Disney made a live-action version of one of its best-loved animated features, put Bill Condon at the helm and Emma Watson in the starring role. (It’s not the first live-action remake – there was The Jungle Book and even much earlier on, 101 Dalmatians.) Was it worth it?
Maybe. The movie had a built-in audience: primarily Beauty & the Beast fans and Harry Potter/Hermione fans. It was hardly going to be a financial flop.
Was it necessary? I say no.
NOTE: This is going to be a markedly biased review because I was not keen on this movie from the outset despite being fond of the 1991 original, and it did nothing to impress me or change my mind.
Did it improve on the original? No.
It followed almost every story beat in the original, but with additions that made it 129 minutes long. Forty-five minutes longer than the original and forty-five minutes too long. Why the heck was it padded out so much? I’m struggling to think of scenes specific to this movie that were true improvements…
Ok, maybe there’s one. The scene near the end where Lumiere and Cogsworth offer each other a sad farewell in recognition of their friendship and service together before they turn into an actual candlestick and clock as a result of the curse. That was really touching.
The live-action movie did attempt to explain plot holes in the original though, such as the question of how it is that the townspeople seem completely oblivious to the existence of the castle and its inhabitants. But that particular plot hole was solved with a single line of dialogue (it was part of the curse – that they would all be forgotten). Easy. That didn’t take more than a few seconds of screentime.
The one that took up screentime was the magic book thing. For people who’ve been wondering what happened to Belle’s mother, this movie answers it by giving her a sad and mysterious backstory. The mystery is solved when the Beast brings out a magic book that can apparently take you anywhere. I struggled to like that part. I assume they meant it to give more depth to the Belle and Beast relationship but I thought the magic book came out of nowhere and was never mentioned ever again. It seemed invented literally just for that purpose, which I didn’t like.
I thought the scene at the end where the Beast transforms and Belle finds herself staring at a human instead of a beast was not great. The transformation was not magical enough for my liking (see my comments at the very end) and it felt like Belle accepted the prince too easily. I recall the original Belle being more hesitant and approaching him more warily. Here, she basically blinked at him and then seemed immediately overjoyed. (Or so it seemed to me)
Updated a little, but no drastic changes. (As for the fuss over LeFou’s being gay… I just want to roll my eyes at it. It was minor, and the director hadn’t proclaimed it to the world, I think there would have been much less fuss and we’d have gotten the movie here a week earlier! It was clearly so minor that the censors didn’t notice it the first time round and passed it, only to retract it temporarily when they realised that LeFou was supposed to be gay. Sigh.)
Generally okay. Luke Evans and Josh Gad turned out to be particularly good choices for Gaston and LeFou. Sir Ian McKellen was wasted as Cogsworth. Cogsworth was such a limiting role for him (but an easy one, I guess). Ewan McGregor managed to convey the spirit of Lumiere, but I thought his accent slipped here and there in the songs. Emma Thompson is a good actress but she doesn’t have the motherly feel of Angela Lansbury.
Music & Musical Sequences:
They used all the songs from the original, with three new ones by the same composer, Alan Menken. The new ones were all right but I didn’t think they were nearly as memorable as the others. The song given to Beast (“Evermore”) was fine, but I prefer the song given to him in the musical (“If I Can’t Love Her”). My favourites in the movie were the ones which hewed closest to the originals in music and presentation, namely “Belle” and “The Mob Song.” “Gaston” was extended but that worked.
The two signature pieces of Beauty & the Beast are probably “Be Our Guest” and the title song “Beauty & the Beast.” How did they do here?
“Be Our Guest” – not a patch on the original and that’s not all because of the different voice actor (Jerry Orbach vs Ewan McGregor). It was the visual presentation. The realistic 3D cutlery and stuff dancing around was just not as fun as the more cartoony 2D ones. The original was really bright and joyful and a little crazy. This one felt more muted.
“Beauty & the Beast” – also loses to the original, if you ask me. It’s odd, but the flying camera view and the general choreography of the dance didn’t work for me here although it should have been better than the animated version. I think the dim lighting (relative to how the original ballroom scene was staged) was to give it a more romantic feel, but it didn’t feel that way to me. Something was lost – the sense of wonder. I started to type “Maybe it’s because I’m old” and then I stopped myself because I don’t think I’ve lost the capacity for wonder so it isn’t just that I’m older and more cynical now.
I think I’m too enamoured of the look of the original to have really loved this one. Oh, the designs were generally good. They were not awful. But it was a shade too gloomy. The castle was overly ornate (no doubt a nod to Baroque or Roccoco architecture or something) and it had an oppressive feel. That was fine initially when you want the castle to feel oppressive. But when that crept into “Be Our Guest” and stayed that way up until the very very last scene, the images were on the darker side. (Literally darker, not darker in mood.) There were pretty scenes, but no joyful ones. In the original, “Be Our Guest” and the ballroom scene were magical because they were infusions of joy into a cursed castle – “Be Our Guest” was delightful joy, and the ballroom scene had a romantic joy. I liked that. This one, aiming for realism in appearance, ended up losing some of the visual joyfulness.
The transformation scene was a disappointment as well. It was a magnificent feat of animation in the original. Animator Glen Keane clearly meant for it to bring to mind classical paintings and statues. This one felt markedly less artistic and beautiful, and was less spectacular. Sigh.
It was fine. Most fans would enjoy it. I’m an aberration. Too fond of the original and quite strongly attached to the Broadway musical version. ^^