It’s difficult for an elder millennial like myself to accept that it’s been 30 years (technically 31) since the release of Disney’s 30th animated feature, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The “tale as old as time” about seeing beyond the surface and a Disney princess with agency, bravery, and book-smarts left a major impression on an entire generation of young Disney fans. Now, three decades later, Disney has honored its legacy in an imaginative and magical anniversary special, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: A 30TH CELEBRATION.
The success of this project should come as no surprise as its producer, Jon. M. Chu, has already proven his ability to translate big-time musicals to the screen, having directed IN THE HEIGHTS and working on the upcoming WICKED movies. The presentation features a blend of animated clips from the film with live reimaginings of its musical numbers performed by a talented array of popular actors and musical artists. Shifting to and fro from live-action to animation via black-and-white sketches brings the two worlds together in a clever and effective way. Director Hamish Hamilton seems to have taken the things that have worked best thus far from “live” televised musicals and done away with all the rest. The production is seamless and far more theatrical than expected.
The cast is delightful. Recording artist H.E.R. lends herself well to the role of Belle, giving the character a modern turn that will inspire young children who will see themselves in this beloved character for perhaps the very first time. Where she may lack in acting ability, she shines in enthusiasm and voice (and amazing guitar skills). Josh Groban’s Beast is whimsically portrayed through an impressive puppet/costume/exoskeleton that presents the menacing silhouette of the character while keeping Groban on full display. A standout performance comes from Martin Short (Lumière) lending his patented, ingenious style of silliness to the iconic BE OUR GUEST musical number. This particular sequence opens with the most imaginatively-staged table setting I’ve ever witnessed. Rounding out the cast are Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts, Broadway baritenor Joshua Henry as Gaston, David Alan Grier as Cogsworth, Rizwan Manji as Le Fou, and Jon Jon Briones as Maurice, Belle’s father. Keep an eye out for appearances from Alan Menken (one of the films composers), Richard White (the original voice of Gaston), and Paige O’Hara (the original voice of Belle). The iconic Rita Moreno narrates the whole affair with regality and charm.
Choreography by Jamal Sims and Derek Hough is, for the most part, stellar. GASTON is a standout dance number as is an understated sequence showcasing the enchanted rose’s petals falling through modern dance. The addition of unexpected dance moments throughout is a delight to behold.
Another strength of the production is its inclusive ensemble. Featuring cast members of varying races, shapes and sizes, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities, it’s clear Disney is holding up its promise to showcase more inclusivity throughout its productions.
This presentation is an exciting and creative showcase of the iconic Disney classic through a modern, charming interpretation, certain to inspire audiences of all ages.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: A 30th Celebration is available to stream on Disney+.