Tag Archives: live action

‘Beauty and the Beast’ aims to enchant a new generation

In 1991, Disney struck gold with Beauty and the Beast. The film enchanted audiences and critics alike, and raked in several hundred million dollars along the way, but also upended expectations of what an animated film could be.

Not only did the New York Times theater critic controversially call it the best Broadway musical score of the year (spurring an actual Broadway show three years later), it also was the first-ever animated film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar.

Over a quarter century later, the legacy endures but times have changed, and there’s a new Beauty and the Beast on the block. Out March 17, the film is a lavish live-action reimagining of the “tale as old as time” with state-of-the-art CG splendor, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s classic songs and score (and a few new tunes with Tim Rice), and a modern social consciousness.

The film stars Harry Potter’s Emma Watson as the bookish heroine Belle, who yearns for adventure outside of the confines of her “small provincial town” and Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as the cursed and cold Beast. Their supporting cast is a coterie of veterans, including Kevin Kline (Maurice), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) and Ewan McGregor (Lumiere).

That Disney’s specific vision for Beauty and the Beast has lived on is no surprise, and its 13-year run on Broadway helped keep it in the cultural consciousness.

“It’s genuinely romantic, a genuinely beautiful story,” Menken said of its lasting appeal.

And then there’s the nostalgia aspect. For many (including the cast), this was a seminal childhood film.

Luke Evans (Gaston) saw it when he was 12, Josh Gad (LeFou) when he was 10, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette) when she was 8. Suffice it to say, they all knew the lyrics to the songs before they were cast.

The remake is also part of the Walt Disney Company’s ongoing strategy to mine their vaults for animated fare worthy of live-action re-creations. Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King are just a few already in the works.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t worthy updates to be made in Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) delighted in rooting the story in a specific time and place — 1740 France — and adorning every last corner of the production with Rococo and Baroque details.

Technology advances allowed the production to render household objects that look believable when brought to life. The Beast’s look, meanwhile, was achieved by combining performance capture and MOVA, a facial capture system, meaning Stevens throughout production walked on stilts and sported a prosthetic muscle suit with a gray body suit on top. (Yes, he danced in this getup).

The characters are more fleshed out as well. The Beast gets a backstory. As does Belle, whose independence looked refreshingly radical in ‘91 and goes even further here.

“She’s a 21st century Disney princess. She’s not just a pretty girl in a dress,” Evans said. “She’s fearless and needs no one to validate her.”

That the woman behind the character is also the UN women’s goodwill ambassador only adds to its resonance.

“I think Emma’s an incredible role model for young girls, as somebody who has two daughters but also has a young son who I want to grow up with these values instilled,” Stevens said.

And, in a tribute to Ashman, who died of complications relating to AIDS at age 40 before the ‘91 film came out, the production even unearthed forgotten lyrics from his notes, which they’ve added to two songs in the new film — Gaston and Beauty and the Beast.

While many of the beats, and even lines, remain the same as in 1991, the world looks more diverse from the very first shots. Faces of all races can be seen both in the grand castle and the country town.

“(Condon) wanted to make a film that was resonant for 2017, that represents the world as it is today,” said Mbatha-Raw.

Much has been made, too, of LeFou’s subtle “gay moment,” which put the internet in a tizzy far ahead of anyone actually seeing the film. On one side, GLAAD was applauding, on the other, a Facebook page apparently belonging to the Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar, Alabama, announced that it would not be showing the film.

Many in the production have backed away from the topic entirely.

“To define LeFou as gay … nobody who sees the movie could define it that way. He’s enthralled with Gaston,” Menken said. “I’m happy that LeFou is getting so much attention. But I pray that this stupid topic goes away because it’s just not relevant with any respect to the story. Even the one moment that’s being discussed is just a silly little wink. It’s nothing.”

For his part, Gad thinks it’s been “overblown,” too, and that the story is more about “inclusiveness” and not judging a book by its cover.

“It’s a story with a lot of wonderful messages, and, really once you watch the film, anyone who is wondering what it’s all about will understand that it’s a beautiful story, inclusive of everyone. It’s a legacy that I’m proud to be part of,” Evans added.

“But you can judge Gaston by his cover,” he said with a smirk. “That’s exactly who he is.”

‘The Jungle Book’ is a dazzling visual experience

You can practically feel the beating heart of the jungle in Jon Favreau’s stunning adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” which is easily the most visually dazzling movie to hit theaters this year. Like “Avatar” before it, this CG and live action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of the boy raised by wolves feels like a momentous occasion in the technical advancements of big budget cinema.

From the thrill of a distant waterfall to the terror of a mudslide or stampeding buffalo, Favreau and his visual effects maestros have created artificial living things that truly look and feel real.

Even the animals’ ability to communicate in English seems as natural as their breathing and emoting. They have not been sanitized to be cute or less threatening either — even the tender mama wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).

They still look like wild animals and, for the most part, act like wild animals, too. At first, this actually makes their close interactions with the human boy Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) even more disarming. Eventually your nerves calm and you submit to the magic of this world.

The story follows the same beats as Disney’s animated feature from 1967, but Favreau and his team made sure to up the intensity a few notches — the hyperrealism of the animals necessitates it. The tension created by the fact that they all have claws and teeth and instinct to contend with is always there.

You’re already on edge by the time the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba, in a truly stunning vocal performance that’s both terrifying and relatable) enters the picture. He adamantly believes that humans should not be living among them and is prepared to use whatever intimidation tactics are necessary to rid their world of Mowgli. This sends the young boy on a journey to the human village with the stoic panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Anyone with the vaguest memory of “The Jungle Book” will remember the characters the boy encounters on the way _ the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and the orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).

Although it is somewhat distracting to have such famous voices overwhelming every scene, each does a fine job _ especially Murray, who brings a much-needed comedic lightness to the story with his affably conniving Baloo in the second act.

Sethi is energetic and enthusiastic as Mowgli _ an adventurous kid who’s as unfazed by a handful of bee stings as he is a gargantuan snake. But for all the attention to detail, there’s an unnatural modernity to the dialogue he’s given that can be trying at times. For the most part he blends in as well as the sole human among wild CG animals could possibly be expected to.

On the subject of things seeming out of place, there are also two songs from the 1967 film that are integrated into the story —”The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” (“Trust In Me” plays over the credits).

One works, and one really doesn’t. Murray makes “The Bear Necessities” fit into his laid back existence as he hums and sings the song with Mowgli as they float down a serene river. “I Wanna Be Like You,” however, is awkward and clumsy — a ditty of a song that comes out of nowhere and sucks the air out of the crucial climax. It makes no sense in the context of this world that Walken’s mob boss ape would just break into song. And, if he did, it definitely wouldn’t be this song.

Indeed, much of the third act feels more like a check list than plot advancement, and the emotional arc neither lives up to its source material nor the beauty of the visuals. Still, it is one of the stronger of Disney’s live-action adaptations and executed with such sincerity and technical prowess and inspiring ingenuity that it’s more promising than anything else _ a true family-friendly adventure that’s smart and often thrilling.

“The Jungle Book,” a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some sequences of scary action and peril.” Running time: 105 minutes. Three stars out of four.