The original animated Beauty and the Beast was one of the only princess films that I did not see as a child. I only saw the 1991 version a few months ago so I did not have the same nostalgia that others probably did walking in to see the film. Maybe that helped me appreciate this film more as a work of its own. Nevertheless, the film has high expectations to live up to. It doesn’t help (hurt?) that the 1991 version of the Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is a weird creature in that it tries to be completely faithful to the original. This normally would not be a problem but the movie follows a series of Disney remakes where each tried to do something different from their predecessors. Cinderella tried expanding on the relationship between Cinderella and the prince. The Jungle Book changed the plot from the original (and improved on it). Here, with this movie, the director (Condon) and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos attempt to expand the connection between Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens) but are undercut by their reverence for the past.
These changes make the film overly long, with a run time of 129 minutes. That is not to say that every change they make is bad. I enjoyed the prologue that they added to give the audience a better understanding of what happened to the Beast, but I found that the rest of their changes feel superfluous. Belle is an inventor, but she is never given an opportunity to show that she can invent things other than giving stuff to her father to show the audience that she knows how the tools work. LeFou’s sexual orientation is highlighted by a brief two seconds of him dancing with another man. This still-potentially romantic scene is further undercut by LeFou’s villainous nature. There is only one joke that falls a little flat in the movie, and it’s near the end where Belle tells Beast (after he becomes human) that he should consider growing a beard. Maybe he can be like LeFou and just date one.
Like I mentioned before, and despite a few alterations, the film’s plot stays faithful to the original Beauty and the Beast. Belle takes her father’s place as a prisoner when he accidentally wanders into the Beast’s land and picks a rose from his garden. Eventually, she meets the different people (objects) in the castle and learns to love Beast while Belle, in turn, helps him discover compassion and love.
The songs sound fine for the most part, though some of them get a little lost in their translation to the big screen. The sound mixing for the songs in the film is a bit messy at times. “Be Our Guest” is a lot of fun, but the visual effects might prove overwhelming for some. The opening number “Belle” begins a little weary, but picks up by the end. The film really nails its self-titled song.
In musicals, the performers make or break the music, so Emma Thompson deserves all the praise in the world for her rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” in the original movie. Though her singing might prove a bit controversial, I really enjoyed listening to Emma Watson’s voice. She was especially wonderful in “Belle (Reprise)” and “Something There.” Her casting follows a trend in Hollywood to hire actors rather than singers in musicals (i.e. Emma Stone in La La Land). I personally like it when films cast actors who aren’t amazing vocalists because it adds a touch of realism to a genre that proves to be too fantastical for some. The whole cast proves to be a major asset for the music.
The actors’ performances are also a win for the film. Emma Watson is lovely as Belle, as she brings many of the characteristics that made Hermione, for example, so endearing, and the script lends her character some acerbic wit. Luke Evans adds just the right amount of sleaziness to Gaston, and Josh Gad’s hilarious acting added much needed humor to the film.
However, Beauty and the Beast does seem a bit hollow at times. Cordon stages the waltz between Belle and Beast awkwardly, and even some moments in “Belle” felt a bit small for what’s supposed to be a large opening number. There are many moments in this film that feel like it’s going through the motions just so it can be made and make money.
Beauty and the Beast is a charming little escape for audiences. Just don’t be surprised if Disney’s corporate fingerprints are slightly more apparent in this adaptation.