This live-action remake may not be necessary, but it’s still a lot of fun.
I usually try to review remakes (or prequels or sequels, for that matter) on their own merit as standalone films, but it’s impossible for me to do so with Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 animated take on Beauty and the Beast. I’ve had a 26-year love affair with that film: I’ve seen the stage version and the Disney Hollywood Studios version in Orlando, I have the DVD, I have Belle-themed dishes (that my 18-month-old daughter uses now, I swear) . . . and though I have no idea how many times I’ve actually watched the movie, it’s enough that I know every single word by heart.
You know the story, too, right? The Beast (Dan Stevens) was once a spoiled prince who was mean to an enchantress, and she got her revenge by turning him into a big hairy creature—and all of his staff into various objects. They’ll only be returned to their original forms if the Beast learns to love (and earn someone else’s love in return) before the final petal of an enchanted rose falls. Belle (Emma Watson) is from a nearby village and is eventually held prisoner in the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle after bargaining with him to let her father (Kevin Kline) go. The narcissistic Gaston (Luke Evans) is hell-bent on marrying Belle, and thinks if he can kill the Beast and rescue Belle, she won’t be able to refuse his proposal.
I’m happy to say that my knee-jerk reaction to this remake was positive. I loved seeing the story brought to life, I loved singing along again, and I was relieved that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) didn’t ruin my memories of the “original” (I know the 1991 version isn’t really the original, but you get what I mean). But upon further reflection, I’m not sure how much of that reaction was due to the fact that I could still recite almost all of the film in my head (much of the dialogue is the same), that I will always love its songs (except for the new ones, which added nothing), and that Condon knows his way around a lavish musical. Beauty and the Beast looks spectacular—it’s gorgeous from beginning to end, whether Belle is belting out her desire for adventure in “the great wide somewhere” from atop a mountain, or being charmed by the many creatures in the Beast’s opulent castle.
When I heard that Watson (best known for playing the brainy Hermione in the Harry Potter series) had taken on the lead role, I was excited; it seemed like a great fit. This is a case where what the audience knows about an actress in “real life” might bleed through to positively impact her portrayal of a character. Watson has a degree from Brown, is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and has spoken around the world on feminism. Now, those things are not enough to overcome the fact that if you think about it for more than, like, five solid minutes, there’s no getting around the fact that even though Belle breaks further away from the old Disney princess mold in this remake, it is still really weird and more than “a bit alarming” that Belle falls in love with her captor, who’s a literal beast. But I am the last person to want to think too hard about fairy tales, and so while that whole issue didn’t bother me anymore than it had before, I did think Watson’s performance was a letdown. She just didn’t seem into it overall. She was great when blowing off Gaston’s advances or fiercely fighting to take her father’s place as a prisoner, but later she watches the high-energy, dazzling “Be Our Guest” number with a quizzical look on her face instead of wonder and joy like the animated Belle. During “Something There,” she comes off as though she really was alarmed at the thought of falling for the Beast. It was as though at certain points Watson was having a blast, whereas at others she was reconsidering having taken on the role.
For me, the low point was the Beast. The way he walked looked too awkward and digitized, and Stevens’ portrayal was blah and unmemorable. I also didn’t sense any spark whatsoever between him and Watson. And unfortunately I was not a fan of how most of the main CGI characters looked, including Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson). They were all garish and not even remotely “cute” to me, which is sad because Lumière and Cogsworth are two of my all-time favorite Disney characters. At least the dog that turns into a footstool was still well done. Phew!
Aside from hearing the classic songs again, the highlight of the film for me was Evans as Gaston. He was just perfect: loud, brash, self-absorbed and clueless all at the same time. Oh, and about the controversy over Disney’s “first gay character,” Gaston’s sidekick LaFou (Josh Gad)? It’s much ado about nothing. Even before the silly drama over this role, Gad had a tendency to split audiences (do you love or hate Olaf from Frozen? There can be no in-between!). I personally got a kick out of his performance, but others may find it annoying.
The Bottom-Line? My rating of 3.5 stars is for fans of the 1991 classic, because a lot of enjoyment will come from already being familiar with the songs and the dialogue and just the “coolness” of seeing a favorite animated story brought to life. Otherwise I’d give the film 3 stars as it is still entertaining, looks amazing, and the songs are still wonderful for newcomers, but as a standalone film it doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should, due to slightly off-putting CGI characters, unnecessary new songs and a lack of spark between Belle and the Beast. Let it be known that I still prefer the animated version!
Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gad (LeFou), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza)
Credits: Directed by Bill Condon. Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
Erika Olson © March 17, 2017