It’s a fool’s dream for any filmmaker to ever surpass the original 1991 “Beauty and the Beast”. An animated film so good it was impossible for the Academy to ignore it and became the first ever animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. I cannot ever preclude the possibility of there ever being a film better than that one (because forever is a long time) but I never came in expecting this remake would be up to par with that film. However, that being said Disney has been knocking it out of the park with their live action remakes. “Cinderella”, “Jungle Book” and even “Pete’s Dragon” have ranged from good too great. Disney has found their ways after the big misfires of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Maleficent”.
This new Bill Condon-directed “Beauty and the Beast” don’t rise to the heights that “Jungle Book” did last year or even up to the level Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” did, but it still serves as a good remake that is flawed and perhaps faithful to a fault. “Beauty and the Beast” though is a mostly well-acted, well adapted and at times really magical affair.
You all know the story of “Beauty and the Beast” by now. A girl named Belle is kept as a prisoner yada yada yada a Beast, must fall in love before the last petal on the rose falls or will be cursed forever (seriously by now you should know the story or have seen the original). The story of “Beauty and the Beast” follows the Disney Animated Version pretty much note for note. There are some new elements added in but for the most part, this is the story you know and love from 1991. However, I think that is also a fault of the movie.
There aren’t many new additions here. There are a few new elements to the story that are nice to see. There is more background given to Belle’s mother which adds another dimension to her character. It doesn’t redefine her as a character but it an interesting new layer. We get a little more with Beast’s background but unfortunately, his new additions don’t get enough screen time.
Belle this time around is played by Emma Watson and the Beast is played by Dan Stevens. Watson captures the spirit of the original Belle with adding her own spunky personality into it. She has really good chemistry with her co-star Dan Stevens. Their relationship is convincing and very loving. Watson has a fine singing voice and does well but her strength is her acting. The limitations of her voice are noticeable. If you’re expecting a terrific singing performance, it’s not here but it’s solid enough. Stevens is an excellent choice of the Beast. His vocal work is very good. The CGI on the Beast is more convincing in certain scenes than others. I noticed it more in the second half of the film where Beast had more close-ups and had more lighting on him. It’s not bad CG but it can be noticeable. I do wonder if makeup would have been a better way to go. Regardless of the quality of CG, the motion capture work of Steven’s performance is spot on. Even when the CG isn’t at its best you can always see the performance of Stevens shine through.
This movie does recycle some of the most famous scenes in the original like “Be Our Guest” and of course the famous Ball Room scene. Many of them are recreated with care and attention with their own little new touches. It is a bit of a different experience seeing these scenes in a live action environment as oppose to animation (which is why I’m also fine with so many lifts from that movie).
I think the biggest issue with this movie is it’s pacing. When Condon moved the scenes from animation to live action (and another 30 minutes of running time) I’m not sure how much thought there was to understanding how that significantly changes the pace of the film. Scenes don’t have a great flow from one another; there is a big of dragging here and there and other scenes move along way too fast. It makes me wonder if this movie was afraid to do anything too different.
There are new songs written by original film composer Alan Menken (and co-written with “Lion King” co-songwriter Tim Rice). These are also a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t expecting the next “Be Our Guest” but I thought maybe a few more of the tunes would be memorable. The only one that stood out to me would be Beast’s new song, “Evermore”. Although it is also worth noting that on the song “Gaston” that some of the original lyrics written by Howard Ashman that were cut out have made it back into this version (a more than welcomed addition).
Speaking of Gaston, the man that absolutely steals the show here is Luke Evans as Gaston. Every time Evans is on screen the movie absolutely shines and is filled with such energy. Evans is so good at being self-indulgent, evil, but charming as hell. He is wonderful and has terrific chemistry with his co-actor Josh Gad who plays LeFou (who is almost as good as Evans in this movie). The pair of them singing are incredible. This is just another showcase for Evans who continues to be one of the best working actors in Hollywood; quietly racking up a potentially great career.
The rest of the cast works pretty well too. Ewan McGregor played a wonderful and funny Lumière. His counterpart Cogsworth played by Ian Mckellan is perfectly grouchy. Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are all wonderful. I think I’m in the minority but I do think Kevin Kline was a bit of miscast. I didn’t believe him when he was trying to act odd and he felt emotionally stale.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a flawed film in many ways. It has pacing issues, the CG isn’t always convincing, and the new songs aren’t that memorable. However, the stuff that works does really work. The cast (for the most part) works very well, the music is great as always, the costumes and art direction is beautiful and the story, while familiar, is told well enough. Bill Condon is able to create a sense of awe and magic that radiates to the final frames. This isn’t perfect but it’s certainly a good time at the movies. It provides more evidence that Disney’s live-action remakes are working and I do welcome even more.