It’s pretty clear to observe from Disney’s upcoming line up of releases that live-action remakes are the succeeding phenomenon to evolve Disney’s cinematic collection. That’s not to say that this will colonize the visionary behemoth, with two Pixar films, three Marvel films and a Star Wars film being released this year under Disney’s belt. Nonetheless, multiple animated classics are transitioning to live action (Aladdin, Dumbo and Peter Pan are just a few). As I have mentioned before, Disney have had success critically and financially with Cinderella (2015), yet have produced a humongous flop recently with Alice through the Looking Glass (2016). Their most recent release, Beauty and the Beast has made an incredible financial debut, setting the highest opening weekend in March in history. Reception has been mostly positive, so I went into this adaptation with excitement and optimism. And after revisiting the timeless tale, I feel a huge sense of relief to say that the magic of Disney lives on.
The story of the film is unsurprisingly similar to that of Disney’s animated version of the story back in 1991. I’ve already reviewed that version with an overview of the story, so I won’t go into it again here. That being said, this particular incarnation of Beauty and the Beast adds additional plot elements, songs and even characters to label this reimagining with freshness, whilst maintaining the charm and heart touching tone and message of the original. So with this live action remake promising to embody the charismatic, engrossing and engaging tale of the unforgettable narrative, how does it fair against the animation?
Well I’m pleased to say that delightful appeal of the tale is present within this version. There is a certain degree of vibrancy and boldness woven in throughout the film’s effective storytelling techniques, preserving the enduring and thought provoking message of the original. Despite this, I didn’t want to judge this film solely on how well it fares when compared to the animated classic. Not only is that unfair when contemplating the enormous amount effort that the filmmakers have dedicated to this picture, but let’s face it, the original so beloved that it is almost impossible to match the quality. Beauty and the Beast (1991) is arguably the most cherished animation of all time. And honestly, this film doesn’t match it, with some flaws, yet overall I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would certainly recommend it, as it does nothing to damage the incredible source material.
So yes, the story whilst almost identical in essence does have its own merits when contemplating this particular version. There are some truly emotional and touching original moments, one in particular involving a windmill that is easily one of my favourites in the entire film. The new characters are welcomed with a sense of glorious creativity, as well as some brilliant new songs, conjured by the original composer of the animation. In that sense, the rejuvenation of certain aspects is extremely commendable, considering that the story of Beauty and the Beast has been delivered to audiences on countless occasions. So in terms of originality, this film in fact exceeded my expectations which was much appreciated and a pleasant surprise.
The characters are also charming as ever, with the outstanding cast and talent assembled for this production bring tangibility and a degree of ontology to what we have witnessed before. Emma Watson allows Belle to express her more emotional side, which aids the film in its most powerful moments. There was a concern before watching for me that I would just see Hermione singing, yet Emma Watson surprised me in her involvement in the role, providing an empathetic performance, retaining the strong attributes that make Belle such an icon for female audiences. We also receive a touching performance from Kevin Kline as Belle’s father Maurice, who is constructed as a more complex character than what we have seen before, allowing for some admirable development. Another standout for me was Luke Evans as Gaston, who brings some true brutality to the role which we haven’t seen before. The comedic relationship with Gaston and LeFou is conveyed brilliantly once again, reducing the pantomime inspired slapstick humour that could be achieved in the original. The comedy however is solid and has intelligence to it, a compliment to these characters as well as regarding the film in general.
When it comes to the castle characters, CGI is obviously crucial in transitioning these characters onto the big screen once again. And for the most part, the CGI is a thing of beauty. Firstly, the aesthetics of the castle and the film’s setting itself are stunning with engaging world building that layers the atmospheric engrossment of the film as a whole. The interior of the castle is somewhat eerie and creepy, as if it is its own character. Dan Stevens as The Beast was incredible in terms of his performance, portraying a believable romantic interest to Belle without it seeming forced, a major positive, considering that a natural relationship can be created when a CGI creature is one part of that relationship. However, the CGI is not perfect for the Beast, with some movements detaching my engagement with the character, but for the most part it works well.
As for the Beasts servant, the quality is a mixed bag but I would argue that the positives outweigh the negatives. The reimagining of how an anthropomorphic clock, candelabra and teapot would look in real life in contrast to the exaggerated design of the animation is handled incredibly well. The voice work occasionally didn’t work for me, especially Ewan McGregor’s singing. The attempt at the French accent was mostly convincing, but when it came to the song ‘Be Our Guest’, the accent fluctuated in terms of its plausibility. Considering that the accent is at the core of what makes Lumiere such a flirtatious character, this was a noticeable flaw. Ian McKellen was entertaining as Cogsworth, and in fact the friendship between Cogsworth and Lumiere is genuinely comedic and enjoyable. Mrs Potts is voiced by Emma Thompson, who manifests a kind and sympathetic Mother figure to audiences. With some entreating characters such as the wardrobe, and some new characters in the form of a piano, the vast majority of the characters exhibit their iconic personalities on the big screen once again.
As for the musical numbers, the outstanding production values combined with the incredible lyrics makes for a number of amazing sequences. Not only are original songs such as ‘Belle’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ magnificently realised, there are a handful of original songs for us to enjoy, a standout being ‘Evermore’ performed excellently by Dan Stevens. Like I mentioned in my original review, the songs in the film build character through the lyrics, recapturing the magic of the first time audiences were exposed to the terrific performances. However, another flaw that I found with this film is that when it came to post production, there was obviously some issue with the ADR, as characters lips weren’t synching with what they were singing (with some horrendously obvious examples found with the extras in ‘Belle’). Furthermore, whilst we are on negatives, the final act for me felt sloppily paced in aspects concerning the mob attacking the castle. All that being said, there is emotional payoff in the film’s conclusion, but I wish it flowed at a smoother pace as a whole.
So that’s Beauty and the Beast, and whilst it is not a perfect film, it was an extremely enjoyable experience. There is no doubt that the film will receive financial success with a multitude of generations finding enjoyment within the story. That is perhaps the largest compliment that a film such as this can receive, in that anyone of any age can find an element to relate to. With some outstanding performances, awe inspiring musical productions and an everlasting story of charming appeal, this film is well worth a watch. Despite its noticeable flaws, there’s no denying that Disney’s passion for bringing audiences memorable tales hasn’t faded, with this film providing encouragement for the many adaptations to come.
I give Beauty and the Beast 8 out of 10