Beauty And The Beast is one of those iconic films that defined the era known as the Disney Renaissance period. In terms of classic Disney films, the movie has always been one of the strongest in terms of story and music. For those like me whose childhood included cracking open that white plastic clamshell VHS case and popping this tale as old as time in the VCR, the prospect of a live-action retelling really hit the nostalgia button. So here we are now, in the Disney era that may be known as the Live-Action Renaissance? Whatever your opinion of the recent trend of Disney’s aim to remake all their classic animation films as live-action films, you can’t deny that it gives a chance for a whole new generation to experience these movies and for filmmakers to creatively rework the stories. And so far they have been extremely successful, both creatively and financially.
So does Beauty & The Beast work in the live-action format as well as Cinderella or The Jungle Book did? As a whole, yes, the film is wonderfully inspired and the production value is truly something. Alan Menken got to expand the fantastic score and songs that he and Howard Ashman brought to us many years ago, and while everything is lacking any kind of new vision it all ends up being pretty much what you’d want from a re-telling.
Musically of course the score and songs are beefed up and fleshed out a bit more. I personally enjoyed hearing a score that was able to work more over the span of 2 hours versus 80 minutes. That iconic prologue lovingly based off of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival Of The Animals gets a great new arrangement and it sounds great. It immediately transports you. And the body of the score itself is lush and robust as we navigate through the narrative and encounter old and new songs. Legendary lyricist Tim Rice stepped in to help Alan Menken with the new songs in place of the late Howard Ashman.
The songs are as vibrant and bright as ever with the new cast giving it their all to put the original soul into them. One could complain that the new cast is just doing their best impersonations of the old cast without bringing anything new to the table (except Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth), but I found a new and different life behind the whole package especially with the new songs which are actually really great. Songs like "Days In The Sun" and "Evermore" shine a light onto characters that didn't really get to express their inner monologues in the original animated version.
Overall, this new take on Beauty & The Beast doesn't aim to replace the original but merely expand and lovingly re-tell it on a much larger scale. Some things work and some things feel a little flat, but the whole package is engaging and will grasp you. The music works so well with the visuals and Alan Menken’s expanded approach to the score as well as re-arranging of old songs breathes not necessarily new life but a different life into it. The new pieces fit seamlessly into the narrative and add a much welcomed spotlight onto characters that took a backseat in the original to keep the focus on Belle’s story with the short running time. Now that Disney has remade a truly full-fledged musical from its classic animated catalogue, it’ll be interesting to see how they approach others like Aladdin and The Lion King in the future.
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