Beauty and the Beast was truly a landmark film – the first animated picture to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, its combination of Broadway musical charm and Disney magic made it a classic for the ages, and it remains as good today as it was way back in 1991. Since it was announced that the film was going to remade, a live-action interpretation following in the footsteps of The Jungle Book and Cinderella, the excitement has just continued to grow. Well, now the tale as old as time is here – it has tweaked the formula in places, and sought to retain the original’s charm in others. And, though the production values are high, some of the magic is gone.
Belle (Emma Watson) is a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who feels out of place in her village, where she lives with her father (Kevin Kline). Trading places with her father after he winds up lost, Belle becomes the prisoner of a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and begins to look past the beast’s monstrous appearance, allowing her to recognise the kind heart that lies within.
A lot of controversy has surrounded the casting of Emma Watson as Belle, and a lot has been made of her feminist take on the character. Surely the biggest issue, though, is that she’s just not a very good actress? Here, she fails to really offer much in the way of emotion, her reading of lines an especially bland one, and her singing is noticeably auto-tuned. I get the star power argument but, when you’re being acted off the screen by the original’s drawing of Belle, it’s not good enough.
It seems a shame that the Beauty isn’t much good, and we don’t have much better from the Beast. Again, you can hear the computers at work during his number (the Beast now has a song – a beautiful love number that will definitely get an Oscar nomination next year), but at least he manages to provide some emotion, even under the layers of CGI.
Our supporting cast is much better, although with some odd choices (why cast Kevin Kline to have him standing around doing nothing?). The highlight, somewhat surprisingly, is Luke Evans as Gaston – he gets to ham it up, and yet there is a clear shift from his bravado to the sheer evil of him wanting to murder his love rival. Ian McKellen and Ewan MaGregor are charming as crockery odd couple Cogsworth and Lumiere, as is Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts (despite her accent bordering on Dick van Dyke at times).
What of the new additions? We’ve also had fuss about LeFou being gay and in love with Gaston, but it really is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment (how a resolution is shoe-horned in at the end is a touch more on the nose). Stanley Tucci appears as Cadenza, an original character who helps Disney promote its first ever interracial kiss (although, does it count if it’s a kiss between furniture?).
Alan Menken, returning once again to provide the score, provides three songs (the aforementioned Beast’s song, a lullaby sung by Maurice and a wistful number by the household staff, remembering their time as humans). They are charming numbers, although they never feel essential as songs like ‘Be Our Guest’ did.
That is a big issue with the film – at points, it feels overstuffed. We’ve got more back story, including the literally magical sequence when the curse is placed on the castle, but often, it feels like it’s just padding out the film. I can’t understate the lavishness of these moments, though, and the production design on the picture is very good (excusing some moments with rather creaky CGI).
I really wanted to love Beauty and the Beast as I did the original film, but it’s nowhere near as good as that movie. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good, but when you’re remaking what is arguably the greatest animated film ever, good doesn’t cut it. It stands on its own two feet, and newer audiences are likely to fall in love with it as an older audience did 25 years ago – if you are part of that older audience, though, the film will struggle to step out of the shadows of the original. Maybe I’m being too harsh, blinded by my love of the original movie, but that nostalgia factor is something remakes must contend with. Beauty and the Beast is an enjoyment watch but, in its transition to live-action, it has lost something, and that’s a massive shame.
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gad (LeFou), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere)
Running Time: 129 Mins