Oscars 2018: Walt Disney Studios hoping live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ repeats success of animated version

Last year, Walt Disney Studios reaped seven Oscar nominations spread out over five films: two each for “Moana” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and single nominations for “Doctor Strange,” “The Jungle Book,” “Zootopia.” “The Jungle Book” won Best Visual Effects over, among others “Doctor Strange” and “Rogue One.”

This year, this long-time animation powerhouse is back in contention with the smash hit live-action version of one of its most lauded cartoons, “Beauty and the Beast.”  The 1991 original was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, and that was when the category still had only five contenders. In today’s dollars, the 1991 total takings of $425 million would be about $725 million.

By comparison, this new edition has already raked in $1.25 billion (that puts it in the top 10 movies of all time). While the box office is boffo, the reviews were less sensational. The critics were all over the map as to the merits of this remake. The movie scores 74 at Rotten Tomatoes and 64 at MetaCritic.

This new version of “Beauty and the Beast” stars “Harry Potter” alum Emma Watson as Belle and “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens in a dual performance as the Prince and Beast — his most high-profile role since abruptly leaving at the end of that show’s third season. Both Watson and Stevens’ best chance at awards recognition will come at the Golden Globes where the film will be favored to win Best Film Comedy/Musical. The 1991 original was the first animated film to win this award, followed by “The Lion King” three years later and “Toy Story 2” in 1999.

“Beauty and the Beast” boasts a large supporting cast with a slew of awards between them, which will make it a strong contender for Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards.

Taking over the role of Lumiere, played in the original by Tony winner Jerry Orbach, is proven song and dance man Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge!,” 2001) who is still looking for his first Oscar nomination. McGregor’s role is best known for the show-stopping number “Be Our Guest.”  And following five-time Tony winner Angela Lansbury in the  role of Mrs. Potts is two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End,” 1992 and “Sense and Sensibility,” 1995), who sings the title song.

Two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen (“Gods and Monsters,” 1998 and “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” 2001) is Cogsworth, the Beast’s chief ally who is turned into a clock. Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony winner who is an Oscar away from completing her career EGOT, is a scene stealer as Garderobe, a former opera singer turned into a wardrobe. But the one to really watch for is Luke Evans as the vain and villainous Gaston ,the winking-devil role that the Oscars cannot resist. While Evans is best known to film audiences for his role as Bard the Bowman in “The Hobbit” series, he has starred in several musicals in the West End stage including three Tony winners: “Miss Saigon,” “Rent” and “Avenue Q.”

Alan Menken won two Oscars for the original animated film: Best Original Score and Best Original Song for the title tune, which he shared with lyricist Howard Ashman. Menken has eight Oscars in all, the most of anyone living (the late Walt Disney won 22). While Menken contributes three new songs to this version –“Our Song Lives On,” “For Evermore” and “Days in the Sun” — the academy allows only two songs to be submitted from a film.

Among the other below-the line talents, Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran (“Anna Karenina,” 2012) will be a favorite for Best Costumes. Also looking to contend again will be four-time Best Production Design nominees Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer for bringing the animated world to life.

And it also looks strong in Best Makeup and Hairstyling for turning Stevens into the Beast. The film also could also compete for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing (where musicals tend to do well) and Best Visual Effects.

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