“Beauty and the Beast” is a great example of an unnecessary remake and illustrates some great examples of the musical adapted to film. I’ll get into more of what I mean on both counts, and this isn’t a bad film per-say, it’s enjoyable…but it isn’t exactly good either. This is nostalgia that dares to be anything more and because of that nostalgia it drowns any chance for greatness. I’ll say non-spoiler thoughts, since there are a few differences…but if you’ve seen the animated film you’ve seen a much better telling of this tale with much better acting, song and animation.
This film was directed by Ben Condon, written by Stephen Chbosky and produced by Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman.
The story is a tale as old as time and goes back to the animated introduction of the original 1997 animated film…With the Prince being turned into a Beast for turning down a beggar woman who is asking for shelter, who is in fact a sorceress who curses him and his servants. After we pick up with Belle (Emma Watson) and her inventor father Maurice (Kevin Cline) are outcasts in a small town visit that find their life changed when Maurice stumbles upon the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle and is thrown into the dungeon for trespassing. Belle leaves to rescue him as she fends off her own Beast in the arrogant town hero of Gaston (Luke Evans) who wants her to be his wife. She trades her life for her father’s as the prisoner of the Beast and the story unfolds from there.
The Pros: The World – The world is one that I like…there is magic, curses and a relationship between the people of the village and castle before the Beast and the castle is cursed. There is the potential for politics too, both in the castle and town that is never fully explored beyond Gaston who is one of the more compelling characters in the film besides LaFou and the Beast.
The Ensemble – The only time the music works in this film is when the entire ensemble is singing. It is only at that time that it capture the large musical feel of the stage musical and original animated film.
Added Backstory – The added backstory is fantastic! Gaston is a war hero with PTSD, LaFou is Gaston’s friend rather than simply a patsy who helps him stay balanced, Maurice is an artist who lost his wife to the plague and the Beat had an abusive father. These are all great things that made it so I enjoyed the film, even though I don’t consider the film good.
Okay: Actors With No Voice Training Singing – This film is done as a musical, and it cast Hollywood actors who by and large aren’t musically trained. It is obvious and it hurts the show since emotion is conveyed through song and when Emma Watson or Gaston is singing flat or goes off on a tangent it feels artificial and took me out of the film .
The Castle – The castle is large but feels small. It is connected by bridges but only feels large outside…inside it is all stairways and small rooms. Even the library is a disappointment and just looks like a study. This worked in scenes of intimacy but failed to show the magic of the original or to create a new unique magic.
The Cast – The cast is okay, they aren’t great…most of them can’t sing all that well when they are given solos and they feel cartoony, which feels weird in a live action film. The townspeople are all characters without any redeeming qualities, except those above who are given some depth at least…and others are written with modern day speech (Maurice and Belle) and feel like they were written for the actors and not the characters.
The Cons: Writing for Actors not Characters – Belle is written as Emma Watson in this and it doesn’t fit the era. Some of the dialogue like “fearless” (how Maurice describes Belle’s mother) or Belle being persecuted for teaching a girl to read felt like they were writing for Emma Watson and not for Belle. Belle is a much more passive character and that doesn’t mean she can’t still be a feminist character, she is…but when the dialogue is all tell…it took me out of the story. Belle deserved a script written for Belle, not for an actress and icon.
The Failure to Take Chances – This was a film that failed to take risks. It didn’t go full musical since it failed to cast any good musical talent, it failed to be a stage play since it was playing nearly all the same beats from the animated film. There is no reason to see this film, just watch the animated one since it is so much better.
The Theme of Tragedy…That Went Nowhere – When Belle and the Beast are getting to know one another it is through love of books. Belle’s favorite is “Romeo and Juliet” a play on tragedy and failed love and later the Beast is reading “King Arthur” another failed romance. This doesn’t go anywhere though and they take the same ending as the animated film with happily ever after when there could still be bittersweet with them both having learned to love, but too late.
This was a film that failed to be small and personal (the castle gave us the small feel versus the large feel of the original film) and failed to be large and magical…Because of this it felt like a made for television musical at times…and the fact that the only time the music was really great was when the ensemble was singing was troubling. The reason it’s troubling is this could have easily been avoided. They could have followed up on the theme of tragedy and given us a wonderfully tragic tale, they could have made it more like a play rather than a musical, or they could have recast it as a musical and in turn made it on par with the much better stage musical of the film. Instead they tried to do a bit of all of it and failed on all counts. Added backstory and some great performances by Gadd, Evans and Stevens were not enouhg to to save it. This was a fun fan nostalgia trip, for a fan of the original film, but it isn’t a trip I’d take again.
Final Score: 7 / 10