Belle is a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle's enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast's hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within. (From Disney’s official synopsis)
I tend to assume that I understand the appeal of nostalgia and even find myself a victim of the stuff on occasion, yet I cannot fathom the billion dollar popularity of Disney’s new line of live-action remakes. Remaking any film without changing something about its fundamental narrative make-up – be it theme, plot, character, whatever – is strange enough, but replacing the essential artistry of animation with real actors and photorealistic special effects just for the sake of it is utterly foreign. Even stranger is the knowledge that Disney’s first couple live-action versions of their public domain fairy tales and other stories, namely Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and Robert Stormberg’s Maleficent (2014), were anchored in their respective filmmaker's styles and (in at least two cases) were not directly analogous to their animated counterparts. They weren’t very good, but their existence seems justified by the mere fact that they were developed from original screenplays. Then, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (2015) skewed in favor of recreating familiar motifs, followed by Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016) and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, both of which went all-in on the naval-gazing process of directly duplicating their cartoon predecessors.
Beauty and the Beast is a remarkably unimaginative use of Condon’s ample skillset. I understand that his success at translating stage musicals to film accounts for his hiring, but he is wasted on this type of musical. The closest this Beauty and the Beast gets to real differentiation from its cartoon counterpart (obviously besides being live-action) is adding extra content from the stage play version, including extra songs, unnecessary backstory, and scenes designed to make us hate Gaston more than we already did. Unfortunately, this just turns the inherently mind-numbing project into unreasonably long and mind-numbing project. If I try really hard to accept the movie on the merits others seem to see, I do have to admit that it is quite lavish. From the baroque production design (which has a purposefully staged look that serves the material, as it did for Rob Marshall’s somewhat similar Into the Woods, 2014), extensive digital effects, and A-list actors, it looks like it cost every one of the 160 million dollars that was spent making it. I’m not sure why they chose to go in such a grotesque direction with the magically anthropomorphic home furnishings (Madame de Garderobe’s curtain mouth really reminds me of the anus-mouthed bugs in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, 1991), but someone certainly put a lot of effort into animating them.
Beauty and the Beast was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital cameras and was post-converted into 3D for theatrical screenings. For the time being, Disney has only released 2D, 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray version, so that is what I’m reviewing here. Apparently, Condon and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler decided that overwhelming darkness was the easiest way to ensure that audiences knew the difference between the animated and live-action versions of the story, because, boy oh boy, is this a dark transfer. I’ve seen horror movies with more vivid lighting schemes. When things are brightly lit, the contrast is particularly harsh, creating hard, sometimes haloed edges and leading to some slightly chunky noise build-up throughout the warmest gradations. While no necessary details seem to have been lost in the crushed black shadows, these dark and cooled scenes do have a bit of the flutter that often accompanies digitally-shot productions, specifically during quick action. Details are quite impressive throughout, specifically the super-complex patterns and textures that make-up the deep-set backgrounds. Of course, these are most impressive when substantially lit, as are the soft blends and neatly separated palette. The colors, which are taken directly from the cartoon, are saturated to the point that some of them bleed a little, but this seems to be part of the film’s design.
Beauty and the Beast is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. There are a number of directional effects elements, such as the wolves that attack people on the edges of the Beast’s estate and the Beast’s own angry growl, but the majority of the mix is made up of well-centered, clear dialogue and extravagant musical numbers. As I briefly mentioned above, this film’s music is a combination of the original film’s Alan Menken/Howard Ashman compositions, the songs from the Broadway musical by Menken, Ashman, and Tim Rice, and some additional score by Menken. No section really stands out as the most aggressive and vocal performances have a notably different tone than spoken dialogue (meaning that the ADR is a bit more obvious than I’m guessing the filmmakers intended), but everything is tidy and spread nicely throughout the channels. There’s a significant depth of field and the LFE offers rich support without ever bottoming out.
Enchanted Table Read (13:31, HD) – Footage from the elaborate table read, which was recorded on-set and included singing and dancing to live music.
A Beauty of a Tale (27:08, HD) – A general behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast & crew that compares this version to the original animated movie and traces the making-of the film with on-set footage and clips from the movie.
The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17, HD) – Emma Watson introduces brief interviews with the women that headed the various production departments, including editing, production design, set decoration, and more.
From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26, HD) – A look at the writing/performing of four major song & dance set-pieces: “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with introduced by director Bill Condon (4:08, HD)
Eight deleted/extended scenes with Condon introduction (6:23, HD)
Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24, HD) – The singer recalls her debt to the original animated movie and singing a new song for the remake.
“Beauty and the Beast” music video with Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02, HD)
The making-of the music video (2:07, HD)
Song selection mode
Options to watch the movie with an overture or sing-along mode
Trailers for other Disney releases
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.