The original Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated version, is one of the five best animated movies of all-time; it was so good that it became the first ever animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards. With movie studios going through their vault of hit movies and remaking them, it was inevitable that Beauty and the Beast would get a live-action remake sooner or later. And thanks to the advances in creating special effects that make the unimaginable look more realistic than ever, along with Disney coming off a string of successful live-action remakes (Maleficent, Cinderella, Jungle Book), the studio fast-tracked remaking the “tale as old as time.” Even though the narrative of this Beauty and the Beast is uneven at times, the movie, as a whole, hits most of the right notes. I would say it’s difficult not to compare this live-action remake to the near-perfect animated movie; but, in reality, there’s just no way around it.
Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.
When I heard a remake of Beauty and the Beast was coming from Disney, my biggest concern was how they were going to orchestrate and present the animated movie’s unforgettable music in live-action form. Luckily, this remake shines most brightly when the music takes center stage. From “Belle,” to “Gaston,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” the new versions of every song from the animated classic are performed profoundly and keenly well in the live-action remake; it’s also worth mentioning that all of the new, original songs in this remake are nice additions.
But where the remake falls short of the original are in those moments before and after the musical hits. Where some of the scenes are fairly comical and entertaining, others are not narratively engaging. Some of the scenes that aren’t played out musically still work wonders, especially those that involve Belle’s interactions with the enchanted staff of the castle, the backstory on Belle’s family, or discussions between Gaston and LeFou on how Gaston will win Belle’s heart. But on the other hand, some scenes lack imagination while some scenes designed to provide comic feel forced. It’s not to say these parts of the movie are particularly boring, but these moments feel awkward, off-balance, and pale in comparison to everything else we see in this movie.
Well-rounded, the cast of Beauty and the Beast is quite impressive. Emma Watson is great as the kind and bibliophilic Belle. Making her first big movie since her unforgettable role in the Harry Potter series, Watson charms in every scene in which she appears. Whether it be a conversation with the Beast or singing a song, there is no denying the presence she commands on the screen as Belle. And what’s most surprising about Watson is the set of lungs she displays in many of the songs she sings admirably and wonderfully. (I’m sure they probably tweaked the songs a bit in studio). Even though Dan Stevens is motion-captured for nearly the entire movie, he plays the Beast solidly for the most part and shows genuine emotion as a cursed individual. While I had rather have seen someone larger in the role of Gaston (like in the animated movie), Luke Evans plays the arrogant hunter with egotistical duplicitous. Josh Gad is hilariously delightful as Gaston’s flamboyant sidekick, LeFou, and Kevin Kline is a fitting choice as Belle’s father, Maurice.
As for the other members of the cast, they are exquisite as the voices of the enchanted staff of the Beast’s castle. Difficult to recognize as the voice of the candlebra, Lumière, Ewan McGregor is peachy and sings a plausibly convincing version of the infamous song, “Be Our Guest.” Ian McKellen is swell as Cogsworth, the mantel clock and head of the household staff. Stanley Tucci (also hardly recognizable in voice) is fine as Maestro Candenza, the composer of the castle turned into a harpsichord. But, easily, the best voice of the enchanted staff comes from Emma Thompson, who is lovely as the teapot, Mrs. Potts, and sings a stirring rendition of the elegant song, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Speaking of the enchanted staff, they are easily the best visual component of Beauty and the Beast. And when the camera either pans out on the castle or gets up and close on the Beast, the visuals are first-rate in detail. But from an overarching standpoint, the movie’s visual effects can either be engrossing at times when they’re simple or over the top when so much is thrown onto screen. In one particular scene, the visual effects take you out of the movie entirely with an otherwise impressive version of a classic song you all know so well (title not included for spoiler-free purposes). As far as production and set design goes, nothing in recent memory compares to Beauty and the Beast, which could land the movie multiple Oscar nominations next year to go along with a certain nomination for costume design.
Director Bill Condon does a good job of orchestrating many things in this version of Beauty and the Beast. The music is outstanding, from Emma Watson as Belle to the enchanted staff; the cast is good, and the new stuff, including original songs and backstory for Belle’s family, doesn’t feel like content added merely to extend the movie’s runtime. But still, the beloved animated classic casts a large shadow over the live-action remake. Throughout the entire showing, I kept thinking about how some scenes that I just saw played out awkwardly or uneven compared to the 1991 version; some stuff that worked so well in animation is just difficult to remake in live action. While this version of Beauty and the Beast is admirably entertaining, it certainly will not be as memorable as the original.