstories; some with flashbacks (in the case of Belle and the Prince/Beast), others with subtle nods into their past, like the murals in the pub, depicting Gaston as the town’s revered war hero.
Unlike Disney’s animated version, the remake creates a stronger character in Belle, making her an inventor, not a mere bookworm. Maurice is reduced to a doting father, artist and weaver of dreams. Although, Belle is a dutiful daughter, she escapes in books to satisfy her overwhelming craving for knowledge and adventure.
Emma Watson portrays Belle as easily adapting to her surroundings
Emma Watson was born to play the role of Belle. Both in and of out character, Watson is the personification of an independent young woman. She is brave and vulnerable, headstrong and carrying, tomboy and feminine. Watson as Belle is equally comfortable in a hitched-up skirt and boots, as she is in a flowing ball gown and satin slippers … or better yet, in a hitched-up ball gown astride a galloping stallion.
This newest retelling, also gives insight into the princely beast. The opening scene depicts an enchantress transforming the spoiled, arrogant prince, into a penitent beast. By the time Belle willingly relinquishes her freedom to the beast’s castle’s sanctuary, the prince-beast shows profound remorse. Not only for his situation, but also for the destruction his behavior has brought to his household staff … all turned into animate objects, which over time will not only become lifeless, but worst of all, soulless. To break the spell, mutual love must come to the beast; before the dropping of the last mystical rose petal.
Making of the Beast
Dan Stevens’ transformation into his character is similar to the storyline of the prince into beast. The majority of his onscreen time Stevens is depicted in the form of a CGI image, yet, during the shooting of all The Beast’s scenes, Stevens was personally acting the part (with the exception of a few clips during the final fight sequence).
On the set Stevens wore a padded ‘motion capture’ suit which approximated the size and bulk of the Beast. To emulate the Beast’s height, he maneuvered on specially made stilts (I’m taking liberties here, assuming the stilts were similar to the ones made by Digilegs). He even wore the stilts for the ballroom dance number.
Dan Stevens as the Beast dancing on stilts with Emma Watson as Belle
But, wait, there’s more … each of the scenes Stevens is physically filmed in, were reshot from the neck up, in a special studio room. There, Stevens’ face was covered in a unique ultraviolet sensory paint, and each of his scenes filmed once more, using cameras specifically designed for the process of capturing his facial movements.
Framestore’s Mova Contour facial capture system (the UV paint) enabled the numerous special cameras to capture every nuance of Stevens’ performance. Then the wizards at Digital Domain incorporated the data into CGI imagery using Direct Drive; morphing the magic into a photorealistic version of the Beast.
Dan Stevens as the Prince and the Beast
While in Beast character, Stevens’ eyes were the only body parts not rendered in CGI. The overall effect of Motion Capture, combined with the Mova process, not only created a realistic onscreen version of Stevens as the Beast, it also gave Emma Watson’s Belle a real live counterpart to act and interact with.
Belle (Emma Watson) interacting with the Beast (Dan Stevens)
In post-production, Autodesk’s Maya and nCloth were used, along with an array of proprietary computer animation software, to create lifelike imagery to all the CGI characters.
Beauty and the Beast overflows with an all-star ensemble cast. Luke Evans as villain Gaston, Josh Gad as Le Fou (Gaston’s sidekick), and Kevin Kline as Maurice (Belle's father), were expertly cast as live-action characters.
Lumière/Candelabra (Ewan McGregor) with Cogsworth/French Carriage Clock (Ian McKellen)
Ewan McGregor(Lumière/Candelabra), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth/French Carriage Clock), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts/Teapot), Nathan Mack (Chip Potts/Chipped Teacup), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette /Feather Duster), Audra McDonald (Madame de Garderobe/Armoire), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza/Harpsichord), and Thomas Padden (Chapeau Coatrack), rounded out the cast in duel live-action/computer-generated roles.
The filming of the aforementioned CGI characters was a combination of realistic detailed props, puppeteering, Motion Capture, and advanced computerized wizardry. Through the magic of VFX, like the film’s storyline, human actors morphed flawlessly into each of their enchanted object’s counterpart.
Great care went into the creation of the costumes to reflect their character’s personalities, as well as the time-period. Belle’s clothing showcased her rebellion and beauty. While Gaston’s outfit mirrored his continued need to cling to his military past, and thus continue to implant the importance of his heroic deeds into the villagers.
Gaston (Luke Evans) poses in front of his heroic mural, painted on the wall of the village pub
However, the most impressive, was the creation of the Beast’s clothing. For example, his ballroom royal attire was designed, and sewn to full-scale, with meticulous attention to detail. The finished outfit was then photographed and digitalized onto the beast’s CGI body.
All the classical musical numbers from the animated version remain: Belle (aka Bonjour) is still a joyful and character revealing opening extravaganza; Gaston, retains its hilarious action-packed dance moments sung with gusto; Be Our Guest preserves its over-the-top burlesque feel; and the Beauty and the Beast theme song is recreated in detail from the animated ballroom dance sequence.
The three new songs (How Does a Moment Last Forever sung by Maurice; Days in the Sun, an ensemble piece; and Evermore sung by the Beast), propels the plot, tugs on the heartstrings, and all three songs give a glimpse into the characters’ emotional states. At the same time they are, for the most part, unmemorable, and although the songs’ moments lingers, the lyrics and melodies vanish.
Since this was a Disney movie, I wanted to include the viewpoint of the studio’s anticipated audience … preteen girls. Thus, I invited Marissa (a precocious seven-year-old) to contribute her perspective of the film. At the beginning of our sit-down, she stated the ballroom dancing was her favorite part; and Belle really should have changed out of her beautiful yellow gown before jumping on a horse and galloping through the woods.
The attacking wolves make more than one appearance
I agreed with her, that the scariest parts were the wolf attacks, but Marissa quickly added, “They were not that scary.” I then asked her what she thought of the villain Gaston and his sidekick Le Fou (expecting her to say they were scary too). Instead, she grinned and said, “I thought they were funny.”
Le Fou (Josh Gad) and Gaston (Luke Evans) expectorating a deluge of humorous dialog
Also, to my surprise, Marissa was especially impressed with the interaction of the Beast and Belle. Wide-eyed, she recalled, “I was really surprised how they made the Beast seem so real.” When asked about her favorite castle enchanted figure, she instantly said, “The teapot, Mrs. Potts.” When I mentioned that I liked Lumiere, and asked if she liked him too, she said, “He was OK, but I still liked Mrs. Potts the best.”
Mrs. Potts/Teapot (Chip Emma Thompson) and her son Chip/Teacup (Nathan Mack)
I finally asked her the big question, did she like the new Beauty and the Beast better than the animated version. After thoughtful contemplation, she responded, “I liked the animated movie better.” When pressed as to why, Marissa shrugged and replied, “I just liked the characters better.”
Unlike Marissa, I enjoyed the live-action slightly better than its animated counterpart. The animated version was clearly geared to a younger audience; filled with over-the-top slapstick comedy (along with the obligatory Disney mildly scary moments).
The new Beauty and the Beast is edgier. Permeated with adult undertones; all the characters were seeped in self-reflection, as well as self-realization. The introduction of characters’ backstories brought humanity to the fairytale. Furthermore, the humor was deeper, the scary moments added an additional fright factor, and the flawless visual effects (both practical and CGI enhanced) were beauty personified.
Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens), overlooking the frozen lake set
My favorite musical numbers included the ballroom scene, which I found both enchanting and astonishing, especially after researching the creative energy that went into the production. Waltzing gracefully wearing heels can be challenging enough … I can’t begin to imagine maneuvering your dance partner around the ballroom wearing ten-inch stilts.
My other favorite musical number was Gaston and Le Fou’s raucous song and dance pub routine. The comedic timing between Luke Evans’ Gaston, and Josh Gad’s Le Fou was beyond compare. More important, it was rollickingly good fun!
The only criticism I had, was the lack of continuity between a few scenes (I’m sure it was due to editing restraints, as well as my adult logical thinking). The other revolved around a time-travel sequence, where an object was brought back to the present. I know I should just ‘chalk it up to magic,’ but it did momentarily deflate my suspension of disbelief.
I was impressed with the acting, the flawless VFX work, the detailed sets, breathtaking scenery, the gorgeous costumes, and of course the memorable songs. The bottom line …any movie tugging on the heartstrings enough to release tears is praise worthy. Watching Beauty and the Beast, I found myself not just teary-eyed, but hanky-crying on three occasions.
Beauty and the Beast is a seamless blend of reality and VFX magic. Expertly acted and beautifully rendered. Very young children may be disturbed by the wolf attacks, and the ending turret battle with the Beast and Gaston. However, this tale as old as time, remains eternally timeless.
- Disney’s Official Beauty and the Beast 2017site
- Directed by: Bill Condon
- Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
- Studio : Walt Disney Pictures
- Rated PG: Mild Violence
- Duration: 129 minutes
© 2016 Disney Enterprises inc. All Rights Reserved
Dee Marie is a former Managing Editor and later Editor-in-Chief of an international printed CGI magazine. She is currently a freelance journalist while writing her award-winning Sons of Avalon saga. She invites you to visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and her Sons of Avalon website