Remake of iconic Disney film is anything but magical
By Noah Orent – Contributing Writer
For more than two decades, “Beauty and the Beast” has enchanted audiences both young and old, further cementing its position as one of Disney’s greatest animated features. So it came as no surprise that, after developing live-action retellings of classics “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” the multi-media powerhouse did the same with the tale as old as time. But while there’s much to enjoy in this love letter to all things Disney, no amount of bombastic song-and-dance numbers or bold visuals can alter the fact that this haphazard spectacle falls far too short of its predecessor.
The film, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Bill Condon, chronicles the tempestuous relationship between Belle (Emma Watson), a headstrong bibliophile yearning to live a life of adventure, and the Beast (Dan Stevens), a monstrous creature trapped under an enchantress’ spell. As the unlikely pair questions their feelings for each other, the Beast’s servants conspire to bring them closer together in the hopes of breaking the spell before time runs out.
To say that “Beauty and the Beast” is a faithful rendition of its animated counterpart would be a massively gross understatement. It’s more of a shot-by-shot remake that channels nostalgia but, at the same time, evokes feelings of boredom because everyone knows how the story ends. The film practically reads like someone took Linda Woolverton’s original script, copied it word-for-word and threw in a series of incomplete narrative threads – some of which show promise, but are tossed aside like rag dolls without any rational thought – for good measure.
Watson and Stevens do their best to breath life into the title roles and skillfully capture their respective traits, specifically Belle’s determination and the Beast’s sullenness, but often float through the proceedings as if they are lost in their parts. Kevin Kline is somewhat one-note as Maurice, making it seem as though the only reason he exists is to incite the central conflict and subsequently fade into the background as if he was never there.
The actors portraying the Beast’s loyal servants – Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Sir Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) and Audra McDonald (Madame de Garderobe) – try to make the most of what they’ve been given but only end up following in the footsteps of their animated predecessors. As a result, they become collectively unable to take the audience’s mind off everything else.
The music – which comprises all the songs from the Oscar-winning score and three new songs composed by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice – is a hit and a miss. Evans and Gad’s rendition of the showstopper “Gaston” brings down the house while Thompson’s “Beauty and the Beast” and Stevens’ “Evermore” cause all the dry-eyed viewers to tear up.
In stark contrast, McGregor’s “Be Our Guest” is drowned out by a cacophony of background noise while “Days in the Sun” and “How Does A Moment Last Forever” are so forgettable that words are unable to describe how forgettable they are. Moreover, certain singing voices are either so earsplittingly off-key or so finely autotuned that it is almost unbearable for human ears to listen.
On a slightly higher note, Luke Evans and Josh Gad, who respectively portray Gaston and LeFou, give their greatest performances to date. Evans oozes pure, unadulterated arrogance in every scene he’s in while Gad is so hilarious that audiences can’t help but laugh. These two are very much the film’s high point and one hopes to see more of them in the future.
In addition, the visual effects are, in a word, stunning. The Beast’s castle, with its French Rococo and Gothic architectural styles, looks like it belongs in a Brontë novel. Everything from the gilt fixtures to the lofty towers screams magnificence and the color palette, which alternates between lively and fiery, helps the audience focus on every minute detail.
There’s no disputing that “Beauty and the Beast” helped Disney accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. It stimulated strong feelings of nostalgia that washed over audiences like a tidal wave. The sad truth is, however, that the film’s poignant thesis of true beauty being found within is sidelined by a laundry list of failures that will leave some wondering if Disney wants to recreate the magic of our childhood or continue to reap their spoils.