‘Beauty and the Beast’ reminds us all of the tale as old as time
The newest live-action adaptation of one of Disney’s animated classics is director Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast.” This remake of the 1991 animated classic tells the now familiar story of Belle (Emma Watson), a bookish young woman who is sick of her life in her French provincial town, and the Beast (Dan Stevens), who was cursed long ago for being selfish and cruel. When her father gets captured by the Beast, things change suddenly for Belle. To save him, Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner. At first, Belle finds it hard living with the Beast and his many servants, who have all been cursed into household items. As time goes by, however, the two form a bond as Belle shows the Beast how to be kind and patient. From there, it becomes a race against time as the two must learn to love each other before the curse becomes permanent.
What else is there to say about the original that hasn’t already been said? The 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” is easily one of the most pitch-perfect animated films ever made with its powerful story, tender romance, fantastically developed characters, groundbreaking animation and memorable soundtrack. Altogether, the film went down in history as the first ever animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, a feat never before thought possible. This has only occurred twice since, with 2009’s “Up” and 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” It is a poignant, beautiful, well-paced, and heart-filled masterpiece that has left its mark in history as one of the most important animated films of all time. It has also allowed people to take animation seriously as a medium for telling powerful stories.
So it goes without saying that the remake had some mighty big shoes to fill. With the legacy of the animated film, how could anything capture the same magic and charm of the original tale as old as time?
While the remake fails to overshadow the original, there was clearly enough effort put into the film that makes it a nice companion piece. The cast does their jobs very well and each actor helps bring the charisma that these classic characters are known for. With the titular characters, Emma Watson helps ground the character of Belle with a good sense of realism and succeeds at making her charming, while still strong-willed and determined. The Beast was also fascinating in his portrayal and became a favorite character from this version. Unlike the more (for lack of a better term) beastly version we had in the original, this new beast has more brains to him and has been given a more fleshed-out backstory. What makes this even better is that it makes Belle and the Beast’s relationship stronger in some aspects, given that the two discover more similarities between each other than they had once thought.
The supporting cast also executes their roles fairly well. Kevin Kline gives Maurice much more depth, Ewan McGregor is a fun addition as Lumiere, Josh Gad proves to be funny as LeFou, and Luke Evans’ Gaston is even more entertaining and self-centered than the original.
The direction is also handled well and is probably the highlight of the film. The stunningly beautiful and detailed production design, coupled with the fast and flowing cinematography, really helped give this film the feeling of being somewhere so new, yet familiar at the same time. This helped with combining the feeling of Belle’s mundane town with the magical elements of the Beast’s castle and with elements of the original film itself.
Speaking of the original film, another gladly borrowed element from the classic version was its breathtaking musical numbers composed by original composer Alan Menken. Not only is the score beautiful to listen to, but the songs here are bigger and better than ever. All the classics from the original are here from “Belle” to “Be Our Guest” to “Something There.” For someone who hasn’t had a chance to see the original in theaters but still loves the songs, it was a joyous experience to finally hear those numbers brought to life and see the moments executed on the big screen. At the same time, some new songs also show up in this version and while not all of them are as memorable as the recycled numbers, the song “Evermore” is a highlight and fights with the spirit of the original perfectly.
While this film is enjoyable for many reasons, it is for the same reasons as the original movie. The film is constantly trying to remind the audience of the animated version, making it nearly impossible to be fully immersed in the movie without thinking about the original. Only some elements are made different, including some minor plot points, character traits, and a rearrangement of certain events. However, these elements actually do more bad than good most of the time. While there are some details updated from the original that were nice to see done differently, the majority of the others are either completely unnecessary and only make the movie longer or mess with the masterful tone and pacing the original had going for it. It is very obvious when new elements are included which results in major clashes with the story and tone.
The attempt to be like the original also feels forced at times. The original film took time to flesh out its characters and emotions, whereas some elements of this film lacked motivation and depth and only felt like they were included because they were in the original.
At the end, “Beauty and the Beast” may contain the heart and spirit of the original film thanks to its stellar cast, large-scale musical numbers, and clever production design, but there’s not much else to it. While some of the attempts to bring more depth to the story do work out, others don’t add anything to improve upon the original. If you’re a fan of the original film and want to simply see a version that does pay respect to it, than this film will be worth your time. However, if you’re looking for something with more substance to it, this story may not be as certain as the sun rising in the east.