Beauty and the Beast Review
Once upon a time there was an animated film that enchanted young and old alike. A film that was sweet, fun, and made history by being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. How then do you even begin to go about remaking a film that is so dear and so perfect in the hearts of many like Beauty and the Beast? The answer seems to be not changing much of anything but add some stuff that doesn’t really matter.
Most of this movie is almost shot for shot the same as the animated film with little deviation. Perhaps the reason for the lack of major changes is that, unlike Cinderella or The Jungle Book, the animated Beauty and the Beast is still so dear and prominent in the minds of filmgoers. So, rather than change anything drastically the filmmakers played it safe and tried to be as close to the thing that they know people already love. The problem then is that by making it so similar, it just highlights the question of why this film was even made. I imagine that there will be a similar issue with the upcoming Lion King remake as well. The differences include a few new songs in an attempt to flesh things out, and are generally fine additions. It is nice that they haven’t shied away from music and songs in a misguided attempt to make the movie about a man turned into a monster by a magic spell more realistic. Both Belle and Beast get tragic dead mother backstories, the former of which is discovered through the use of a magical teleporting Atlas which appears in that one scene and is never mentioned or made use of again, and so feels out of place and arbitrary. There are also some aspects which try to keep things close to the original fairytale, specifically Belle asking her father (Kevin Kline) for a rose and that being the reason why the Beast keeps her father imprisoned in the castle, but those are more like little touches than changes.
Where the movie really shines is in the design. Everything is lavishly detailed and there is a lot of creativity at work here, especially with the enchanted castle. The costumes are similarly beautiful and are more or less in keeping with the period style. This is with the exception of the yellow ballgown of the key dancing scene, which looks far more modern than anything else in the film, probably to heighten its merchandise appeal but that could be my inner cynic talking.
The cast are a mixed bag. Emma Watson does bring some bite to Belle and gives her a feeling of agency and taking charge of what happens to her. However, at other times she feels a little flat, particularly when singing. Dan Stevens brings some personality to the Beast that wasn’t necessarily there before, and the two characters also properly bond over an interest in books which is nice, but it’s a shame that practical make-up on the Beast’s face was covered with CGI which ends up looking a little lifeless in some places. The various actors playing the enchanted objects, led by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen, are fun and exactly what is needed, although it pains me to say that something sounds a little off about Emma Thompson’s rendition of the title song. Oddly, the one who nearly steals the show is Luke Evans as villain Gaston. He is clearly having fun and throwing a lot of gusto into the role, and the musical highlight of the film ends up not being “Be Our Guest” but rather “Gaston”, the big ego stroking song in the village tavern.
Then there is the matter of Le Fou. Many people have been worried since it was announced that the character of Le Fou, played by Josh Gad, would be the first openly gay character, and I don’t mean the “oh no, we can’t let our children know that GAY PEOPLE exist” brigade but rather LGBT people worried that this would be yet another case of a Disney villain being negatively queer-coded or of lip service representation that doesn’t actually do any good. However, and keep in mind that others will feel very differently to me and by no means speak for anyone, but on the whole I thought that whilst Le Fou was very distinctly camp they did avoid a lot of the negative stereotypes and he is even sympathetic in a few key moments. It is important to note that even if it isn’t as bad as it could have been, this is by no means the grand step towards representation in children's films.
Ultimately Beauty and the Beast is by no means a bad movie. It has a distinct and, at times, beautiful charm as you watch it and I think that children will really enjoy it. However, you’re never far from the thought that this movie simply didn’t need to exist. Maybe that’s unfair, but you invite that comparison when you try to remake a recent classic.