In the age where the words ‘reboot’, ‘remake’, and ‘update’ are mostly common English for Hollywood, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Disney would want to revisit their huge vault of fairy tales. I mean, the fairy tale/princess brand is one of their most successful, raking in billions of dollars worldwide in film, toys, clothes, games, etc. So when Disney announced they were beginning a new era of princess films with their live-action Cinderella, and now Beauty and the Beast, I wasn’t surprised. But I was apprehensive.
Beauty and the Beast is in my top five Disney fairy tale films. It’s right up there with Mulan, The Lion King, The Sword in the Stone, and The Little Mermaid (all of which Disney has plans to adapt). But more than that, it’s one of the most successful animated films of all time, and it’s the first to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Though it didn’t win, the legacy of the film has lasted for decades and it’s become a staple of Disney’s legacy, and they’ve used the brand at their theme parks, on their rides, on their channel, and much more. So of course, it only makes sense that they would begin with this film.
I was a bit nervous going in – would the CGI be bad on the furniture? Would talking furniture be unrealistic in a live-action movie? How would Emma Watson’s performance be as Belle? Would they be able to convince us of Belle and the Beast falling in love without making it seem too creepy and weird? How would an LGBT+ LeFou work in the film and would he just be a caricature? As I sat in my seat, prepared to be disappointed, I mulled these things over in my head and thought there was no possible way that Disney could get this new version EXACTLY right.
And I wasn’t wrong. Disney didn’t get it exactly right, and the live action adaptation of the iconic film does have its problems. But the film is so good, so magical, and so well-directed that a lot of those problems felt like minor nitpicks by the time its two-and-a-half-hour runtime had completed.
Beauty and the Beast, helmed by Twilight director, Bill Condon, and written by The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer, Stephen Chbosky, is a mostly faithful adaptation of the original film, but what it does change works better than what happened in the animated feature. The characters are much richer and more nuanced, with deeper sensibilities and backstories. As a whole, this version is more sophisticated – filling in a lot of the blanks the animated film left unsaid and updating the timeless story to a more modern setting.
Belle is much more active here, becoming an inventor and helping her father, Maurice (played brilliantly by Kevin Kline). The Beast is more realistic, and you feel for him a lot more. Gaston is (surprisingly) deeper as a character (more attractive, too, but that’s neither here nor there.) As a whole, the characters are much easier to relate to and root for – and they actually moved me to tears at one specific part in the film. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say which – but just know it’s towards the end.
Emma Watson does a serviceable job as Belle. She pretty much feels like she walked out of the animated film. But I have to say, the true show-stealers here were LeFou, Gaston, and the Beast. LeFou, played by Frozen‘s Josh Gad, is much more rational and level-headed than he is in the animated film. His crush on Gaston not only makes for some funny, endearing moments, but also makes the character’s motivations make a lot more sense. Though the ‘gay moment’ in the film that Bill Condon discussed is played for laughs, I didn’t find it stereotypical at all and felt it worked to the film’s advantage. LeFou was one of the best things in the film for me; every time he was on screen, I had a huge smile on my face.
As far as the Beast, Dan Stevens’s performance is amazing. He does a great job using the motion capture to his advantage, and the amount of personality they were able to put into some of the Beast’s facial expressions were fantastic. Dan Stevens’ human appearance was, I have to say, a little disappointing, but when he was the Beast he was spectacular, bringing humor and depth to the character. I genuinely felt for him.
And with Gaston, they strip down a lot of the character’s broad-strokes, bravado moments (this isn’t much of a spoiler, since they’ve pretty much released the ‘Gaston’ musical number, but I was disappointed that “Every last inch of me’s covered with hair” wasn’t in the film). But they replace it with some bone-chillingly evil moments that sent chills down my spine. Not only did Luke Evans look amazing, his performance was great. He sold the character’s arrogance, while also adding some new depth to it that made Gaston more realistic. I was loving every moment of it.
The songs were all great (though I was a little underwhelmed by ‘Be Our Guest’) and this was one of the first times in recent memory that the music never felt out of place. This was a fairy tale; of course the characters were singing. It worked completely fine, and honestly it would have felt out of place if it wasn’t there. The dancing was great too, and the choreography worked wonderfully.
As far as problems go, my main problem was with the pacing. Sometimes I felt the film moved a little too fast; sometimes it dragged on. It was definitely too long, and some of the moments felt unnecessary. Some of the CGI was a little wonky, and it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t real (there were a few moments where the audience snickered at an unrealistic image, which isn’t good). And the movie’s ending is a little abrupt; I would have liked a little bit more closure.
But overall, I’d give Beauty and the Beast an 8/10. It was a fantastic film. If you love the original film, you’ll likely love the new version. It reminded me why Disney is so popular, and why so many people love it: because watching this film, I felt ten years old again, experiencing pure Disney magic.