After acting selfishly and turning away an old woman who turns out to be an enchantress, a Prince (Dan Stevens) is turned into a beast while his castle and all those who work there are put under an enchantment. Years later, we meet Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a countryside town near the castle but feels unfulfilled as well as excluded by those who live there. She comes to be the Beast’s prisoner and his servants hope that if the Beast falls in love with her, and she with him, then the spell they are under will be broken.
I think we can all admit that so far, the Disney live-action remakes have had pretty mixed results. While The Jungle book really brought new life to the original and lent itself well to a CGI look, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella was a beautiful but boring and lifeless remake. Beauty & the Beast is a childhood classic for many and not only does it have to stay loyal to the original, it also has to bring enough new elements to the table to justify it being remade at all. After all, the 1991 animated movie is undoubtedly one of the best films Disney ever made, and it remains the only 2D animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
My own greatest fear going into the remake was that it was going to be shot-for-shot the same as the original, particularly given that pretty much all of the teasers and trailers so far have included the exact same visuals and dialogue as the animated original.
As would be expected, the main frame of the original is still present. A good chunk of the dialogue is the same, as are the story and the characters. In any case, that is what audiences came for. New additions (the movie has gone from 84 mins in running time to 2 hours 9 mins) include more background on the Prince’s life before the enchantment and about Belle’s parents, in particular on her deceased mother. While you can see such additions are trying to add depth to the story, they never really feel necessary.
Putting the plot to the side, what Beauty and the Beast absolutely does need to get right is the music. There are mixed results here too. For one, Emma Watson cannot sing. There is no range and no quality to her voice and, try as they may, digital enhancements do not hide that fact. Fortunately, Emma isn’t the only one singing here and the film’s stand-out numbers, ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’, don't include her singing at all. Luke Evans is fantastic as Gaston and his titular number is full of energy and hugely entertaining; plus Evans and Josh Gad as LeFou are supported by a great ensemble.
Most of the actors perform as expected. Emma Watson is really just playing herself and the other actors – which to name but a few include Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and Stanley Tucci – deliver on being the talented bunch they are. The most confusing character of the bunch is LeFou who seems to have a different personality and drive in each scene. It is this reviewer’s opinion that this isn’t so much down to him being a character who is sexually confused as to Gad being poorly directed by Bill Condon, who clearly wants to do a lot with this character but doesn’t quite made his mind up about exactly who LeFou is in the end. Those who have been following media updates on the film will no doubt know how his character is meant to be ‘gay’ and have a ‘gay moment’, but those anticipating these 'Disney firsts' will be sorely disappointed.
Another disappointment is the song ‘Beauty and the Beast’ which Emma Thompson delivers in this distracting accent that ruins the moment and just doesn’t deliver the finesse that Angela Lansbury’s previous rendition has. At the same time, the new songs that have been added to the score not only blend well in with the original tracks, thanks to composers Alan Menken and Tim Rice, they also bring an emotional quality to their respective scenes.
The movie is certainly flawed and its problems also include plot holes such as why Belle forgets about her father once she’s in the castle, and why do the villagers believe Maurice so vehemently one minute and not the next. At the same time, Beauty and the Beast is such a touching story, and it is acted here with such love and looks so beautiful, that even the most devoted of cynics won't be able to help but be swept up by the magic and romanticism of it all.