Goddamnit, Beauty and the Beast is absolutely magical. Even though the live-action remake of the 1991 Disney animated classic is almost entirely a shot-for-shot retelling, it manages to give new life to an old tale. In the same vein as Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 film Cinderella—also part of Disney’s current live-action fairytale remake trend—this film makes tiny tweaks to the original fairytale to give it a slightly different, more mature feel. Ha! I say “mature feel” as if I wasn’t sitting there feeling like a little girl again and dreaming of princess gowns.
I’m sure most, if not all, of you remember the original story, but let’s recap just in case. Belle (Emma Watson) is the odd girl out in her village because, unlike the other girls, she would rather read and dream of adventure rather than spend her time longing for the village’s most eligible
douche bachelor Gaston (Luke Evans). After her father (Kevin Kline) gets lost and captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens), Belle goes to the Beast’s enchanted castle and takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. There, she discovers the whole castle is cursed, including the Beast, who is actually a prince waiting for his true love to break the spell.
Now, here’s where the remake changes things a bit. It answers several questions (I’d say “plotholes,” but, eh, that’s a stretch since they don’t technically affect the story) the animated film didn’t tackle. Like where’s Belle’s mother? Why did the servants get cursed as well when it was the Beast who was a jerk to the enchantress? How old was the Prince when he was cursed? How did Belle get the Beast on the horse after he passed out from the wolf attack? Even if these changes don’t matter that much in terms of changing the story, they give the movie something we haven’t seen before so it doesn’t feel like a total copy-paste.
The same goes for the new songs: “Days in the Sun,” “Evermore,” and “How Can a Moment Last Forever.” Of course, all of the classics are still here (and are still better), but these new songs add some weight behind the reveals of Belle’s past, the servants’ pasts, and the Beast’s past. To be honest, though, I would’ve preferred to see a song from the Beauty and the Beast musical make it in the film. Like “A Change in Me” or “Home.” God, those are great.
Unsurprisingly, where Beauty and the Beast shines the most is its visuals. It’s GORGEOUS. The colors. The sets. The costumes. Everything. It’s like being at the Tonys! And the whole “Be Our Guest” sequence is a delicious kaleidoscope of CGI mastery. This shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the movie is helmed by Dreamgirls and Chicago director Bill Condon, a dude who (obviously) has experience directing films that rely heavily on cinematography, visual effects, costuming, and music. I won’t be surprised if we see this up for technical awards next year.
As far as weak links go, the movie doesn’t have many. Emma Watson’s singing isn’t quite as strong as everyone else. In fact, most of the other actors have been on Broadway—Audra McDonald (who plays Madame Garderobe), Emma Thompson (who plays Mrs. Potts), Ewan McGregor (who plays Lumiere), Josh Gad (who plays LeFou), and Luke Evans (who plays Gaston), to name a few. Because of that, it’s noticeable. But she’s so spunky and delightful as Belle, and clearly meant for this role, that it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Also, I feel like McGregor could’ve toned down Lumiere’s French accent by half. And the growl moment between Belle and the Prince at the end…WHAAAAAAAT WAS THAT. So uncomfortable.
One last thing (Spoiler-ish). Disney, we need to have a talk about your “OMG WE HAVE A GAY SCENE.” For one, beyond subtle comments that suggest LeFou is in love with Gaston, he literally has a two-second, onscreen dance with a man in the finale. Now, while I appreciate that you’re trying to be more inclusive, you reaaaaaaaally didn’t have enough there to justify the media frenzy. Also, the media frenzy in and of itself is an issue. I get that people are pointing it out as a means of encouragement to get you and other studios to start or continue embracing inclusive storytelling. But patting yourselves on the back and making a big deal about how you have a gay character when you barely dip your toe in the water seems more like you’re otherizing LGBTQ for the sake of marketing. Something to think about.
Beauty and the Beast: A-
Listen to my Beauty and the Beast review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 34:03).