Beauty and the Beast | Bill Condon | March 17, 2017
Remakes are always a tricky thing, especially when you’re remaking a beloved classic (just ask the cast of the new Ghostbusters). Disney has been hard at work in recent years turning animated classics into newly imagined live action versions, fit to serve kids of a new generation and, of course, to generate some crazy box office revenue. So far the results have been mostly positive (The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) with a few duds along the way (Alice In Wonderland, Maleficent). Disney now takes on their biggest remake of the date: Beauty and The Beast.
As one of the most popular and beloved animated films of all time, Beauty and the Beast needs no introduction. It’s one of the only animated films to be nominated for Best Picture (back when only five films were nominated), and considering it came out only a quarter of a century ago, it’s still very near and dear to our hearts. So fans of the film are going to hold on tight going into this new version, most well aware that it’s a bar that most likely can’t be beat.
Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes, The Fifth Estate), this version starts out a little differently, giving us a prologue of sorts that dives a bit further into the history of the young prince (Dan Stevens). He lives a decadent life of wealth and privilege, throwing big parties that are the talk of the town. One night his big gala is interrupted by a haggard old beggar seeking shelter. Being the judgmental spoiled prince that he is, he refuses to help the old lady because of her looks. Disappointed by his actions, she transforms into a powerful enchantress and casts a spell on him and his castle, turning him into a hideous beast and his servants into various household items, leaving him with an enchanted rose. The curse can only be reversed if he can find true love with another before the last rose petal falls. The lesson here? Don’t judge one by their outward appearances.
From there, we meet our beloved Belle (Emma Watson), a beautiful young girl that loves books, and has bigger ambitions than just staying in her small village of Villeneuve, tired of fighting off the unwanted advances from Gaston (Luke Evans). She does enjoy a good relationship with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who is protective of Belle after the unfortunate passing of her mother when Belle was a child. Maurice is captured by the Beast after stumbling into his castle on one unfortunate chilly night, forcing a selfless Belle to trade places with him, throwing her into a world of magic that needs no further explanation.
Yes, it’s a tale as old as time. You (should) know how it goes. This new look Beauty and the Beast stays very close to the vision of the original. For the most part, this version – written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos – gives us what we know, just with a bit of a modern kick. For all of us who grew up with the original version, you’ll get goosebumps when you’re greeted with the warm familiarity of the memorable opening song “Belle”. I haven’t seen the animated version in many years, but after only a few seconds of the big musical number, it all came back to me within an instant. It has that type of power. This also can be said about “Gaston” which is given a big time arrangement, led by the tag-team duo of Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou. “Be Our Guest” doesn’t quite hit in the same way that I imagined, but I’ll admit the nostalgia factor won me over in the end
There are a few new additions, such as the previously mentioned opening prologue, a deeper look into Belle’s past with her mom, as well as a few new scenes with the Beast, including a new song for him, which unfortunately falls rather flat. While it was interesting to get this newfound insight, I don’t know if it was necessary, considering the movie is stretched to a rather long 129-minute runtime. Some of the additions come off as extremely superfluous, especially when you factor in that the animated original runs at a much tighter 84-minutes.
As Belle, Emma Watson gives an adequate performance, giving off that charm that so many of us fell in love with when she played another bookworm, Hermione, in a little franchise known as Harry Potter. There are times where it feels more like you’re watching Emma Watson perform than seeing her as Belle, but on the whole, she’s up to the task, songs and all. She has a warm relationship with Kevin Kline, who is delightful in his role. Luke Evans surprised the hell out of me as Gaston, delivering some truly impressive theatrical chops and singing that I didn’t know he had in him. He steals the entire show.
Josh Gad is delightful as LeFou, working well as Evans’ adoring sidekick. The fact that there is even an ounce of controversy over LeFou being gay in 2017 is beyond silly, especially with how briefly it comes across in the story. Not to mention that this is also a movie about a woman falling in love with an animal, so … priorities, people? Last but certainly not least, Dan Stevens offers a convincing performance behind all that CGI (which is a mixed bag), and also surprises with his musical abilities. He’s been on our radar ever since his chilling performance in The Guest, so it’s great to see him leading the way in such a big production. There’s also delightful voice work from Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra Mcdonald and Stanley Tucci as the various household items that live inside the castle.
It’s a tricky thing to remake a film and find valid reasons to reimagine it (aside from keeping shareholders happy with its financial promise), so I understand that they wanted to breathe some new life into it, but I felt like changes such as the new Beast song and the look into Belle’s past, took away from valuable runtime that should’ve been given to the building of the relationship between Belle and The Beast, which surprisingly felt drawn a little thin here. Yes, they fall in love rather quickly in the animated version too, but maybe it’s the fact that it’s animated allows us to suspend our belief a little more than when you’re watching “real people” fall in love without the proper development.
While I don’t particularly care for many of the new additions, have mixed feelings about the look and feel of this CGI version of The Beast, and think the film is a bit too long, overall, I had a good time with it. The songs sparkle, the production design looks great, and there are some memorable turns from the likes of Evans, Gad and Stevens. Fans of the original should be pretty pleased with this new treatment, but either way, this film is going to make too much cheddar for anyone at the Mouse factory to even bat an eye.