Beauty and the Beast Review
For those who hold the Disney empire’s classic films near and dear to their hearts, the recent wave of live action remakes has come as an utter delight. With the release of Disney’s new Cinderella in 2015, the rush of remakes began and incited joy in many viewers around the world. After the success of Cinderella, Disney continued with their revolutionary remake of The Jungle Book, which starred only one live actor surrounded by an entire world of beautiful computer generation. Now, sustaining the surge of well-received remakes, Disney has brought Beauty and the Beast to the big screen once again as the same, yet slightly modernized, tale with a combination of live action and CGI characters.
For those who haven’t had the immense privilege of seeing the original, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who is ostracized by the people of her small, countryside town in France. In her daily life, Belle is pestered by the town’s idiotic and self-obsessed hunk, Gaston, who consistently asks for her hand in marriage. Meanwhile, she faces the extreme judgement of the provincial residents due to her love of reading and knowledge. Suddenly, her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is taken by a beast that lives in an enchanted castle outside of town, and Belle is forced to find him, take his place in the dungeon, and live the rest of her life as the Beast’s prisoner. The Beast (Dan Stevens) and his merry band of lively household furnishings were cursed by an enchantress years ago and have sought for a true love to free them. With Belle now in the castle, Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and the rest of the crew all believe that she is the one who will break this spell and save them from losing their humanity forever.
While the story of Beauty and the Beast has mostly remained faithful to the original animated film, the writers (Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos) have changed and reimagined a few details for this version to validate the live-action remake. Sadly, the new elements do not necessarily add to the overall effectiveness of the story, but instead feel tacked on and rushed. In the film, Chbosky and Spiliotopoulos have included a deeper element to Belle’s backstory that follows her quest for more information about her mother. This section takes up a sizable portion of the film, and it only served to slow it down, causing these scenes to become rather boring and uninteresting. Although this storyline provided an excellently written reprisal of a new song for the film, the rest of the section was a bit forgettable and unnecessary, only serving to hurt the pacing and pad the overall duration.
Similarly, the way in which some of the characters’ dialogue and motivations were written left them feeling slightly dull and hollow. With undeniably humorous and witty discourse, Lumière and Cogsworth are especially standout characters in the original film. They have an entertaining relationship with each other, as complete counterparts do, and their interactions add even more excitement to the animated film’s story. However, in this reimagined Beauty and the Beast, both characters lack any memorable dialogue to display their specific personalities. Although McKellen gave an exquisite voice to Cogsworth, and the computer generation gave him an updated, beautifully detailed appearance, the character lacked the same lovable stick-in-the-mud personality that he had in the original. Likewise, McGregor’s Lumière is burdened with the same issue, as the original animated Lumière was much more daring and careless than the updated 2017 character is.
Much like the writing, the performances of the main actors throughout the film were particularly inconsistent. The most glaring issue in acting was unfortunately Watson’s performance as Belle, which was the only main performance that was an enormously missed opportunity. From the beginning scenes accompanying the opening song, Watson’s Belle waltzes around the town lethargically, like a beautiful zombie, continuously pushing forced dialogue with other characters that seemed completely unenthusiastic. She relied most on her cartoonish voice and pretty looks, which caused her to lack any discernible facial and body acting throughout the film.
As for the other performances, both Luke Evans and Dan Stevens far exceeded expectations as their respective characters. At first glance, Luke Evans does not appear to be the right choice to play Gaston, as he is not nearly as brawny as the character is intended to be. However, his exciting, funny, and truthful performance makes him the perfect actor to play the ostentatiously macho man. With the help of a little costume and makeup magic, he instantly and believably became a real version of Gaston. Much like Evans’ Gaston, Stevens’ casting as Beast caused hesitance and doubt for Beauty and the Beast’s success. Despite the difficulty of taking on such a famous character, Stevens portrays the Beast with intelligence, ferocity, and excitement. Through his incredibly dedicated motion capture performance, a well-mixed and altered voice, and perfect singing, Stevens managed to faithfully represent the original Beast, while also transforming him into a more modern and human-like character that fit perfectly in this reimagined world. Beast was full of a new witty intellect that helped bolster the authenticity of his relationship with Belle, while simultaneously making a much more sympathetic and relatable character.
Like every other great Disney musical, the songs in Beauty and the Beast are unsurprisingly fantastic, retaining most all of the 1991 version’s enduring magic. The only major issue with the film’s songs is Emma Watson’s horrifically auto-tuned voice. In every song she had a solo in, Watson sounded tremendously robotic and fake, making her the worst part in practically every song. Despite her voice’s noticeable auto-tune, every song in the film was still undeniably wonderful. The rest of the Beauty and the Beast cast’s singing was spot-on, with the Broadway-like quality remaining throughout almost every number. Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Dan Stevens make every song sound as entertaining and heartfelt as they did in the original, and their effort makes up for the occasional musical-misstep. Every new song Alan Menken and Tim Rice have created and composed, like “How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box and Montmartre)” and “Evermore”, are at the same high caliber as all the original’s numbers and are great new additions to the expansive catalog of Disney music.
Despite the occasional issues that the film had, Beauty and the Beast was still incredibly enjoyable to watch. Seeing the enthusing story and hearing the amusing songs on the big screen again was like reliving an ever-favorite childhood memory, and it will undoubtedly please any fan of Disney. With the continual success of Disney in their attempts to remake their amazing collection of animated films, audiences can and should be excited about the future remakes to come.