TL;DR – It is a beautiful recreation of the original film with a great cast and music, but while it is good, it does not do enough to separate itself from its animated inspiration.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Beauty and the Beast was the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance in the 1990s and were one of the few animated films to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. As a film, it is as majestic today as it was when it was released, and that’s a testament to the original songs and animation. So for any movie that adapts the classic La Belle et la Bête is going to have the issue of being compared to one of the greatest films that have been made, so how do you compete with such a legacy, how do you set your work apart from that classic film … well, how about you do a mostly shot by shot remake of the original. So not only is this the 3rd remake we have had in the row (see Power Rangers & Ghost in the Shell), it is also the next in this long line of live-action remakes of classic Disney films (see The Jungle Book) which only Pete’s Dragon has really worked for me. So with all these remakes floating around how does Beauty and the Beast compare with its past as well as the current cinematic landscape, well that is the question that we will be exploring today. Now since this is a movie based off a 1991 movie based on a story written in 1740 there may be some spoilers here, but the movie has been out for quite a while.
So if you have never seen the classic film, well first you should stop reading this review and find the original film and give it a watch, but if you haven’t let’s set the scene. There is a prince which is conceited and selfish who one night mocks an old lady trying to find shelter from a brutal storm. Long story short, this old lady was actually an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) and bam everyone is cursed, you get a curse, you get a curse, you all get a curse, and the prince is turned into the Beast. The curse is only broken if the Beast (Dan Stevens) finds true love, and if he doesn’t find love by the time the last petal of the rose falls he will be a Beast forever. So we have a ticking clock counting down to oblivion motivating everyone, a whole staff turned into furniture, a moody Beast, a castle everyone in the town forgot existed, and oh Belle’s (Emma Watson) father Maurice (Kevin Kline) just got lost in the forest and has stumbled upon something he shouldn’t have.
There is a reason this story is a classic, as it has a really compelling story, the narrative moves at a fast pace, and it is filled with interesting characters, and the live action adaptation takes all of those facets and runs with them. Now one of the areas I was really concerned with was the casting, this is because whether you like it or not you go into the film with certain preconceptions of what the cheaters should be based off the animated film. However ever since Heath Ledger in The Dark Night, I have learned to try and withhold judgment until I see the final film, and wow does all the cast step up to the challenge. Emma Watson was wonderful as Belle, she brings the right about of joyful energy and also the determination that is needed to pull off one of cinema’s classic characters. My big concern was that Luke Evans would not be able to do Gaston justice because it is such a big character to try fill, but he really makes it work. Gaston is obnoxious and yet also realistic, which is a difficult balance to get right. I also have to say I quite liked what Josh Gad brought to the character of LeFou, it’s difficult to give a character like that nuance but he achieved it. The supporting cast who was turned into furniture by the curse is both animated well, but also voiced impeccably, sure at the start it is odd not to hear Angela Lansbury as Mrs Potts, but after a while it Emma Thompson’s performance really grew on me. Though at this point I think Ewan McGregor has done enough for Disney to finally give him that Obi-Wan film he has been after. This being said, I do have to say I don’t think they quite got the Beast right, there was something there that just didn’t click with me, and I can’t tell you if that was the animation or the acting but something felt off.
One area where Beauty and the Beast excels at is the production design, I didn’t think they would be able to recreate the grandeur of the original but they really did. The sets for the castle were wonderfully detailed and felt like a real place, and this continues on to the village, which I’m not sure if this was a set of filmed on location but either way it was stunning. The design of the furniture characters is one area where I think Beauty and the Beast did well updating and changing from the original film, as they feel different yet still stylistically interesting. The visual effects were all quite good, the wider shots of the castle and the grounds were integrated really well with the live action elements. However, one area where I think it didn’t quite work as well was a couple of times the CGI backgrounds looked a bit fake. For example at the end of ‘Belle’ the opening song where we get introduced to the town, Belle, and Gaston, it ends with Belle running up a hill outside the town spinning around whilst singing. I’m sure it was meant to evoke that classic Sound of Music moment, but instead of being on a hill in the country somewhere in England where they shot the film, it’s clear that Emma Watson is standing on a set or green screen room and it just does not work as well as it could have.
Now, of course, we can’t talk about Beauty and the Beast without talking about the music and songs, and once again Beauty and the Beast really hits the nail on the head with its adaptation. Not only have they doubled down on the musical elements here, in many respects, they have made Beauty and the Beast more of a musical than the original. There is added songs, and the classics have been filmed in a way that is reminiscent of movies like Les Misérables, which gives it a different energy but it’s still really good. When I have talked to my friends who have seen the film and I ask them which song was their favourite it’s a good sign that there is a lot of variety in their answers. For some it’s ‘Belle’, others ‘Be My Guest’, others it’s ‘Gaston’ and so on, for those playing at home, my money is on ‘Belle’. The best thing I can say about the songs is I have spent the time since I saw the film humming the tunes in my head, for like any good musical they have wormed their way in.
Now with any movie adaptation of another movie, especially of a classic film like Beauty and the Beast, you need to show why your film is different enough to justify people going to see it when they could just watch the classic. This is why I liked Pete’s Dragon more than The Jungle Book, because it took the story and told something new with it, while The Jungle Book just went back over old territory. Now, this is an area where the new Beauty and the Beast both excels and also falls down a little. One area that I really liked was that they took a bit more time to clarify things at the start of the film, in the original animated film the enchantress cursed a thirteen-year-old for not letting an old lady into his castle which is a bit dodgy once you start thinking about it. Here they actually go out of their way to not only show that the Prince is old enough to know better, but that he’s also a real ass that kind of deserved it. As well as this, the ending is really brutal, and even though you know it is coming it hits you right in the feels. Now this being said, not all the changes worked as well as this. Beauty and the Beast is not just a shot for shot remake of the original animated film, there are a lot of added scenes, some more backstory, and a couple of new songs. Unfortunately, a lot of the added scenes fell mostly unnecessary at best and at worst they actually start to drag out the film and effect its pacing during the second act. Also, one area they did a bit of work on was the whole unpleasant Belle falling in love with her captor love story, while they did make some changes I don’t think they quite pulled it off.
In the end, I have to say I really did like Beauty and the Beast, and while I don’t think it is as good as the original it does a great job adapting an animated film into a live-action film. The cast is amazing, the music is great, and you will have a great time if you go see it, so I do highly recommend Beauty and the Beast.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Bill Condon
Screenplay by – Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Based on – Beauty and the Beast (1991 film) by Linda Woolverton & La Belle et la Bête by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Music by – Alan Menken, Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Cinematography by – Tobias A. Schliessler
Edited by – Virginia Katz
Starring – Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Hattie Morahan, Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Nathan Mack
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: PG; USA: PG