In the sea of remakes, reboots and nostalgia-inducing sequels and spin-offs, Disney has been busy bringing back old properties and animated classics, remaking them in full CGI splendor for a new audience. It started, for the most part, with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (that’s if you don’t count the 1996 live-action 101 Dalmatians) which proved that old classics can be made profitable for new audiences. And as 2015’s Cinderella and 2016’s The Jungle Book have proved, quality isn’t necessarily a compromise over profits.
Following this modern trend, Disney has, this year, decided to resurrect the 25-year old animated classic Beauty and the Beast (aka the first animated film to ever be considered for the Best Picture Oscar). It’s definitely a big risk for Disney – remake a movie that is so universally beloved and embraced by millennials across the globe?
Thankfully, it works. Emma Watson truly becomes Belle, embodying her character’s best traits of intelligence, strength, and quiet resilience. It’s perfect casting and, although Emma may not have the greatest singing voice, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect live-action Belle. She truly sparkles in this role, which will surely become iconic. Dan Stevens is barely recognizable as the Beast, where motion capture and heavy CGI obscures his features, but it comes together well. Of course, this new Beast isn’t half as endearing or likeable as the 1991 Beast, but we’ll take it.
Luke Evans steals every scene he’s in as the arrogant Gaston, who this time around, is way more sinister and evil. This guy will stop at nothing to have Belle. And Le Fou? Josh Gad gives the character a lot of surprising warmth and likeability. He’s hilarious, especially in the “Gaston” musical number.
A major nitpick I have is the designs of the household objects. Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Chip (Nathan Mack) just don’t have that accessibility that they had in the original. It’s almost hard to distinguish Lumière’s features, while Mrs. Potts and Chip seem flat, uninspired, and dull. Cogsworth’s design is definitely one of the better ones, even though it’s hard to love a metallic clock. It’s not very easy to warm up to these talking artifacts.
It’s also hard to remake a movie that’s so perfect to begin with. If you change too much, people will complain. If you don’t change too much, they’ll complain. Director Bill Condon and the crew strike a fabulous balance of old and new. The three (four, if you count a random ballroom operatic solo) new songs are nice and well executed, if a little slow and forgettable. The standout is the Beast’s solo moment “Evermore”, which harks back to “If I Can’t Love Her” from the Broadway adaptation. It’s a touching and heartfelt moment that will have you reaching for the tissues.
The film does feel overlong and suffers from unnecessary padding. Extra plot points, like Belle’s childhood, Belle’s prowess as a budding inventor, the Beast’s past, just don’t work well enough or are just half-baked. They leave you wanting more. Where the film shines though, is when it follows the original film to a tee. It almost feels like a shot-by-shot recreation at times.
And then, the music. Wow. Original composer Alan Menken returns at the helm, and the new songs are co-written by Tim Rice. But the lifeblood still remains the Howard Ashman-penned lyrics that the world fell in love with 25 years ago. You discover these songs in an all new way, and it almost feels like you’re listening to the touching melodies and witty lyrics for the first time ever. When the cups and spoons break into song, or when the ruffians at the pub raise their glasses in unison, you’re cheering and clapping. It’s infectious, all these years later. A few songs have lyrical edits and modifications, which work very well in context. I was disappointed that Belle didn’t get a solo like “Home” from the Broadway show, but the song still lives on in an instrumental version.
Can we talk about the auto-tune used in the songs? Emma Watson doesn’t have the strongest singing voice, and it’s evident from the liberal computer modifications to her voice. Dan Stevens’ surprisingly good baritone is a highlight, as is Luke Evans hitting notes never attempted before in “Gaston”. All in all, the music is the movie. Auto-tune aside, it’s fantastic.
The film makes excellent use of CGI, from landscapes, the castle, magical objects, the wolves; even Belle’s yellow dress has CGI elements. These Disney remakes are pushing the envelope every time, and it’s gotten to a point where you can’t tell the difference between real-life locations and CGI. The physical sets and props though, are equally stunning. You just get drawn into the lush environments and jaw-dropping beauty of the film. It’s a visual delight from start to finish.
If you grew up with Beauty and the Beast, you will love this movie. Even those who have never seen this story before will instantly fall for it. Yes, it has minor issues, but all in all, it’s a fitting tribute to the tale as old as time. This version can hardly trump the charms of the 1991 classic (which will always be the version we adore), but for what it is, it’s excellent. If this is what Disney plans to do with its future remakes (Mulan is up for 2018) then count me in. I believe in fairy tales, all over again.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes