Between 2015’s Cinderella and 2016’s The Jungle Book, Disney has proven that remaking their animated classics into modern live-action interpretations is not just a cynical business move. With both of those movies being highly acclaimed, plus the lesser-received live-action Sleeping Beauty revamp, Maleficent and live-action Alice in Wonderland movie at least being commercially successful (even if the second Alice movie flopped with both critics and the box office), Disney now has a huge slate of live-action remakes on the way, and the latest is re-envisioning a particularly beloved modern Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast.
Revisiting Beauty and the Beast as a high-profile live-action remake for Disney is no easy task. Its 1991 animated inspiration is the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, to start, and it successfully did win Oscars for its soundtrack, and specifically its titular tie-in song, “Beauty and the Beast.” That puts even more pressure on this 2017 remake to succeed than Cinderella and especially The Jungle Book, and that’s before considering that the animated rendition of Beauty and the Beast first hit theatres barely a generation ago, making it much more recent than the original animated versions of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland or Sleeping Beauty, which all originally released in the 1950’s or 1960’s by contrast.
The good news though is that the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake is still a great movie, and still easily stands as one of this March’s best big screen releases! As you can imagine though, it doesn’t manage to surpass its animated inspiration in the end, especially when it spends a lot more time chasing its exact storyline, in contrast to Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which bravely forged new story paths that made them feel like mostly new experiences. There’s a faithfulness and a love for Beauty and the Beast that makes it feel truly special in its live-action form, though it’s also best to temper your expectations just a wee bit, since the experience does at times feel a little too familiar for the many people who already fell in love with the original animated movie.
As with its animated predecessor, Beauty and the Beast stars Belle, this time played by Harry Potter alum, Emma Watson, alongside the titular Beast, who is portrayed by Legion’s Dan Stevens. Coming from two very different worlds, Belle hails from a small, superstitious village in the French countryside, while the Beast hides away in his dark, dilapidated castle, which is surrounded by an unending Winter. Circumstances bring the two together, broadening both of their horizons, and sparking a heartwarming love story of hope and understanding. Yes, if you’re among the throngs of people that saw the animated movie, then the live-action remake proceeds in almost exactly the same way, with few surprises.
If there’s anything giving the live-action take on the story its more unique sense of identity then, it’s the characters, and their performances. Watson’s Belle is more raw and youthful than the more noble take on the character by Paige O’Hara in the animated version, which makes her at least more believable as a village oddball, especially in a time when women weren’t allowed to be educated or in any way independent. Stevens’ performance as Beast hews pretty closely to Robby Benson’s take in the animated version however, with Stevens even nailing a surprisingly great vocal impersonation of Benson’s Beast before him, though Stevens stands apart for being more recognizably human, and not quite as animalistic as Benson’s portrayal. This works to the advantage of the live-action take on Disney’s tale, where we’re especially pressed to see the humanity in Beast, since making him too monstrous in a live-action movie would make him impossible to truly root for.
Fortunately, the villains are realized just as effectively in this live-action Beauty and the Beast, who are mainly led by Luke Evans’ Gaston, the vain, arrogant suitor that tries to woo Belle for himself. Evans plays up the goofier, more outlandish elements of Gaston in his performance, leading to a villain that you can never quite take seriously, but it surprisingly works really well. This is especially true when he plays off of Josh Gad as an especially flamboyant and more blatantly homosexual LeFou, with these two being a comically bromantic pair that makes them feel like they belong with each other more than Gaston with Belle. Ironically, Gaston and LeFou feel more animated in this live-action remake than they often did in the original animated movie, providing comic relief more so than an actual danger for Belle or Beast, but this nonetheless allows the core love story to effectively breathe to a greater extent, while further highlighting how backwards and impressionable Belle’s village truly is.
The real challenge in the performances comes from the Beast’s servants, who have been transformed into household appliances and decorations, and who have all been clearly designed with hand-drawn animation in mind. The live-action renditions of these characters are still pretty fun though, thankfully, especially when their characters are also performed in a distinct fashion, effectively separating them from their animated counterparts of 1991. Jude Law’s Lumiere is just as chipper and over-the-top a tour guide to Beast’s castle, with a bit more of a spring in his step this time, while Ian McKellan’s Cogsworth feels noticeably gruffer in live-action, yet no less lovable. Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts and Nathan Mack’s Chip are also instantly lovable, again feeling a bit more recognizably human than their animated counterparts in this live-action remake. There’s also an all-new servant in the live-action remake, Stanley Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza, a harpsichord who further highlights the movie’s sense of musical style, while also being the husband of Audra McDonald’s lethargic, yet theatrical Madame de Garderobe, a more developed and properly named version of Wardrobe from the original animated movie.
We also get a bit more of a peek into the backstories of both Belle and Beast in this remake, which help to further extend the humanity and pathos of their character arcs. This also means that Kevin Kline gets a slightly greater role as Belle’s father, Maurice, who still walks much of the same path as the character did in the original animated movie, though is at least better involved in the storyline this time, especially when it comes to Gaston and the other villagers’ threats. The character expansion only goes so far, since this movie is still ultimately treading the exact same story path as its animated predecessor, and does a significantly poorer job of hiding that than the live-action remakes of Cinderella or The Jungle Book, but Beauty and the Beast at least does help to further flesh out the personalities and make them extra memorable in the live-action take, which is perhaps one of the greatest advantages that this remake does legitimately have over the original.
If you’ve already seen the original animated version of Beauty and the Beast from 1991, as most people have at some point or another, or are even vaguely familiar with the original fairy tale, then you’ll know exactly how this new live-action take on Disney’s classic movie will unfold. As I said, there’s not really any true surprises or curveballs in the live-action rendition of the story either. If it was a major plot beat in the animated version, it’s present and accounted for in the live-action version. The good news there is that fans of the animated version don’t have to worry about their favourite sequences being cut out of the live-action remake. The bad news however is that the new story material is pretty limited, so you’re mostly getting the exact same movie that you already got in 1991, only now in live-action instead of animation.
This leaves Beauty and the Beast as a very respectable live-action remake that is incredibly faithful to its animated inspiration, for better or for worse. In being more conservative with its story though, it’s also fairly predictable and feels a bit like it’s chasing the original, rather than confidently standing as its own independent version of the story, as Cinderella and The Jungle Book did in their live-action remakes. If you don’t want the boat rocked, that’s great, but beyond that, there’s disappointingly little to say about this live-action remake’s plot, since it follows a storyline that most adults and even child moviegoers are probably already well familiar with. It all still works, but it might have been nice if this remake stood apart more.
Beauty and the Beast’s director, Bill Condon certainly has some dodgy credits on his resume, namely in helming the two The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn movies, though there’s also no denying that he has a fantastic sense of theatrical style, as demonstrated in his direction of 2006’s Oscar-winning Dreamgirls. This eye for theatricality makes Condon a smart choice for helming the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, especially in the musical numbers, which continue to be a huge part of the experience.
Condon definitely seems most comfortable and ambitious when it comes to challenging himself to recreate the key scenes from the original animated Beauty and the Beast. The highlights of the live-action remake are the things that most viewers would already anticipate then, such as big musical numbers like, “Be Our Guest”, “Kill the Beast”, and of course, “Beauty and the Beast”, along with more harrowing scenes like Belle’s and Maurice’s first encounters with Beast’s castle, and the climactic attack on the castle towards the end of the movie, which isn’t really a spoiler, since that also happened in the animated movie from almost thirty years ago. Every sequence in the movie feels polished, but there’s definitely a heightened effort to get these key moments right, since Condon is clearly very concerned with pleasing people who like the original animated movie.
In fact, if anything, he’s almost too concerned about that. Condon often feels like he’s following a checklist for this remake throughout his direction, which sometimes hurts the movie’s unique sense of heart and emotion in contrast to the original animated movie. There is still plenty of heart and emotion in the remake, mind you, but it’s pretty clearly transplanted from the same moments in its animated inspiration. I suppose it’s a good thing that the desired emotions are still achieved in any given scene, but what’s disappointing is that it had to come from the same movie that already came out nearly thirty years ago, rather than this remake’s own independent vision.
Still, Condon has nonetheless poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this remake, which effortlessly stands alongside any of Disney’s other live-action revamps in terms of its superb polish. Even if much of this movie is filled with elements that you would have likely seen before, there’s an impeccable sense of art and beauty to the sets and sequences, which manage to, if nothing else, prove that the animated story still works wonderfully in live-action. Sure, the movie is more recognizable comfort food for established Disney fans, but it’s still an incredibly impressive production. A pessimist could say that the movie’s style is the best thing about its direction then, but even if that’s true, at least you can see the commitment to getting this beloved classic right in its new live-action form.
The soundtrack is obviously another huge part of Beauty and the Beast, considering that its animated inspiration took home multiple Academy Awards for its own music and sound work. Fortunately, the live-action remake manages to measure up to that legacy for the most part, even if it’s still repeating a lot of the flourishes that the animated movie already did. Still, the outstanding musical numbers are still excellent in live-action, re-treading familiar territory, but at least doing it really well. The live-action remake even brought back composer, Alan Menken to do the soundtrack, after Menken also did the soundtrack of the original animated movie from 1991.
Again though, that underscores better than anything else how much Beauty and the Beast is primarily concerned with chasing its animated predecessor, rather than forging a new path. Menken still realizes a fantastic soundtrack in this remake, but many of the songs, while still great, don’t feel like they truly surpass the original song renditions from the animated version. The live-action Beauty and the Beast does attempt a few new songs, which pumps up the musical numbers to slightly overbearing in the movie’s second half especially, particularly since these new musical additions often feel disappointingly generic and unmemorable, paling in comparison to the classic songs that the remake does a much better job of realizing. The original soundtrack compositions outside of the musical numbers try to be a little more unique in comparison, adding an effective sense of modern enchantment to the piano and string-heavy score, which nicely calls back to the animated original without perfectly copying its own composition style.
The rest of the sound work is generally well-realized as well, though it still doesn’t totally capitalize on the new live-action take on this story. Some of the softening of the sound work is done to avoid frightening children, even as the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast edges up to a PG rating, while the animated original was affectionately G-rated. Some of the softening also feels done to continue calling back to the animated sound stylings though. There’s a small exaggeration to the audio of the world in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, one especially noticeable in IMAX theatres, which helps the movie feel like a genuine fairy tale, but also has it very careful to never go too far in trying to engage its audience’s adrenaline.
It should come as no surprise, considering how much visual muscle Disney threw behind all of its live-action revamps that came beforehand, but Beauty and the Beast is a sublimely gorgeous movie in terms of its visuals. The movie does everything in its power to recapture the style and flair of its animated predecessor, and for the most part, it succeeds pretty well. There’s a few advantages in the hand-drawn animation that came before, but the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast does update a few choice visual elements, particularly the servants, who are now more ornate and garish. This helps the servants feel more believably cursed, rather than simply turned into goofy cartoon characters, even if some of their designs do feel a bit like unintentional nightmare fuel, Cogsworth’s especially.
Again, where the visual style is most noticeable is during the musical numbers, and other such key moments from the animated original. The lavish musical numbers of favourites like, “Be Our Guest” and, “Beauty and the Beast” are still pretty beautiful-looking, and continue to serve as the most memorable highlights. Any sequences around Beast’s castle are also pretty stunning, with the Winter-themed backdrop and decrepit old stonework complementing the emotionally challenged and despair-filled Beast wonderfully, as well as effectively illustrating just how much the sunny, yet small world of Belle truly limits her. There’s a lot of vibrancy and energy to the visuals of Beauty and the Beast overall, which is immersive and eye-catching even during its quieter moments, while remaining positively dazzling during its highlight scenes!
I can say without exaggeration that the visuals of Beauty and the Beast also get even better in 3D and IMAX as well! The movie’s 3D presentation is legitimately fantastic, adding a lot of enhanced scale and immersion to the experience, while also taking select moments to have a bit of cheeky fun, such as having Belle throw a snowball toward the audience as it goes to hit Beast, among other such moments. The 3D is immensely enjoyable, and I strongly recommend that you see the movie in that format! You’re still getting a visual masterwork in 2D, but you lose a bit of the fun and entertainment value if you just watch the movie flat.
The IMAX 3D cut is even better, with IMAX 3D definitely being the ideal way to watch Beauty and the Beast. A pricier IMAX 3D ticket is worth every penny in this case, with the enhanced 3D further boosting the style, fun and immersion, and the IMAX conversion working incredibly well in terms of both utilizing the increased screen real estate, and boasting the power and polish behind the audio and musical sequences. If you don’t have an IMAX theatre in your area though, then you should at least experience Beauty and the Beast in standard digital 3D, since this is a very visually ambitious experience that demands to be enjoyed on the big screen with some 3D glasses, and won’t be quite the same to simply watch at home, or even just in 2D.
Beauty and the Beast remains a wondrous, energetic and highly lovable Disney tale in its live-action incarnation, even if it doesn’t reinterpret and redefine the story like the live-action remakes of Cinderella or The Jungle Book before it. The good news is obviously that Beauty and the Beast remains far better than Maleficent and Disney’s two live-action Alice in Wonderland movies in its final product, though if you’ve already watched the beloved animated original, you won’t be getting much of what you haven’t seen before, even with some of the small new additions in the live-action remake.
The small added story nuggets and handful of added songs don’t manage to enhance the production to any real degree, disappointingly, and they sadly end up paling in comparison to the highlight moments that are at least captured effectively from the animated original. The cast gives a bit more distinct character to the live-action remake, with Watson and Stevens both excelling in the lead roles especially, though this is a remake that feels more satisfactory than truly exemplary, at least outside of its gorgeous visual presentation and still-superb highlight musical sequences.
The fact remains however that Beauty and the Beast is one of the best movies to hit theatres this March, alongside 20th Century Fox’s far less family-friendly Logan, so if you have a taste for Disney magic, even more conservative Disney magic, then you should definitely see this remake at your local theatre, especially if you have the 3D and/or IMAX option available! You’ll likely feel that the animated original did this tale better in many respects, but the remake still succeeds as a respectable live-action conversion with style to spare. If that’s what you’re primarily looking for, then you’ll be perfectly satisfied here, even if Beauty and the Beast intentionally sacrifices opportunities to make more of a distinct impression.
- Enjoyable performances, especially from Watson and Stevens
- Highlight musical numbers and story sequences are realized well
- Gorgeous visuals with a truly outstanding 3D conversion
- Story and presentation is an almost complete retread of the animated movie
- New musical numbers and character development don't add anything of value
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