The live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do much to add to the 1992 classic, but it has enough magic and charm to make you fall in love all over again.
The latest entry in Disney’s saga to do a live-action remake of every one of their classic movies is Beauty and the Beast. The 1992 version has the distinction of being the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars — a get only repeated twice. It simply is a masterpiece in animation. So, the remake not only had to justify its existence but also live up to its predecessor. While it first the former and miss the latter, it’s simply a magical piece that really feels like a tale as old as time.
Director Bill Condon surprisingly doesn’t have the most impressive directorial credits. His most noted and lauded work has probably been Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls. The latter is the only musical he has directed to date and the reason it is so successful is because of his grasp of what makes stage musicals so fun to watch — their glitz, camp, and the heightened sense of reality. He recreates his success with Beauty and the Beast by embracing those very things in a different way. He gives the film a rhythm. It moves in a fluid motion from scene to scene and location to location. It makes the seemingly hefty 2-hour running time go by in a flash — save for the new Beast soliloquy added to the third act, which stunts some of the momentum.
Condon simply justifies the film’s existence by adding things that weren’t possible the first time. The more obvious is the sometimes dazzling visual effects. The furniture characters, in particular, is designed and realized beautifully — Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), in particular. However, I was both impressed and disappointed with the CGI of the Beast. Dan Stevens’ motion capture performance is quite good and transfers well in close-up. But anytime was see a full-body shot of the Beast or are further away, the effect is less convincing. It’s surprising following the groundbreaking work in Disney’s last live-action film, The Jungle Book. He also makes the film a lot more progressive with Le Fou’s (Josh Gad) “gay moment” as it has been called and various interracial couples. In our current environment, it’s refreshing to see such a huge movie give us small moments that normalize things that should have been considered normal in film years ago.
As for the live-action facets of the film, the costume design by Jacqueline Durran pulls beautifully from the animated film while adding depth and texture. The iconic yellow dress is instantly recognizable, as is Belle’s blue dress from the opening. Although the production design by Sarah Greenwood doesn’t build too much on the design from the animated film, she still impressively creates the sets of the village and the castle with a whimsical flair.
However, it’s the performances from the cast that really make the world come to life. Within his first few minutes on screen, Luke Evans established himself as the standout of the cast by stepping into the role of Gaston with utter perfection. His physicality, his voice, and line delivery flawlessly portrayed what anyone would expect from a live-action Gaston. Plus, his singing voice is easily the strongest among the cast except for Audra McDonald in a small, but fun role as Madame de Garderobe. The voice performances from McGregor, Stewart, and Emma Thompson were also highlights. However, something that was quickly apparent was that Emma Watson was a bit over her head. While she steps into Belle quite beautifully physically, her performance didn’t impress me the way that it should have. After all, she’s playing one of the most iconic Disney princesses. I also had a hard time ignoring the autotune used on her singing voice. It’s especially apparent when you judge it against Evans and McGregor, who both come from theater backgrounds. It would have been a better choice to cast a Broadway veteran like Samantha Barks in the role.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do too much to build off the original — except perhaps closing some of the plot holes that many people have faulted the film with. However, it justifies its existence by telling the story with resources that weren’t available in 1992. Condon imbues so much charm and wonderment into the film that you forget about the politics or whether it should have been remade and just enjoy the film. The film makes you feel pure joy. Go in without any preconceptions about the movie. Don’t think about it as a remake. Just laugh, cry, and cheer as you remember why the original Beauty and the Beast was a pure masterpiece.