A Tale as old as time…told once again for a new generation. Is it worth it?
Disney has been remaking their animated classics over the last few years. Cinderella, Maleficent, Pete’s Dragon and Jungle Book were already in the books and now we get the live-action remake of the Oscar nominated animated movie, Beauty and the Beast.
In the new film, Emma Watson plays Belle, a beautiful young girl who is more interested in reading a book than marrying the local hero, Gaston (Luke Evans). When he father (Kevin Kline)gets lost in a dark and mysterious castle, Belle heads out to help him. She finds herself in held prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens) and a castle full of animated furniture.
The new live action Beauty and the Beast is basically the same movie as the animated version, with a few small differences. That was an important thing, I believe, because if they had made a ton of changes to this classic story, the fans would be totally up in arms. However, there were a few items added to the new film. There was a story line involving the back story of Belle, particularly with the fate of her mother. There was a bit more of a role for the Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) who had originally cursed the castle and its inhabitants.
And most controversially, the character of Lefou (Josh Gad) was portrayed as a sexually confused man, showing homosexual tendencies. This was a major problem for some, but not an issue for me. In fact, Josh Gad is one of the standouts of the entire film. Those people boycotting the film because of his fact should really examine their own lives a little closer. And those people leaning on this for a way to bash the film, well, that is an unfair circumstance.
I did enjoy this film. I thought that they did a lot of really great things. First, I believe that they really needed to hit a home run when it came to a couple of the song scenes. The three major scenes I think included the big dance scene with Belle and the Beast, the Gaston bar song, and the “Be Out Guest” scene. In my opinion, they nailed two of those three. The Gaston song was one of my favorite moments of the film. The dance scene with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens was just beautiful and very moving. I thought the “Be Our Guest” song , which was extremely iconic from the animated version, was at best average.
Secondly, I thought that Emma Watson brought a sweetness and a real youthful beauty to Belle. Her emotional moments at the end of the film were very powerful. She was a charming lead for Beauty and the Beast.
Thirdly, I would say that Luke Evans completely embodied one of Disney’s greatest villains in Gaston. He was a perfect casting of him, and really pulls off the arrogant hunter/lady killer. Josh Gad, as I mentioned before. was wonderful as Lafou, and the minor inclusion of a sexual orientation for the character only provided more depth for the sidekick. Evans and Gad were great with their singing as well, just belting out their tunes when the opportunity presented itself. Kevin Kline was wonderful as Belle’s father Maurice. They added a small little song for Kline near the beginning of the film that was just beautiful and perfectly delivered by the amazing Kline. Emma Thompson sang the title song beautifully, but she felt like she was just doing an Angela Lansbury imitation for most of the film.
Finally, most of the backdrops for the action was tremendously beautiful and flawlessly executed by the professionals at Disney. This was an epically beautiful movie to watch.
Now, there were also several things that I did not love about this new remake. Unfortunately, though I loved Emma Watson’s performance as Belle, I believe that her singing left something to be desired. I mean, it was not as if she was a bad singer, but she just did not have the range or the chops to carry off some of the big time songs that Belle has to sing. Watson was okay singing-wise, but that is tough when you are so front and center.
And then there was the CGI. I just had some issues with the CGI on some of the characters. The look of the Beast bothered me several times. I am not sure what exactly it was, but the Beast just did not meet up with my expectations. I kind of wish they had gone with full on motion capture rather than the process that they wound up using. I also did not like the look of the clock Cogsworth (played by Ian McKellen) or the golden candelabra Lumière (voiced by the awesome Ewan McGregor).
Finally, I really did not like the castle onslaught scene where the furniture fights off the angry mob. This scene was so cartoon-like that it betrayed a lot of what they wanted to do. While it worked big time int he original animated movie, this felt out of place here. However, the final battle between the Beast and Gaston was very well done, though I would have rather Gaston still used his bow and arrow than the gun that he was using here. That is a minor quibble, but the bow and arrow made Gaston more of a hunter than the gun here, bringing more to the character of the braggadocio hunter.
One of the biggest troubles this movie will face is the challenge of updating an animated movie that is considered one of the best of all time. Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated movie ever nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. That is some mighty huge shoes to try to fill which is why this film does not try to stray too far from the original. However, it is not exactly a scene for scene remake wither. It does take some interesting side trips that were meant to redefine or inform on the development of these beloved characters. Any time a character gets more layers, I believe that is a good thing. Disney’s newest live action film does a very solid job of doing just that.
While it may not have all of the magic of the original, the new Beauty and the Beast does find enough of that Disney magic to make this a rewarding experience.