By Jason Abdow
My opinions have been mixed on Disney’s recent decision to make live-action adaptations to many of their classic animated films. Movies like “The Jungle Book” and “Pete’s Dragon” I thought were smart, thought-out expansions onto their original films, but “Maleficent” was a mess and “Cinderella” did little to stand out from its source material. This main concern going into the new “Beauty and the Beast” is that the original 1991 animated film is a classic, and arguably one of the best ever made by Disney. It would be challenging to even attempt to go up against it.
This is what my biggest problem with this adaptation ended up being. While it is undoubtedly a well-crafted film, and proves that Bill Condon is a talented director, I rarely thought the film was making any improvements to the original. Besides some of the technical accomplishments here, there is not any reason why you should chose the watch this movie over the original. This separates this movie from something like “The Jungle Book” which took the cute original concept and fully realized it into something darker, while still giving you a sense of nostalgia for the animated version. There were obvious improvements to that remake outside of the technical achievements. The same cannot be said for “Beauty and the Beast” which feels more like a retelling than a reboot of the original.
This is not necessarily a terrible thing, like I said the original film is one of Disney’s best, so retelling a classic story will still make a for a good movie. The main story here works and by the end of it you will undoubtedly be feeling the emotion. I am even man enough to admit I was tearing up towards the end, that classic story is really that amazing.
There were also a couple added moments that worked, especially a deeper look at Belle’s mother, which helps to add a bit more emotional depth to everything. And while the majority of these small added moments work, they are not enough to help make this movie stand out too much.
Another aspect of this movie that I feel deserves recognition is the acting from the entire cast. A clear stand out to me was Kevin Kline, who played Belle’s father Maurice. This is probably the only part of the remake I could argue improves from the original. The Maurice presented in this version was much more down-to-earth than the animated version and, thanks to Kline’s performance, was much more sympathetic. He was the most human character in the film and had the most depth to him, and while the emotion is subtle it is still there.
This is a sharp contrast to Luke Evans’ Gaston, the man trying to win Belle’s affection, who somehow manages to feel even more cartoonish than the original. Evans has fun playing the overly confident heartthrob and does the best with what he is given to work with, but the character just seems a little out of place in the mostly serious world that was set up. I would say Josh Gad, who plays Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, does a better job of toning down his silly character and is more naturally comedic rather than being a caricature. “Also, on a quick side note, LeFou is Disney’s first canonically gay character and while I was excited to see how this would be explored, the film really only playfully hints at it. I am glad that Disney has been open about the orientation of the character, I just wish it was better represented in the film.)
Anyway, the voice work of all the personified objects that serve in the Beast’s castle did great as well. The stand outs being Ewan McGregor, who did a great French accent as Lumière, Ian McKellen who was hilarious as Clogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, playing her role well as the older, caring servant.
This leads us to our leads, Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Dan Stevens did a more than serviceable job as the Beast, even if I feel like he was never as menacing as he was in the animated version. His singing voice was solid, and the song they gave him, which was not in the original, impressed me. Emma Watson was also far from bad as Belle. She fit the part aesthetically and you completely buy her as the smart girl that all the other villagers are baffled by. Even her character arch and chemistry with both the Beast and Maurice are very mature. The biggest problem I had with her was, sadly, her singing. It was not bad but it was definitely not on the level of everyone else’s, and especially not as good as the singing from Paige O’Hara who originally voiced Belle.
Even with that one critique, the music here is all great. The special effect showcase that takes place during “Be Our Guest” is one of the movie’s best, the few new songs were all good, as to be expected from original composer Alan Menken, and Emma Thompson delivered with the classic titular track that is so much more powerful than the Ariana Grande/John Legend version that came out before the movie’s release.
While I have my problems with this, there is no doubt that fans of the original movie will enjoy this one too. It is a fun movie that tells a great story and even if it does not fully justify being made, you will leave the theater happy it was. “Beauty and the Beast” is an undoubtedly cute, romantic Disney movie and will certainly inspire you to seek out and revisit the original again.