Synopsis: Beauty and the Beast is a reimagining of the original Disney Classic with a few new songs and some added twists.
The unfortunate hurdle that comes with remaking a film is that it can’t help but be compared to the original. This becomes even more of a hurdle when you try to remake a classic like 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. I do not use the word “classic” lightly, dear readers. The original Beauty and the Beast changed the animation game with its Broadway-esque style and its revolutionary animation. Let us not forget that it was the first ever animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Needless to say, I hold the film in high regards. The team behind this remake had a lot to live up to and I was not looking forward to see the results.
First off, Emma Watson cannot sing… at least not without the help of some blatant Autotune. It doesn’t help that she is highly outclassed by her costars in the singing department. Her acting is also very uninspired and flat. Belle in the original is full of passion, but Watson isn’t able to pull it off genuinely. The absolute worst instance of this is how she just blankly smiles during the Be Our Guest sequence. However, I will commend the film for trying to make Belle more assertive than the original. Belle isn’t as patient with Gaston’s blatant sexism or the Beast’s attitude from the get-go. That being said, the performance is still pretty weak. I was originally ecstatic about her casting but her performance left me unimpressed.
Dan Stevens’ performance is strong and his Beast is drastically different from the original. Stevens portrays the Beast as a spoiled aristocrat with a tragic backstory rather than the socially-stunted monster in the original. This change is interesting but then they keep some of the beastly qualities from the original that are contrary to this new version. My biggest gripe is the lack of creativity around the Beast’s design and physical performance. The film is called “Beauty and the Beast” not “Beauty and The Generically Handsome Tall Guy Who’s Just Sort of Furry.” You can watch clips of Glen Keane talk about the challenges of designing a frightening yet charming creature, but this remake just meshes Dan Stevens’ face into some fur. Maybe I am just biased towards the original, but this Beast only feels half-realized. They also give him a new song that feels like something from a early 2000s emo-band and it is easily the worst song in the film. Stevens’ is passable and sometimes charming but I did not fall for this Beast.
There is a little bit of chemistry between Belle and the Beast but they come off more as mutual acquaintances than potential romantic partners by the end. The film tries to give them common ground with both of them having lost their mother and Belle’s love of literature. The mutual dead mothers idea is only treated as exposition for the Beast. He and Belle never really discuss it even though it seems like the film was leading to said-discussion. The film could have cut unnecessary plot points and devoted more time to their romance. It left me feeling that the dance and transformation sequences felt unearned. They have brief moments where they actually open up to each other, but the relationship needed much more development.
The rest of the human cast are pretty enjoyable though the changes to their characters do nothing to enhance the film. Gaston is now a military veteran and is unhinged, LeFou is now a witty gay man who throws sick burns, and Maurice is Kevin Kline. I am not against any of these changes. In fact, I find them interesting as hell but the film does not wish to do anything with them. For example, it is implied that Lefou has a crush on Gaston but is starting to see he’s actually a jerk. I say implied because it is never explicitly said and Josh Gad plays him more as Gaston’s friend than someone who wants to be with him. A novel idea but it is mainly played more for humor and the conclusion of it all sums up to a joke at the expense of Disney’s first gay character.
The standout performances for me were from the enchanted objects. Ewan McGregor is charming regardless of his inconsistent French accent, Ian Mckellen gives a witty take on Cogsworth, and Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald are absolutely heartwarming as lovers separated by being immovable furniture in the castle. Emma Thompson is the weakest of the lot only because she is trying a bit too hard with her accent. Their performances are heightened with the curse counting down to the characters’ literal death and becoming completely inanimate. They want to beat this curse but also acknowledge how unfair it is to put all this on Belle. This was one of the only additions to the film that actually heightened the story for me and was an improvement on the original. It was all the more emotionally satisfying when you see them regain their human forms. It’s a real tearjerker of a moment!
On the technical side of things, the film’s direction is mediocre at best. The cinematography in the film doesn’t seem to have any soul behind it. The blocking only reinforces the lackluster musical performances. The editing is incredibly messy and awkward in places. Some shots hold on to certain moments that slow down the pacing. That isn’t to say the movie doesn’t look good aesthetically. The sets, costumes, and visual effects all look top notch. The Beast’s castle specifically is a wonderfully designed set. It’s unfortunate that the art direction is matched with such mediocre direction.
Ultimately my problem with the film is it’s inability to go all the way with its own ideas. If you want to make Lefou gay then actually make him openly in love with Gaston. If you want Belle and Beast to have a connection via the dead moms then make the connection. In my view, the only time a remake is warranted is if you have drastic changes that enhance the original or be completely different. This film is wants to be both and it fails at being both. I can tell you that based solely on its own merits Beauty and the Beast is incredibly mediocre but does have some moments of brilliance and creativity. I would only recommend for the morbidly curious who get a kick out of comparing remake to original, or for those looking for something pretty but shallow to look at. As for me, I will watch the original for the 100th time.