Director: Bill Condon
Run Time: 2h 9m
Disney’s latest live-action remake is nowhere near as enchanting as its animated original, but there is glimmer of magic to be found.
Every girl knows the tale of Beauty and the Beast. A spoiled prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed when he dismisses an old beggar woman who then reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress. The prince is turned into a hideous Beast, his servants are turned into household objects, and the people of his village have all memory of their royal ruler erased. The only way for the spell to be broken is if the Beast can learn to love and have someone love him in return. His only hope comes in the form of the village outcast Belle (Emma Watson). She and her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), fled Paris and came upon the boring village where nothing exciting ever happens. Except for the occasional aggressive romantic pursuit by the town hunk, Gaston (Luke Evans). But when Maurice goes missing, Belle comes to his rescue taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner when Maurice accidentally finds himself in the forgotten castle. With the help of the castle servants, Belle and the Beast learn to coexist in a friendlier manner than either expected. Because of course… there may be something there that wasn’t there before.
2017’s adaptation of the beloved Disney classic is more of an ode to the original and less a remake. There are so many recycled shots and dialogue that you are essentially watching the same film. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that fact, but it did make for a slightly lackluster production. Very early into the film you realize that you will recognize nearly every minute of Beauty and the Beast so there wasn’t much to look forward to. You’ll forget that you’re supposed to be enjoying the film for what it is and instead be on the lookout for the things you fell in love with in 1991.
As much as the movie kept the same, there were a few variations that I appreciated more than I can say. For instance, a major problem I had with the original was the timeline of events relating to the curse. For example, how did the people living in the village not know about a giant freakin’ castle? Or the fact that there used to be a royal family then suddenly there wasn’t anymore? Well, turns out they had selective amnesia. Problem solved. We also get a glimpse into how Belle and Maurice came to reside in the Beast’s little village. It was presented in the form of a very touching scene between Belle and the Beast that added to their chemistry and understanding of one another. A plus, for sure.
Unfortunately even with the added bonus of getting answers to questions I’ve had for over 25 years, Beauty and the Beast fell way short on the magic I remembered — and still enjoy — from the original. As wonderful as Emma Watson is — as a person and an actress — I was not overly enthusiastic about her performance as Belle. Overall she did a fine job, but there were a few key scenes that seemed forced and phoned in. On the other hand, I can’t sing enough praises for Dan Stevens. His performance far outshines Watson’s. Being constrained by a mostly CGI exterior, he managed to convey more emotion than any other actor in the cast. And while Ewan McGregor’s Frexican (French-Mexican) accent takes some getting used to as the beloved Lumiére, his scenes are strengthened by his partner in crime Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth. Although I’d have to say the best casting choices were that of Luke Evans and Josh Gad. Playing Gaston and LeFou respectively I think they were my favorite of the whole film. Which in itself is a bit unsettling seeing as elementary-school-me loathed them growing up. There were definitely some mismatched casting choices, but Evans and Gad don’t fall into that category.
The most important element of any classic Disney film? The music. The original songs were all accounted for and were performed wonderfully. (Yes, even the titular theme sung by Emma Thompson). There were also a few new songs written specifically for the live-action production. Most surprising was Dan Stevens singing a number called “Evermore”. It was one of the few moments where I was allowed to be engrossed in the movie instead of tallying up what the film did or did not miss.
Production value was probably the top priority for this movie. The costumes were exquisite and did not disappoint. And the sets built for each scene were incredible, the castle being the most impressive. No matter what else this film may have lacked, there was always something to catch your eye and appreciate aesthetically.
Overall I simply wish Beauty and the Beast was a film I could experience and not just witness. There were so many opportunities to love what was on the screen — music, dancing, costumes, humor. I truly did enjoy it, but not as much as I hoped I would. If the end product was little more polished and put together it would’ve been a lot better. There aren’t many people that will skip this movie so I won’t stop you. Just don’t be suckered into paying $30 for a movie ticket like I was. (*bows head in shame*) It’s a good matinee with the kiddos, young or old.
Two years ago I was giddy with joy after experiencing the live-action adaptation of Cinderella. I think a lot of that is owed to director, Kenneth Branagh for keeping the important elements and taking creative liberties where appropriate. You can read my initial thoughts on the film here.