A tale as old as 1991.
Beauty and the Beast (2017) is a live-action remake of the 1991 animated Disney movie directed by Bill Condon. It stars Emma Watson as Belle, an intelligent young woman living in a small village who longs for adventure – adventure that is provided when she is trapped in an enchanted castle by the mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens), until they eventually begin to fall in love.
I don’t know why I’m being so vague with the plot details – everyone is at least passingly familiar with this ‘tale as old as time’. And just to get this out of the way… I don’t think this movie needs to exist. Honestly, just watch the original. But now that its here – and nothing can change that $1 billion gross – lets just approach it as the new adaptation it is.
Yeah, its not very good. Behold, the new Beauty and the Beast that is sluggish, padded out, and devoid of any of the passion, charm or chemistry of the original. I feel as if the screenplay started with a few painted numbers up on a board, crammed in a couple more tiny new numbers and behold – an inferior version in almost every way to the original. Aside from filling in a few minor plot holes from the original, this version almost feels like a shot-by-shot remake of that classic with a few tiny new details to both pad out the run time and so Disney can claim ‘no, its a re-imaging! Its different! We swear!’.
Lets get down to business. Emma Watson is not good as Belle. She is a mess of three dull expressions, a dollop of blandness and is topped off with having a singing voice that was clearly so bad that it had to be auto-tuned to hell and back in the final product. Her hairier half doesn’t fare much better. While Dan Steven definitely pulls off the better performance as Mr Beast, he suffers from some CGI that keeps him from being anything more than a clunky computer construct that has little to no chemistry with Emma Watson.
That’s not to say that every casting decision is such a misstep – much of the supporting has a better time. Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou respectively are a riot of energy and clearly seem to be having the most fun here. While Gad isn’t quite as funny as the script wants him to be, his character has been given a little development in this rendition – even if the entire ‘gay controversy’ has unfortunately changed the conversation around him. And while I never thought they’d be able to find someone to adapt Gaston properly to screen, Evans does a damn good job. Sure, his vocal talents aren’t spectacular, but the gusto and brashness with which he plays the muscle-bound oaf makes up for his shortcomings.
As for the castle staff, the best way to describe the impressive cast list is… functional. In no way do they eclipse their animated counterparts and some suffer from some serious uncanny valley designs, but they embody the spirit of each appliance quite well. Ewan McGregor’s Lumière has an iffy accent but a bright disposition, Sir Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth is suitably grumpy and Emma Thompson is as lovely as she should be as Mrs Potts. Once again the singing suffers but in no way does it compare to the problems of Emma Watson.
Another solid positive for the movie is the set design. The castle – that is, the very not-CGI interior – is a marvel of lavish french architectural design that leaps off the screen. And while the outside of the castle can look like plastic in certain lighting, at several moments it does possess some of the grandeur required.
On the song front, most have been lifted verbatim from the original, but there are a few new numbers in here. They range from ‘oh, that was actually quite nice’ to ‘wait, what new song?’. In no way are they horrible, but none of the new material captures the charm and quality of any of the originals.
The problem with this movie is that, while it understands that the original was great, it never comprehended why it was great. This is Beauty and the Beast with two flat leads, none of the charm, a poorly padded out runtime and just a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the original successful. A few bright spots keeps this from being a complete slog, but in no way is this a successful adaption. And honestly I think that’s the biggest problem. If this movie recognised what made the original great in the first place, it wouldn’t exist at all.
General Audiences: Not Recommended
Film Buffs: Not Recommended
True Believers (Disney): Meh