Beauty and the Beast is one of the most anticipated films of 2017 already, with just the cast list alone enough to stir excitement. Emma Watson will play the central role of Belle, opposite Dan Stevens as the Beast, who will be CGI in Beast mode, and later appear in his human form. Ewan McGregor lends his voice to Lumiere, Sir Ian McKellen is Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson plays Mrs Potts. In human form, we will see Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LeFou, and Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s dad. The live-action retelling contains all the original score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, as well as some new songs by Menken, too. Just as well, really, since the music was part of what made Beauty and the Beast so enchanting the first time around.
Finally, a full trailer for the movie has been released, and though there is a noticeable omission (more on that later), there is also much for us to examine. It’s fair to say that if you loved the original Beauty and the Beast, and particularly if it was a staple movie of your childhood, then you will be swept away with the magic here. Watch the trailer, watch it again, and then read our breakdown for a more in-depth analysis of what those magical two minutes hold.
The Music is Magical
The slow, tinkling piano plays the familiar prologue from the opening of the animated Beauty and the Beast, taking viewers right back in time. In fact, it stirs up a whole host of emotions, but predominantly excitement and anticipation. From there it builds, along with the action, but the final few notes of “Beauty and the Beast” right at the end, only leaves us wanting more. First and foremost, Beauty and the Beast is a musical, and the the action and story are both moved along by the songs. Of course, such is the strength of Ashman and Menken’s work, that these songs have now become classics. Menken has revealed that the movie will include some of the late Ashman’s previously-unused lyrics during Gaston’s song, which were deemed a little too risque for the 1991 audience. The composer also hinted at another surprise lyric set to come at the end of the movie.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the trailer is the stunning cinematography. It’s helped, of course, by lavish sets and special effects, but the entire trailer really is a visual feast. Especially notable is the contrast of dark interiors and bright exteriors, such as the famous snow scene with Belle and the Beast versus the dark, dank confines of the castle dungeons, where Maurice is being held. This is not too dissimilar to the color contrast we see in the animated classic, but this time it’s all the more noticeable because it’s live-action. There’s some rather intense shots of Belle desperately charging across the roof of the castle which are just mesmerizing to watch, and will be even greater when we finally see the entire scene played out on screen, with the Beast and Gaston finally coming face to face. The artful and clever camerawork enhances the drama and action in a way that animation back in 1991 just couldn’t do.
Aside from Chip, it’s a little hard to see the servant’s faces at first, and where they’re actually talking from, but they do look good; realistic as household objects and yet also ‘alive’. Lumiere and Cogsworth both sound great, and McGregor’s French accent sounds decent, which is a relief. McKellen’s casting always seemed entirely correct, and okay, he only has one line here but he really captures Cogswoth’s pompous, brusque nature. However (just from the trailer), Thompson seemed to be not quite as strong as Mrs Potts; what little we did hear seemed to amount to little more than an Angela Lansbury impression. An actress of her caliber should be able to pull this off easily though, so it’s probably better to reserve judgement on her performance, at least until we hear her version of the titular song. Hopefully, she will have put her own spin on the character while still retaining all the charm and loveliness that Lansbury brought to the role originally.
Nearly everybody agreed that this casting was perfect, and Watson looks to be the picture perfect princess, especially when we get shots of her in the traditional yellow ball gown. The original Belle was a good enough character for the time, but audiences expect a little more from their leading ladies these days. Though we don’t see much of Belle in this trailer, there is a streak of strength and defiance evident, which would tie in with what Watson has said of her being stronger and more determined than her animated counterpart. This is particularly evident when the Beast first comes into the light and Belle, though clearly alarmed, doesn’t shy away. We also glimpse her running over a broken roof bridge as the castle collapses toward the end and she can be heard telling her father that she’s not afraid. Given the vast amount of influence that Disney has, particularly in terms of marketing and merchandise, Belle’s strength will be a welcome addition to the movie; giving a strong role model for younger viewers to look up to.
Luke Evans has teased a more ‘theatrical’ Gaston, and it looks as though he might play a larger part than the animated character. It also looks like this Gaston might well be more villainous than laughable. Evans’ shout of “I say we kill the Beast!” is raw and angry, whereas the animated Gaston is billed as a villain but is one of Disney’s more humorous ones. What is missing from this trailer is any kind of interaction between Gaston and his sidekick and biggest champion, LeFou. That’s a shame, really, because it means we still haven’t had a chance to see what Gad can do. Both he and Evans should be perfectly suited to the film given their strong history in musical theater, and their musical numbers could potentially be standout moments. The rapport between the pair will need to be spot-on to rival their animated predecessors.
Many have been unsure, but the CGI Beast seems to work. He’s less comical than his animated counterpart, with the snaggle teeth gone completely. He does a good job at being intimidating, especially in the scene with the wolves where he behaves as the Beast he looks like, rather than the man he is inside. However, something about him looks warm, and human, and it’s evident in the glimpses we have of him talking to Belle. That balance is a hard thing for any CGI team to pull off, but he’s based on Dan Stevens’ movements, so perhaps that makes it easier to give him a human quality. Stevens’ voice sounds great as the Beast, too; imposing enough to be alarming but with enough warmth behind it to sound personable. It’s a shame that we won’t hear him sing the Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her” from the Broadway musical version of Beauty and the Beast (which has not been included), but Stevens will perform an original song as the Beast, titled ‘For Evermore’.
The Enchanted Rose and the Magic Mirror
Both staple features in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, they once again seem to feature quite heavily, particularly the rose. The first ever glimpse we had of Watson as Belle was when she looked at the flower, and it’s given prominence here, too, with a petal falling right at the end, reminding us of the enchantment under which the Beast is placed. The mirror allows the Beast to see Belle and to realize how miserable she is, thus prompting him to make more of an effort with his behavior, and of course, the story unfolds from there. The prominence of these two items strongly suggests that we can expect the story of Beauty and the Beast to remain pretty much unchanged; enhanced, maybe, and embellished, but the framework of the original movie will remain. The enchanted rose has become a symbol for the movie, both on social media and in much of Disney’s merchandise, and it looks as though it’ll stay that way.
The CGI Might Split the Audience
While it looks impressive, it’s questionable how much an audience will warm to these CGI characters, and it will be down to the impressive cast to make them more endearing. These are not Disney’s cutesy, hand drawn animations made to appeal to us. This time, Disney have purposefully made characters such as Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Lumiere look as if they could be real objects. It remains to be seen whether an audience can be won over or not. The animated classic gave us the larger than life Lumiere, donning top hat and tails to dance to “Be Our Guest”, and Cogsworth’s clock hands spinning around whenever he became frantic. How will 2017’s Beauty and the Beast manage to convey as much emotion from these realistic-looking objects? Another point worth noting, while discussing animated versus live-action, is that a wholly animated film can stretch the rules regarding size when it comes to animated objects; making Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth look a lot bigger in some scenes than others. With this live-action/CGI hybrid, that won’t be able to happen – meaning, again, that it might make it difficult for the servants to be appealing to an audience.
It’s Not a Remake, It’s an Homage
There are so many elements of the original movie present in just a two-minute trailer that it’s easy to see that Disney haven’t shied away from acknowledging their previous creation, and nor should they. This is not a new story; this is a tale as old as time (well, twenty-five years old, anyway), and there’s only so much newness that Disney can bring to it. Instead, it seems as though they’ve done a thoughtful retelling of the original, with many nods to it, such as Belle and the Beast’s ballroom costumes, and the setting for their dance, while still adding a few twists, such as new songs and a new dimension to Belle. Just as well that they’ve stayed faithful, really. Can you imagine the backlash if Belle was suddenly dancing in a purple gown? Director Bill Condon knows what an audience wants, and it looks as though, for the most part, he’s delivering just that.
The Trailer Doesn’t Give it all Away
Again, a smart move. We all know the story of Beauty and the Beast, so that doesn’t need explaining to us in a trailer. Instead, the trailer allows us a peek into this magical and enchanted world, a good look at the characters, and a strong hint at what’s to come; mainly lavish musical numbers and a sweet romance. Anticipation for Beauty and the Beast is already high and so in that regard, a trailer that teases instead of shows works well; we want more, and when another trailer drops, we’ll all clamor to watch it as soon as we can, followed by the film itself, of course. Sure, there’s a chance this movie won’t be as visually exquisite or thoroughly entertaining as we’re all hoping, but either way, Beauty and the Beast will be set for a huge opening weekend.
And The One Thing That’s Missing? The singing! Well, Disney have to keep something up their sleeve, of course, and a hint at some of the musical numbers must be coming soon, right? And what a lot there is to look forward to! We’ve got Gaston reminding us that every inch of him is covered in hair, Belle declaring her love of literature, and Mrs. Potts chronicling our two main characters falling in love. It’s certainly what we’re all waiting for, not least because we all want the chance to be an armchair critic of the cast’s vocal skills, as well as the chance to sing along, of course. When Beauty and the Beast was first released in 1991, many commentators noted how much the score sounded as if it belonged on Broadway. They were proven right, of course, and now Beauty and the Beast‘s score is now known as one of the best of all time. Let’s hope Watson, McGregor, Evans and the rest of the ensemble can all do it the justice it deserves.
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