As I was about to watch Bill Condon’s new take on Beauty and the Beast a growing skepticism was only arising on my own end with the fact I had only recently rewatched Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s original film, for it not only remains my favourite of Disney’s animated films but one of my own all-time favourite films. Therefore with Disney’s recent trend of live-action reboots of their animated classics I felt that there was a possibility that something new could have only been brought to the table but I’ve had a running issue with these films as they can’t seem to find much about themselves in order to allow each entry to stand apart from the original. It seems to have run again with Beauty and the Beast, a fairly competently made one but to some extent what I thought it would be overall.
If one would at most ever expect something that catches on all of the same beats as the original film, then it’s safe to say Bill Condon’s new film does exactly that. Bill Condon’s vision plays with extreme faith towards the original, with its recreation of every original number from the animated film but also including a few more songs of its own. But for as much as this faithfulness could have turned itself a blessing it also becomes a hindrance on this new take’s end for either certain aspects lose the natural sense of what made them work in the original and don’t leave a similar impact inside live action. I’ll give this film credit on the count of recreation for it does a stellar job with forming its own setting the same way the animated film had done so, but there’s only so much that could be done that ultimately would have destroyed the charm that made Disney’s original a masterpiece.
Paige O’Hara’s voice performance as Belle has remained in my own head as my favourite Disney princess so it would only have left me skeptical of what Emma Watson were set to offer in the role. Watson has enough charm to play Belle but it’s saddening enough when her performance is unremarkable on all ground, and suddenly made much worse than the noticeably autotuned singing. While it’s obvious that Bill Condon would have wanted a great faith captured towards the original film, he chose to have handled it in the worse sense for it only gives off an idea that it doesn’t wish to stand as its own take on the same story the original was. Belle was still the same free-spirited and confident soul that I remember her being from the original film just in the way that I loved having seen it growing up, but this recreation at best seemed to be Watson reading along a path the original had rather than making Belle her own character. To her credit, her presence improves over time but promise only felt minimal from her own introduction.
While never exactly a great filmmaker, Bill Condon has always remained a competent one and he chooses to handle the story showing this but on a technical level, it’s stunning just to think of how hit-and-miss this feels. For one you have great production design and occasionally great visual effects work, but on another count it doesn’t ring as much as it should. It’s clear that Bill Condon has a keen eye for how to show the production design (it’s clear enough when you look at how he recreates the iconic ballroom sequence), but there’s a degree to which it also feels as if more work could be done when talking about the lighting in certain scenes and spotty visual effects. The motion capture for Dan Stevens is an area where I’ve remained mixed upon since the design was first revealed and while it didn’t take charm away from the dedication Stevens had carried as he was playing the Beast, it never rang with the fragile impact of his character as made clear from the original.
Yet despite so much that could easily have bothered me that I haven’t covered yet whether it be how the film was written, running time, the handling of the opening and ending, or the occasionally poor editing, I still found enough charm that made for something better than all the past Disney remakes. For one, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are a lovely pair to watch together, and the voice cast is delightful, with Ewan McGregor’s new rendition of “Be Our Guest” retaining the original’s appeal in itself. The cast in general is charming enough whether you go from Kevin Kline’s Maurice or Luke Evans’s new Gaston, but it’s sure to catch one’s attention when focusing on Josh Gad’s LeFou and how he is now written to be Disney’s first gay character. While I appreciated the fact he wasn’t a walking stereotype, I was almost left to think back from the screenwriters’ end with how it adds to the film because it’s nice to see Josh Gad doesn’t overdo it. Rather instead, it never seemed to add much for the most he gets is a dance with another male.
Beauty and the Beast is a conflicting experience because there’s not particularly much to hate about the production in itself but at the same time there’s so little that really stands out. For what it is, it’s actually above Disney’s past live-action remakes but the very most that these films seem to have been doing is reminding their viewers to watch the original films because the very most that this seemed to have been was just the 85 minute long original extended to a mere 129 minutes. As it stands though, it still feels charming enough but when watching the original film next to it, it suddenly feels like it will be rendered pointless. Given my own love for the original film, I think it’s safe to say I’ll stick with that.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos, from the 1991 film and the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 127 minutes