(NOTE: This Review Contains Some Minor Spoilers, So Be Careful...)
Who Made Beauty and the Beast?
Beauty and the Beast is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name, which was in turn based on the famous fairy tale, first published by in 1740. This version is directed by Bill Condon, and the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, (based on Linda Woolverton's screenplay for the original)
What’s It About?
Beauty and the Beast is about Belle (played by Emma Watson), whose love of reading makes her an outcast in the French village of Villeneuve. When her father, Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) gets lost in the woods, he stumbles upon the castle of the Beast (played by Dan Stevens) a prince who was cursed by an enchantress for his selfish behaviour. When the Beast imprisons Maurice, Belle volunteers to take her father’s place in the decaying castle, which is inhabited by the Beast and a team of servants who has been turned into enchanted objects by the curse, including Lumiere the Candelabra (voiced by Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the Clock (voiced by Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts the Teapot (voiced by Emma Thompson). Over time, Belle finds out that the Beast is not as unpleasant as he initially seemed, and begins to develop a closer relationship with him. However, the narcissistic hunter Gaston (played by Luke Evans) wants Belle for himself, and is willing to use increasingly nefarious means to get her hand in marriage. Furthermore, if the Beast cannot get Belle to admit her love for him, he and his staff will remain in their cursed forms forever.
As a remake of one of the most beloved animated films of all time, the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast has been under considerable pressure to measure up to the high standards set by the original. Many people have argued that turning Beauty and the Beast into a live-action film is unnecessary, but the story of Belle and the Beast has been adapted for many forms of entertainment since its release, including video games and comic books. With its increased length and extra musical numbers, this live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is closest to the stage version which ran on Broadway for 13 years. Adapting Beauty and the Beast into live-action provides a set of interesting advantages and challenges, and it is fun to see the cast and crew behind the movie deal with these. For the most part, Beauty and the Beast translates well to live-action, ensuring this version is enjoyable to watch.
The main difference between the original film and the remake is apparent in the first few seconds. The opening narration explaining how the Beast and his staff got cursed has been transformed into a full prologue which gives us our first look at these characters. In place of images on a stained-glass window, we get a scene showing off a cast of dozens dancing in an opulent ballroom, before the enchantress reveals herself in a burst of special effects. This scene makes it clear that the live-action remake is going to emphasise scale and spectacle, and this approach is sustained throughout Beauty and the Beast – every cent of the movie’s $160 million dollar budget seems to have been spent on making it look as magnificent as possible. The visuals are the strongest aspect of the movie by some distance. The large cast makes the bustling town of Villeneuve and the Beast’s giant castle seem impressively authentic, the sets are spectacular, and the special effects are generally pretty impressive. Whilst the new looks for Cogsworth, Lumiere and the other enchanted objects in the castle staff seem a bit creepy at times, the interactions between these CGI characters and people like Belle feel almost completely natural.
Beauty and the Beast starts pretty slowly. Though the first hour or so of the movie does a good job of highlighting Belle’s status as a misfit, but it takes a while to set up the story, the Beast is a bit underdeveloped early on, and in spite of the great visuals and songs, it’s hard to connect with the characters. However, the film is much stronger in the second half. Belle’s interactions with the Beast are particularly enjoyable, as they realise that they have a number of common interests, and it becomes clear that the two have plenty of chemistry. A climactic fight between the Enchanted Objects and an angry mob sent by Gaston to storm the Beast’s castle is wonderfully over the top, and, although the climax is a bit overlong, the closing scenes are very sweet. Although the story of Beauty and the Beast is one we all know by heart, there are enough interesting elements in this version to make it feel engaging and satisfying in its own right.
In addition to affecting the look and feel of the film, the transition from animation to live-action has also had a considerable impact on the portrayal of some of the characters, with some who were portrayed in a cartoonish fashion in the original being given greater depth. Maurice, initially a ridiculous oddball in the original, is a much more serious figure here, whilst Gaston’s henchman LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is transformed from a clownish victim of slapstick injuries to an initially loyal assistant who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Gaston’s actions as the story progresses. Gaston is also portrayed in a much more realistic manner, as we see more of his ability to lie and manipulate others, and his failure to obtain his goals causes him to succumb to his violent instincts. Although Gaston still gets some funny moments, the comedic aspects of his character are downplayed compared to the original film. However, after Frozen, having a handsome and seemingly heroic individual who turns out to be a self-serving scumbag is no longer a novelty. Thus, with his macho nature toned down, this incarnation of Gaston is not quite as memorable as he was in the original film. Overall, the medium of live-action prevents the characters from being as expressive as they were in the animated version, but they have enough personality to prevent this from being too much of a problem.
All the classic songs from the original Beauty and the Beast are retained in this version, and they are generally used well. “Belle” benefits from the increased scale of this adaptation (which amplifies the energy and activity of the song), and “Be Our Guest” is great fun– It’s not every day you see cutlery and feather dusters put on a grand musical number. That said, there are instances where the use of songs from the original film can be a liability. For example, the cartoonish excesses of Gaston’s eponymous song clash with the more realistic portrayal of the character in this version, and Emma Thompson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” lacks the power of Angela Lansbury’s original. However, Howard Ashman’s lyrics and Alan Menken’s score are always excellent to listen to, and it’s a pleasure to hear these great songs sung by famous actors. In addition to the six songs from the original movie, there are three new ones, “How Does a Moment Last Forever?”, “Days in the Sun“, and “For Evermore“. All of these are emotional ballads, with “For Evermore” proving to be the strongest, as Dan Stevens captures the power of the lyrics.
In addition to the new songs, the live-action remake has several new elements, which make the movie about 40 minutes longer than the original. Some of these are totally superfluous, such as the new character Cadenza (an enchanted harpsichord voiced by Stanley Tucci) and unnecessary revelations about Mrs. Potts (who has a husband who lives in Villeneuve) and the Beast (whose initial nature was due to the influence of his tyrannical father). There is also a magical book which can transport Belle and the Beast to any time and place they wish to visit (leading to a scene where Beast learns about Belle’s past). This is an interesting idea, but belongs in another movie where it would have a larger role and get used in a more satisfying fashion. However, a couple of changes which add to the fairy tale feel of the story are more effective. The enchantress who cursed the Beast has a much larger role in the story, and the scene where Maurice comes across the Beast’s castle is changed to make it closer to the original 18th century version of Beauty and the Beast. These two twists increase the mystery of the story instead of removing it. Sometimes, less is more, and that lesson even applies to lavish live-action remakes of Disney classics…
One of the advantages of doing Beauty and the Beast in live-action is the all-star cast. Emma Watson is a strong and lively Belle, never feeling like a damsel-in-distress. Her status as an intelligent misfit makes her an appealing and relatable protagonist. Dan Stevens capably handles the Beast’s changes in personality, as he evolves from an intimidating monster to a likeable love interest with a dry sense of humour. Luke Evans is effective as a more menacing incarnation of Gaston. Josh Gad gets some funny lines as LeFou, but his eventual redemption something of a foregone conclusion –Gad is too likeable to play a straightforward villain. Kevin Kline is a real standout as Maurice, the character who has been most improved from his incarnation in the animated film, and his relationship with Belle makes a refreshing change from the strict father/rebellious daughter dynamic traditionally associated with Disney. The Enchanted Objects are all likeable characters, but it’s a bit distracting to hear the likes of Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci put on a French accent. The singing is mostly strong. Although Emma Watson sounds a little auto-tuned at times, she generally conveys the emotion of all her songs very well. Taking their musical theatre backgrounds into account, it’s no surprise that Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald and Kevin Kline are good singers, but Dan Steven’s deep and rich singing voice is a pleasant surprise. The film manages to make good use of its strong cast, as they are playing interesting characters and having fun doing so.
We all knew that the live-action version Beauty and the Beast would not be as brilliant as the original. It’s a little too big and elaborate for its own good, and often lacks the charm of the animated version. However, it’s still interesting to see this classic story told in a new medium, and there are enough worthwhile moments to ensure that it stands out. Taken on its own terms, the remake of Beauty and the Beast is a fun movie with spectacular visuals, great songs and memorable characters. If you have to choose one version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to watch, watch the original instead of this one. However, if you don’t mind seeing the same story told in a new way, or just want an enjoyable musical to provide 2 hours of escapism, then this remake of Beauty and the Beast is definitely worth watching.
If You Liked This, See:
Beauty and the Beast (1991) – For all the additions made by the live-action remake, Disney’s original version of Beauty and the Beast is still the best. It has the same great characters and same great songs as the remake, but its warmth and simplicity ensure that it still holds up as a must-see.
Cinderella (2015) – Out of all the live-action remakes which Disney have released in recent years, Cinderella is the closest to Beauty and the Beast, with its predominantly British cast and its lavish scenery. It provides an excellent example of the distinctive formula used by Disney’s live-action remakes, as it is faithful to the 1950 version of Cinderella whilst adding its own special touches.
La Belle Et La Bete – Jean Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast from 1946 is one of the definitive non-Disney fairy-tale films, and its black-and-white cinematography continues to enthral viewers today. Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast even features a homage to this version by showing living hands holding lamps at the entrance to the Beast’s castle.