Title: Beauty and the Beast
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Director: Bill Condon
Release Format: Theatrical
The 1991 Beauty and the Beast has not only been recognized as one of the best-animated films of all time but as one of the best films of all time, receiving a Best Picture Oscar nomination in 1992 alongside Silence of the Lambs.
In one word, it’s magical. From the memorable songs to the characters to an underlying message about kindness and human decency, Beauty and the Beast are truly a “tale as old as time”. Though this tale didn’t necessarily start with Disney, it’s one that both children and adults have been enchanted by for decades because of Disney. How, then, is it possible to capture that magic and nostalgia and then recreate it with a live-action remake? How do you appease those who grew up with that magic, yet still attempt to make something feel fresh for new audiences?
There is no easy answer, and even after seeing this live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, there may not even be a “right” one.
The story is the exact same one so many fell in love with back in 1991, though a few liberties were taken with characters’ backstories. The performances from the entire cast, especially Emma Watson (Belle) and Dan Stevens (The Beast), fluctuated between fair and excellent, depending on the scene.
When the film starts, we first see Stevens in his role as the selfish prince while he is being made up for a party. What follows is a sea of opulence- twirling, white ball gowns, glamorous hairstyles, and shots of an immaculately decorated castle. We all know how the story goes from there: a beggar comes into the castle, offering a beautiful rose in exchange for shelter.
She is shunned by the prince, but instead of leaving, she reveals her true form as an Enchantress and curses the prince, including his servants, for his wickedness. The prince is then transformed into a beast, doomed to remain that way unless he can love and be loved in return before the last petal on the rose falls.
It’s a simple story, though one that has received an added layer of depth in this remake. Emma Watson’s performance as Belle gave us a unique angle on such a beloved character. Belle is largely known for her immense love of reading and invention and compared to Disney’s other princesses, her personality is a bit more reserved. Watson brought an unexpected boldness, as well as a bit of quirk to Belle, which was refreshing to watch. While Watson’s singing may not blow you away, it’s still a solid job well done with each number that she performs, especially in livelier songs like “Something There” where her enthusiasm for the role shines.
While Dan Stevens was widely known for his role on Downton Abbey, he slips into the portrayal of the Beast well, delivering a great balance between a brooding “monster” and a man who is struggling to deal with what he’s become. Stevens also does well in quieter moments where he brings out the Beast’s troubled past by saying very little at all. Belle and the Beast’s interactions may become more frequent and kinder, but the chemistry between Watson and Stevens as they act opposite each other is undeniable. Couple that with humor and some awkwardly delivered smiles, the performance was a good one to witness.
The costume designs were handled beautifully throughout the entire film, right down to the intricate designs on Belle’s iconic yellow gown. Unfortunately, after all the build-up to the title song, “Beauty and the Beast”, I was left underwhelmed and wanting to hear the original again for old time’s sake. The strongest songs were, by far, “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston”. They both held a great amount of vibrancy and humor to satisfy Beauty and the Beast fans both old and new, but the extravagance and magic of “Be Our Guest” may just leave you in awe.
The settings become characters within themselves. During Belle’s opening number, “Belle”, she walks through the small town essentially musing about how unsophisticated everyone else is and longing for adventure. But it’s during that trek to the bookstore that the village comes alive with bright colors, foliage, and the lushness of the countryside. The same can be said of the Beast’s castle. While it’s on the edge of a wintry forest, inside the castle bursts with rich golds, deep browns, and colorful fabrics that added a layer of warmth, despite fact Belle was essentially being held captive.
That opening number also introduces us to the humorously arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans), and his right-hand man LeFou (Josh Gad). Evans and Gad brought a fun spark to these characters that weren’t present in the animated film, and their moments on screen was a welcomed break from the situation at the Beast’s castle. The pair worked wonderfully off each other, and Gad was especially a pleasure to watch.
Moving through these gorgeous settings and musical numbers, however, can prove to be a visually dizzying experience. Director Bill Condon has a tendency to move around the scene and his characters in quick circles, especially during high-action sequences or even lavish castle parties. In other words, I’d recommend not sitting too close to the screen when, or if, you go see it.
The humor is also spot-on in the film, and most of it is heard from Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), and Lefou (Gad). Each joke nailed its mark and I (along with others in my theater) found myself laughing long after a humorous line was delivered. The voice acting was stellar across the board, as each actor brought the castle objects to life in endearing ways that made them memorable and, in a strange way, made them seem like old friends.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Beauty and the Beast, it’s easy to find yourself wondering why this remake was necessary in the first place. Did we really need one?
Who knows, but one thing is for sure: Beauty and the Beast may have just proven that Disney’s live-action remakes are not going anywhere anytime soon.