In Disney’s latest venture of live-action remakes, we return to 18th century France, featuring an all-star cast of British (and American) actors. Yup, figure that one out. In the weeks leading up to it’s record breaking premiere, Beauty and the Beast developed a lot of harsh criticism, much of it stemming from themes of feminism and homosexuality.
In comparison to its predecessor from 1991, there are a lot of elements that hold up remarkably well and are easily identifiable for movie-goers longing for that sense of nostalgia.
There are a few variations that devoted followers will notice right off the top, such as the absence of the stained glass opening, or the subtle changes integrated into “Belle”. Speaking of Belle (played by Emma Watson), she is still every bit of a devout bookworm, but now possesses a larger back story, a nostalgic distaste for Gaston (played by Luke Evans), and the qualities of an aspiring inventor that longs for adventure. So, when her father, Maurice (played by Kevin Kline), sets off to the neighboring township, he finds himself lost in the woods during a thunderstorm.
As Maurice approaches the suspicious domain, summer turns to winter, while savage wolves begin to hunt him down. Maurice seeks shelter at a nearby castle, but is quickly frightened off by the magical anomalies inside. As he makes his way back into the courtyard, he pauses for a moment upon noticing a vine of roses, plucking one at his daughter’s asking. Beast (played by Dan Stevens) sees this act of thievery and locks Maurice in the dungeon, while Phillipe (now a white horse), trots off to warn Belle.
Meanwhile, Gaston is recovering at the tavern from his repeated failures to convince Belle for her hand in marriage, cuing LeFou (played by Josh Gad) to begin his serenata of “Gaston”. Yes, Josh Gad makes it particularly recognizable through facial and physical expression that he is madly in love with Gaston, but in a manner he can’t openly express. Luke Evans retains the brawny physicality and macho expression of the original material, supplemented by additional backstory and minor plot tweaks.
Belle eventually returns to the castle with Philippe, where she encounters the ensemble cast of supporting characters (Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson), followed by a brief reunion with her father before Beast locks her in the guest chamber. While much of the film holds up to the delight of it’s followers, there were a small handful of moments where the end product felt like a cheap imitation.
If you are expecting to be bedazzled by Lumiere’s (played by Ewan McGregor) “Be Our Guest”, or the famous ballroom dance scene, accompanied by Mrs. Potts’ (played by Emma Thompson) beautiful performance of “Beauty and the Beast”, you will either be extremely impressed or strangely disappointed. Ewan McGregor isn’t nearly as bad as we were anticipating from the film’s first teaser trailer; it’s Mrs. Potts and Chip who probably received the worst makeover, as their faces are merely drawn in a bland, two-dimensional fashion. This caused their moments to feel like a minute out of Blue’s Clues. The special effects held up nicely throughout most of the movie, but there were moments where the quality began to diminish in relationship to the high-expectations of it’s predecessor. “Be Our Guest” felt like an underwhelming light show that stayed on the table.
Certain elements of the backstory began to evolve, developing plot points that weren’t present in the animated classic. Both Watson and Stevens have remarkable chemistry and play off each other extraordinarily well, breathing life into two new songs, “How Does a Moment Last Forever” (Watson) and “Evermore” (Stevens).
While the film had it’s shortfalls, the acting from the stellar ensemble cast will sure to please fans of the original movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the long line-up of live action remakes to come.