It’s an interesting predicament I find myself in with this latest live action remake from Disney, Beauty and the Beast. Because I detested the marketing, some think I have a vendetta against the film and would never like it. On the other hand, the animation fandom cries “traitor” if I like anything about it. Oh well! Looks like I will just have to be honest with my response as I always am. So here goes…
So far these Disney live action remakes have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon because they felt small and intimate and gave a new vision to the story without bastardizing the original as Maleficent did. Jungle Book I thought was solid and entertaining and the 2 Alice films I didn’t care for. Maleficent I hated with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Where does this Beauty and the Beast lie? Well, I’d say like the remakes as a whole it is a bit of a mixed bag. The average moviegoer looking to be entertained will be but that doesn’t take from some problems I had with the film.
Let’s talk about strengths first. My favorite thing about the film was the strong production design and the large musical set pieces. I can’t think of a musical in a long time that had such satisfyingly staged musical sequences. Be Our Guest, Belle, and Gaston were the particular highlights. The costumes, scope, dancing and ensemble singing were first rate. It was easy to get swept away in the moments and that’s what you want in a musical.
I also really liked what they did with Gaston. Luke Evans was hilarious in the role and while he may not be the size of a barge it didn’t matter. He worked for the part. They made him a bit more sympathetic without completely changing his character like they did with Maleficent. He’s still the cocky guy we know and love but he seemed to actually be in love with Belle, which I appreciated. Also Lefou was a well done character. I liked his story arc through the film and Josh Gad did a good job in the role. He isn’t just a literal punching bag that he is in the animated film. By the way, the whole “gay moment” is nothing that should offend anyone in any way. His character arc is satisfying not because of his sexuality but because of how he deals with questions of loyalty and friendship.
They also work in a lot of humor into the script, which I enjoyed. I found myself laughing quite a bit especially with Lumiere and Cogsworth but a lot of the characters were funny.
But that’s about where my positives end and some problems start. My biggest problem with the film is in the character design. All of the household objects were difficult to connect with emotionally. Lumiere and Cogsworth were designed in a way that made it difficult to see their faces and expressions. Mrs Potts was literally flat so you had no sense of movement or personality to her. It is all left to the voice cast to sell the emotion and they just couldn’t do it. The Beast looked like Krampus and his face was flat and dull. And Harry Potter fans will hate me for saying this but I also found Emma Watson to be flat and wooden in her performance as Belle. There wasn’t much chemistry between the two of them because they were uninteresting and bland, which is a big problem selling this story.
I also had some problems with the new additions to the story. For the most part they didn’t add anything that wasn’t super obvious or predictable. It just made scenes feel stretched out and kind of boring. They should have picked one or two backstories to focus on, but instead they did a lot and none of them feel very developed or satisfyingly fleshed out. For example, we learn something about Mrs Potts’ marriage but it feels very tagged on and not emotional like it should.
The best of the additions is the new peril the household objects face with the curse but I didn’t really like that they are somehow blamed for the Beast’s behavior and the curse. This seemed like a major stretch. I can see blaming parents for the behaviors of a child but servants in a castle? That is tough to believe. It’s certainly a very harsh enchantress. That’s for sure.
Other new story involving Belle’s mother and the Beast’s backstory just did nothing for me. Also the new songs were very forgettable and flat. They aren’t bad songs but the only reason I remember one of them is because Josh Groban sang it in the credits and I’m a huge fan of his.
Speaking of music, the other major problem I had with the movie was in the singing. Emma Watson’s singing was frankly awful. She not only sounds autotuned but her vocals don’t mesh with the rest of the strong ensemble vocals. It’s one thing for a terrible vocalist to be in Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera but most of the singing sucked in those movies. Here the ensemble is great and classic Broadway sound, so to have an electronic sound as the lead didn’t work at all. It was such a bummer because if she had been dubbed I think I would have LOVED those songs. If I was Emma Watson I would be very mad with Disney because it is their job to make their star sound good and they didn’t.
Most people will go see Beauty and the Beast and have a great time, and so I have to give Disney credit on that level. There is entertainment to be had here and I think as a whole it is a harmless movie. Does it live up to the 1991 original film? Of course not but it’s certainly not awful. I thought the musical set pieces and Gaston/Lefou were fun enough to recommend the film despite some of my problems and issues. In a way it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity because elements were there to make it truly great but oh well. It’s not an atrocity like Maleficent so I’m grateful for that.
Overall Grade- C+
Here is my youtube review. I would really appreciate it if you gave it a watch and a thumbs up if you have a minute. Thanks!