Disney continues its pattern of remaking their animated movies classics into live action films. The have found both success and failure, arguably in equal parts. Beauty and The Beast is the latest to get this treatment and epitomises both the success and failure. At times, wonderful and others dull, It’s truly a mixed bag.
Belle (Emma Watson) and her father (Kevin Kline) live in a small village in the country-side of France. Belle is painfully aware of how she doesn’t fit into the small mindedness of village life. One day when Belle’s father becomes lost he stumbles into and finds himself subsequently imprisoned in the castle of a monstrous Beast (Dan Stevens). When Belle takes her father’s place in the castle, she soon discovers that the beast is actually a prince under a curse, that only true love can break.
There was a moment while viewing Beauty and the Beast when the title song of the movie played, the iconic dance between Belle and Beast across a magical ballroom and I could hear people singing the song. It was a very communal experience. It’s hard to gauge what exactly makes the original so successful. Is it the elements of true love and romance? The music? The characters? It might be all of these things and on some level the reason you come to this is for a faithful translation as what has come before it. A chance it for to come alive.
The good news is that the live action of Beauty and the Beast captures that. It bears a striking resemblance in all the ways that count. There is something about watching things that you only imagined in animated made realistic. A vividness in a dress or a castle or a romantic moment.
Yet despite that good news almost everything that Disney and director Bill Condon add to their enhanced live version seems like a misstep and makes the film seem flat, odd and cringe worthy for large stretches of time.
It all starts with an opening sequence that is a weird and opulent ball introducing the Beast and how he was cursed. It’s puffy wigs and a Disneyfied harem of women desiring to dance with the prince. It doesn’t seem right. It could be due to borrowing production queues for real history and seems more reminiscent of a party from Versailles or it could be the fact that the curse seems rather petty when someone comes in to one house and actually curses you when minding your own business. But it’s this need to detail things with an unnecessary back story where the film stumbles
It actually gets worse, roses are explained by plague deaths, evil villains are war veterans suffering from a cross between PTSD and being a cruel psycho, Belle seems to have a bit of a feminist streak with unnecessary scenes of teaching the poor to read. Nothing wrong with the intention of any of these scenes, especially in developing more lifelike characters but it doesn’t work in a fairy-tale and appears tonally deaf meant for adults and children alike.
Anyone who is familiar with a Disney musical knows that when they release it to the stage they pad out the running time with new songs which are woefully inferior. Something that should have hit the cutting floor early on. It’s not fair to compare a classic alongside something new, like comparing with The Beatles with Nickleback. It may be unfair but when you do it willingly you going to get criticized for the failure. Yet despite the mistakes of the stage it finds itself in the film version too.
These things are painful, but there seems a bit of a problem with casting too. Don’t get me wrong Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are fine on their own but they lack a chemistry when they come together. It might be the digital effect issues of not having that presence when filming or even more likely that the chemistry that was there has been lost as the actor has been changed to digital Beast. Still for a love story missing chemistry would doom a Nicholas Spark adaption, let alone this classic
Most of the supporting cast is solid, eliciting laughs when needed or sighs when something cute or sweet happens. My personal favourites were Ewan McGregor as Lumière and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth who play off each other delightfully. Although now they have put Beauty and the Beast in France why is Lumière the only one with a French accent?
Luke Evans hams it up as villain Gaston and in the one of the few changes that work Josh Gad is delightful as the dutiful and overly in love LeFou. How that was controversial is beyond reason and in fact is one the few changes that fits in seamlessly.
Beauty and The Beast (2017) Review Cheat Sheet
In the end, Beauty and The Beast is a disappointment that for the most part is perfectly watchable. The strength of its ‘tale as old time’ still shines through despite odd additions to the story, new songs that don’t work, failed romantic chemistry and jarring production design. It’s what added to Beauty and the Beast that stop it from being anything special, what was before still works. The problem is, if you’re not adding anything new what is the reason for the new like remake to even exist.
+ Original story still works well
+ Production of a classic coming to life.
+ Most of the casting works well…
-except the chemistry between the two leads
-new songs are forgettable
-backstories are painful and tone deaf.