There’s definitely a current running trend with Disney remaking its animated classics into live-action. For me they’ve been a very mixed bag – I didn’t care for Cinderella, Maleficent or Dumbo, but I at least give them points for approaching the original stories from a different angle.
I did surprisingly enjoy The Jungle Book and dare I say an improvement on the original. I still think to this day the strongest live-action remake is 101 Dalmatians, not just for Glenn Close’s performance as Cruella de Vil but also its clever use of visual storytelling with the animals.
Beauty and the Beast, instead of being a a reimagined storytelling, is just a straight retelling, even down to reusing the songs, with only a few minor changes as an attempt do to add depth.
Of all the Disney remakes, this is a pretty bold move. The 1991 classic received a standing ovation at the New York Film Festival. It was the first animated film win the Golden Globe for ‘Best Picture’ and was the first to be nominated at the Academy Awards for that category, which later inspired them to add the ‘Best Animated Feature’ category.
Belle and Beast
Emma Watson did sound like perfect casting as Belle on paper, as the character is self-reliant and has a passion for books, which is a reputation she has built for herself in real-life after her portrayal as Hermione in Harry Potter. Unfortunately I felt like I was just watching Hermione cosplaying as Belle, as what she lacks is Belle’s energy and personality.
Belle is an outsider by choice, living life on her own terms and finds joy for simple pleasures, and none of that comes across in her performance. Watson’s also not a singer, which she didn’t have to be, but because she lacks the energy required for the role her singing comes across as flat and joyless.
That’s not to say she was all that bad; she handles the quieter moments well, particularly with Kevin Kline really selling the father-daughter relationship.
Even with Watson’s miscasting, Belle’s character is just not well portrayed in general. There was a weak attempt to make her more proactive by making her an inventor; in one scene she invents a washing machine prototype, which the villagers destroy. Belle barely reacts to it and not once is this moment ever addressed again and neither are her inventing skills, making that scene pointless.
There’s also a scene where something potentially important about her parents is revealed [no spoilers!], but this reveal in no way changes anything about her relationship with her father.
The Beast’s portrayal is no better and is probably even worse than Belle. A lot of his important scenes and dialogue are given to his servants, giving Belle a room and telling her not to go to the west wing.
The servants take over his actions, even having to explain to him that Belle could be the one to break the curse. Because of this, the relationship between Belle and Beast is weak, and the tension was watered down from the beginning. When he scares her out of the castle after catching in the west wing, in the original he smashes the furniture and after she runs you see the regret in his face – here he just yells at her to get out.
Dan Stevens tries his best with the role, and it’s hard to imagine acting wearing a motion-capture suit and then replaced with terribly unconvincing CGI. He would’ve benefited so much more if it was make-up like Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman; not only would it look better but it would’ve help Stevens and Watson have some chemistry, which I didn’t feel in the overall film.
CGI aside, Stevens had other things going against him, like bad dialogue, and he also struggles with the singing, with a new song ‘Evermore’ being wasted potential.
The ballroom scene, while beautifully recreated, feels completely thrown in and doesn’t feel like a pivotal moment of their relationship. In the original we see Belle in her comfort zone while the Beast is incredibly nervous. She pulls him over to dance floor and shows him the moves, and you can feel the emotions and build-up. Here it looks like they’re contending on Strictly Come Dancing looking at each other emotionlessly.
While being given expanded backstories, Belle and the Beast still feel like watered-down versions of the animated characters.
I’m wondering if the original intention was to retell Beauty and the Beast from the servants' point-of-view because on several occasions they take over. I already mentioned they were given some of Beast's scenes and dialogue, but they’re also more proactive in getting Belle and Beast together, making it feel like it’s their story, which seriously affects Belle's and Beast’s characters.
They added this ridiculous angle that they feel they deserved to be cursed too because they didn’t protect the prince from his abusive father. Okay, so why did little Chip get cursed and separated from his father then? Then to have them become inanimate when the curse is not broken in time takes the stakes away from the central relationship and made more about the servants' quest for survival.
Admittedly they were enjoyable, Lumiere and Cogsworth in particular, as Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have fun with their performances. They managed to get to an A-list cast, namely Emma Thompson, Audra MacDonald and Stanley Tucci, who all do well in their roles, so I can understand wanting to give them a lot to do.
But what is unforgivable is a particularly emotional moment [no spoilers!] is downgraded in favour of showing the servants becoming inanimate objects. While a great scene in its own right it shouldn’t have come at the expense of the protagonists.
Gaston gets a bit of an upgrade by being a former soldier, and more psychopathic, such as trying to kill Belle’s father. He still retains the ego of being the town hero, though in this case not all the villagers view him that way as much, as LeFou pays them to respect him.
That downgrades him in a way because in the original he was a false idol who people blindly believed in, elevating his ego, which subsequently gets hurt when Belle doesn’t buy it and rejects him. Therefore, convincing the villagers to go after the Beast doesn’t feel as strong. However, Luke Evans can be funny in the role, especially when he talks to himself in the mirror.
I feel Beauty and the Beast’s biggest problem was Bill Condon’s directing. He was completely the wrong choice for this. He had great sets to work with and he failed to create an environment with them, such as scenes in the village where the extras all look bored and act unnatural.
The sets of the castle are beautiful but nothing about the camerawork or his direction gives off any enchantment. I didn’t feel like he took advantage of this enchanted castle at all. Also, the editing was so bad – I lost count over how many times there were cut-to-blacks; it’s like Condon doesn’t know how to end scenes.
He does manage to recreate iconic scenes well, including the ‘Be Our Guest’ musical number, the ballroom dance, and even the overall climax. If I were to just rate certain scenes individually I would give them top marks but they don’t save the film overall because the story and his direction don’t work around these moments.
The only way I can enjoy this film is just looking at it as a big-budget tribute to the 1991 film, but not as a film in its own right.
The fact is that no remake would ever recapture the magic that was the 1991 animated feature. It’s a beautiful classic with stellar animation that has aged like fine wine, with its use of colour, Gothic atmosphere, and creative character designs. Belle and the Beast are two of the best protagonists in a Disney film and a great message about inner beauty.
Sadly, the Disney live-action Beauty and the Beast remake simply does not live up to this.
Written by Jack Parish