Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast has quite a bit riding against it since the start. Being a remake, it has to live up to the original while simultaneously being its own creation. It also isn’t just a remake, it’s an adaption of an animated film, which rings up its own arguments between people’s perceptions of both mediums. Of course, this isn’t Disney’s first foray into adapting a beloved feature. The other successful remakes, notably Cinderella and The Jungle Book, came from source material that was loose enough for a modern adaption to be able to complement the original rather than replace it. But we’re not here to compare this movie to anything, but to try to view this movie in a vacuum, which proves to be quite the challenge. In short, this movie has a long, uphill battle to not just be good, but to justify its own existence.
2017’s Beauty and the Beast is a movie directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as the titular characters. The tale as old as time is about a selfish Prince (Stevens) whose castle, household, and himself are transfigured due to rebuffing the pleas and gift of a witch seeking refuge. The only way that he could break the spell would be by loving and being loved in return before the rose that the witch tried to gift the Prince completely wilts. The movie also follows an odd, bookish girl named Belle (Watson) who dreams of a life away from the small town in which she lives. When her father, played by Kevin Kline, mysteriously goes missing during a trip to the market, she goes off and finds him prisoner in the enchanted castle. When she decides to take his place, the Beast finally has an opportunity to finally learn to love and break the spell.
Technically, Beauty and the Beast is done well, with a few hiccups scattered about. The CGI for most of the movie is pretty and well detailed, especially on characters like Cogsworth. Then there is the Beast, whose face has seen better days. The sets were well crafted, and the camera shows off the best shots of the world. The direction is decent, if not a bit reliant on how things were in the original. All in all, the movie is well made in the typical Disney fashion. If that’s all you want to know about the movie, then you’re going to have a good time coming into this movie. If, however, you’re expecting a bit more than the usual Disney fare, then the rest of this review is for you.
The actors were decent overall, but it’s difficult to see what the actors did with the material versus what they were given. Take Emma Watson, for example. Many people on the internet have aired their complaints that Watson doesn’t have the best voice for the role, but since many greats have had their voices dubbed or altered, such as Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, it’s ok to cut her some slack. Beyond that, her portrayal of Belle is fine. Belle keeps to herself and is a bit snobby, but that’s unfortunately about the extent of what she emotes. I’m not sure if this is to play against Watson’s weaknesses or because the powers that be didn’t want Belle to do anything that could potentially rock the boat. The same could be said with Dan Stevens’ Beast. The man has rocked in Downton Abbey and The Guest, but here the Beast is played like a man who just happens to have a hormone problem, and that might be because any actual Beast-like thing on camera might be a bit too intense for younger viewers. The rest of the cast follow suit, being decent but nothing particularly show-stopping. The one who actually surprised me, however, was Luke Evans as Gaston. I was in the camp that he was too skinny for the role, but he put so much fun in the character’s narcissism that he erased any problems that I held previously.
The story is, for better or for worse, just like the original. This story isn’t any closer to any of the non-Disney versions of the story, and is almost a direct translation with a scene or two switched around and a good chunk of padding added. What things are new aren’t particularly memorable or even important to neither the character development nor the overarching plot. It’s particularly difficult to go into any real detail as these things may constitute as spoilers, but this movie is about forty-five minutes longer than the original, but most of these changes are just inconsequential filler that keeps the audience away from the romance that’s supposed to be happening.
Which brings up the pacing of Beauty and the Beast along with how some of the characters are written. Logic would dictate that with more time to tell the story, the more time would be dedicated to building up Belle and the Beast to dismiss the Stockholm Syndrome jokes that get thrown at it, but the movie instead uses the extra time to focus on the supporting cast instead. It’s an odd choice, and one that even derails some of the main characters. The Beast, for instance, is less proactive about wooing Belle than you would think. Again, we’re trying not to compare this movie to the original, but a good chunk of the Beast’s early action and dialogue are given to Lumiere, which makes the household seem more interested in breaking the spell than the situation being a team effort. It’s almost as if the movie is trying to explain why characters are the way they are instead of focusing on the romance. It comes off more as a missed opportunity than anything.
These things aren’t exactly going to wreck the experience, but it comes off as disappointing. The most disappointing thing, however, is that the original movie wasn’t just an ordinary film; it was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture when animated movies never received so much as a glance from the Academy (Snow White received an honorary award, but not a best picture nod). The 1991 movie was THAT good. Now is it fair to compare the two? Not particularly, as this movie won’t erase the other film from existence. But when this movie is practically a carbon copy of the other, it’s hard not to un-experience the original and think to yourself “I’ve seen this done better”.
So is this movie something you should see? Well, if you happen to be a Disneyphile and are going to love this no matter what, then by all means go out and watch Beauty and the Beast, you’ll enjoy yourself and have a good time. If you’re on the fence about this movie, then I would recommend obtaining the original 1991 version and putting that on. You won’t be missing anything.
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