“Beauty and the Beast” is a remake of the 1991 animated film of the same name (first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, fun fact). Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star as the titular characters, with Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson filling out the rest of the ensemble cast. Bill Condon directs.
So far, Disney’s reimaginings of their classic animated films has been relatively successful, with each adaption being better than the last. “Maleficent” was met with mixed reviews, most people liked “Cinderella” and last year’s “The Jungle Book” was universally praised. Films like “Mulan” and “The Lion King” have already gotten the remake green light, but hopefully they do a better job bringing their stories to the real world than Condon does with “Beauty and the Beast,” which is a colorful and at times heart-warming, but also empty tale.
Emma Watson is our Belle, and while she’s no Paige O’Hara she is a solid leading lady. She can hold her own singing and is attractive but doesn’t stand out so much that it’s unbelievable, like someone with modern day Hollywood looks would in a mid-1700s French village may do. Dan Stevens is fine in a mostly motion-capture performance, although we never really feel any real reason to root for him other than we know the story. The Beast design is alright, but I can’t help but feel practical effects would have been better suited here (Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy compared to his “Hobbit” films forever showed us that practical > CGI).
The real stars of the show are Luke Evans as the dastardly Gaston and Josh Gad as the bumbling LeFou. Evans is pitch-perfect as the alpha-male villain and his chemistry with Gad is phenomenal; if the film did anything well it was its casting of these two in their respective roles. Gad, who can be annoying in some films but is undeniably talented, has some great one-liners and facial expressions and provides the film’s biggest laughs. Maybe you heard about censor-run countries like Russia and Malaysia threatening to boycott the film because Condon chose to make Gad’s character openly gay, but it’s a non-factor to the plot and you wouldn’t even notice if people made a big pout about it.
Quick sidenotes: there are two bits of irony with the casting of the film. Originally, Ryan Gosling was in talks to star as the Beast but he backed out to star in “La La Land,” which landed him an Oscar nod. Conversely, Emma Watson was set to star in “La La Land” but dropped out to star in this, and she ended up being a Disney princess and earning $15 million. Neither likely regrets their decision. Also, Gad’s LeFou marks the first gay character in a Disney film but ironically, the ultra-masculine red-blooded playboy Gaston is played by the openly gay Evans. All just things I found interesting.
Back to the review.
There are certain aspects and scenes that people are going to be interested to see, such as the “Be Our Guest” musical sequence. Most will find it charming, with the entire thing seemingly being shot-for-shot of the 1991 film, although it does get a little distracting by the end with so much getting thrown at the screen.
Almost all of the musical numbers have something wrong with them, to be honest. Each of the ensemble pieces get muddled together and it is hard to make out the lyrics, similar to the opening highway scene in “La La Land,” and Stevens has a solo which just comes off as awkward. Emma Thompson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” is the most pitch-perfect and resonating of any of the songs, and the scene itself is sure to kick up the nostalgia feels. And the score by Alan Menken is as memorizing as anything.
The biggest problem with the film as a whole is Condon’s handling of the material, and not sure if he should be honoring, recreating or reimagining the original story. The animated film is 84 minutes long, this one is 129 and that extra 45 minutes of padding is felt. Belle is given a backstory about her mother we don’t care about and the film tries to be relevant to 2017 audiences but none of it seems important.
This whole film seems unimportant, in fact, it never gives us a reason for it to even exist outside pleasing die-hard fans of the original and having Disney make a few hundred million dollars. Remakes should have a purpose: “The Jungle Book” was revolutionary with its special effects and put a new spin on an old tale, and films like “The Departed” introduce a great story to American audiences. In 10 years, no one will be talking about the “Beauty and the Beast” remake, much less imploring anyone to watch it.
“Beauty and the Beast” has an A-list cast and pretty costumes, and at times they mesh well to create a fun, nostalgic trip. Josh Gad and Luke Evans are fantastic together (seriously, we need these two to star in a sitcom, “The Gaston and LeFou Show”) and Watson is solid in the leading role. However all-too-often Condon doesn’t know what he wants to do, and the pacing and delivery of the film suffer from it. “Beauty and the Beast” is not a bad movie, it’s just not particularly very good, and while Watson may be the belle of the ball, the film is the belle of the blah.
Critics Rating: 5/10