It’s that time once again, folks – Disney has graced us with yet another live-action remake of one of their own animated classics. This time around, it’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; its 1991 animated counterpart is considered not only a milestone of Disney greatness, but is also ranked by many as one of the greatest films ever made. You’ll notice that I left out the word animated from that last statement; to put it simply, Disney’s original BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was able to transcend its widely-held status as “just a cartoon” by showcasing the amazing storytelling capabilities that animation can accomplish, and it did so in an absolutely flawless effort. To add to this, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST would become the first animated feature to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Personally, this is also one of my favorite Disney films, and was very much a staple of my childhood. I still remember the day that my mother bought me the VHS tape (which is currently in its original clamshell case collecting dust in the basement). I revisited this film on Blu-ray the night before watching the remake, and even by today’s standards, its storytelling and innovations hold up extremely well. As such, Disney had some very big shoes to fill with this remake – its own. Does the end product hold up? Let’s find out.
(Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 26 years, I’m sure you are familiar with the basic premise of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but I digress.)
Based on the 18th-century French fairytale of the same name, the story follows Belle (played by Emma Watson), a young bookworm in a small village who feels increasingly like an outcast; she distracts herself by burying her mind in her storybooks, longing for a more exciting life, while simultaneously evading the advances of the village’s tall, dark, and handsome brute Gaston (played by Luke Evans). Through a series of events, she ends up a prisoner at a castle – run by a terrifying Beast (played by Dan Stevens) and tended to by its many servants who have taken the form of household objects. The Beast was once a prince who, through selfishness and arrogance, was cursed by an enchantress, who placed a spell on the prince and the entire castle (along with its inhabitants). As the film famously notes, in order to break the spell, the prince must “learn to love another, and earn her love in return” before the last petal of his enchanted rose falls.
This film – on a purely aesthetic level – is very well done. The CGI characters – particularly Lumiere (played by Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (played by Sir Ian McKellan), and Mrs. Potts (played by Emma Thompson) – are not only well animated, but the actors also give great vocal performances. Watson’s portrayal of Belle captured the grace and essence of the character well, while Stevens’ portrayal of the Beast was both fearsome and gentle. Evan’s Gaston was even more showboat-y and pompous than his animated counterpart. However, in my opinion, the MVP of this film is none other than Gaston’s right-hand flunky, LeFou (played wonderfully by Josh Gad). This version of LeFou earns his stripes as the comic relief of the story, and Gad ups the flamboyance of the character by quite a few notches compared to its animated counterpart, and when he gets the spotlight, boy, does he take the ball and run with it, giving the film many of its shining moments. If you needed any proof that the phony outrage surrounding this film (and this character in particular) was just that – phony and completely unjustified in 2017 – look no further than Gad’s stellar performance. It’s obvious that everyone involved in this film – from the actors to the production designers, animators, and everyone in between – was having the time of their lives making this, and I love seeing reflected in the work presented on the screen.
Having said all of that – the one thing I was wondering, not only as I was watching the film but also as I exited the theater upon its conclusion, was this simple question: what’s the point?
What do I mean by that? Well it’s all in the question – what’s the point? What’s the point of this movie? I don’t mean that thematically, but literally – what is this film’s purpose for existing other than to make money? As much as I enjoyed the film, as I outlined above, I don’t feel that the filmmakers did enough to justify this remake. The story for the most part – with the exception of a few scenes/songs added here and there – follows the same exact beats as the original to a T; really, the only thing that makes this film different is that it’s live-action. Unfortunately, that’s not enough in my eyes to justify this film’s existence. If I wanted to watch the exact same movie, why not just watch the far-superior original animated film? You know – the same film that was nominated for Best Picture. I mean, this may come across as nitpicky, but I truly feel that these live-action remakes that Disney is undertaking are completely unnecessary when the films it’s remaking are already either perfect or near-perfect. But in the end, this film is going to make a boatload of money, so who cares, right?
A side note: I saw this film in IMAX 3D, and I don’t know what It was, but the 3D wasn’t that great. Some scenes really didn’t translate well to the 3D and even came off blurry on my end (although that could be just me). The ballroom scene was probably the best scene of the entire movie – and the 3D makes it even more amazing. But the rest of the movie was hit-or-miss, 3D-wise, with more misses than hits. I’d say save a couple of bucks and skip the 3D – regular IMAX will do!
A second side note: Any film that gives both Kevin Kline and Stanley Tucci a payday is alright in my book!
Again, I just want to reiterate – I really did like this movie. Everything from the acting to the CGI to the costumes and the production design just meshed together really well and was able to bring BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to life, in all its glory. The 5-year-old kid in me was in absolute nostalgia-mode; I even found myself singing along to myself the songs that I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years (Be…our..guest! Be our guest! Put our service to the test!). But despite this, I feel that not enough was done to make the film unique enough to justify its existence, especially when a far-superior version – made by the same company – is out there. Nevertheless, the film is great fun for the entire family, and anyone who grew up with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in the ‘90s will enjoy this nice trip down memory lane. Any time a movie can transport me back to simpler time in my life, that’s a movie I’m willing to strap in and enjoy – and what a trip it was!
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
2017 • 129 Minutes • United States
Color • English • Walt Disney Studios
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald