This month, we received another live-action remake from Walt Disney Studios. This time around the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast. However, just as the title song suggests, this “tale as old as time” gave us a mostly unimpressive rehashing of the story we’ve already come to love.
We all know the story. A young girl named Belle grows up in a small village in France. After her father stumbles upon a castle in the forest, he runs into the Beast and is locked away after attempting to steal a rose for his daughter. Belle finds her father and trades places with him, keeping her in the castle with the Beast for eternity. We learn the castle and all its inhabitants are enchanted, and Belle must learn to love the Beast, before the last pedal on the rose falls, and the curse becomes permanent.
I thought the most impressive actors in this movie were Dan Stevens as the Beast and Luke Evans as Gaston. While his performance was mostly CGI, Dan Stevens had incredible vocal chops and gave the Beast much more emotional depth than we knew the character had. Luke Evans was my favorite by far as the devilishly handsome Gaston, with excellent dancing and singing from his experience in the West End. We were reminded why Gaston is the villain that we all love to hate. Audra McDonald gave an excellent performance as the Wardrobe, with her superb voice and hilarious take on an otherwise minor character that stole the show.
When it comes to Emma Watson’s performance as Belle, I’m not sure if my expectations were too high, but I was left underwhelmed. Emma looks the part, and is both intelligent and daring as her royal counterpart. However, I felt Emma Watson was not giving 100% when it came to her acting and singing in the movie. She mostly went with the flow of her character and while her singing wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t up to the standard I expect from a live-action musical. I just wanted to see Emma at the level I have seen her bring us in other films.
My other disappointment was Josh Gad’s portrayal of LeFou. Disney teased that LeFou would give us our first LGBT character in one of their films with a spotlighted “gay moment.” However, I think LeFou gave us many “gay moments” in this movie (for lack of a better term) that felt mostly like an overkill. While I applaud Disney for supporting LGBT characters in their stories, I felt like this was a miss. LeFou paraded around as more of a stereotype that pushed few boundaries. Maybe instead of giving this platform to LeFou, it should have followed an original character in a film yet to come. LeFou’s character suffered from the weight of this platform, and was pushed into the spotlight without any other major arc to play off. We like LeFou in the animated feature because he was the sidekick, and I think some of his playfulness was lost.
While I enjoyed the music, including the newer numbers like “Evermore,” and the embellishments on the classic story, I felt Beauty and the Beast still missed the mark for me. What made Cinderella and Maleficent brilliant was the fact that they kept the original story intact, while giving us new information, like another side to the story we haven’t seen. There was a balance. Beauty and the Beast gave us more information about Belle’s backstory, especially her mother, and tied it with the Beast’s family, bringing them closer together.
While this arc was nice overall, I felt many details of the original story were either pushed to the side or forgotten. Some of the main victims of these changes were the lovable characters of Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts. Shown in their newly stylized form, one of my favorites songs “Be Our Guest” played more like a showy spectacle from Moulin Rouge, ironically lead by the voice talent of Ewan McGregor, than a beloved classic Disney tune. With noteworthy actors like Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, you wonder why they were left underutilized.
Beauty and the Beast had a fantastic score, some great performances, and beautifully crafted costumes that brought nostalgia back to the animated film. However, it wasn’t Disney’s best venture into resurgence into the live-action musical. But with Mulan, The Lion King, and Aladdin on the horizon, I’m sure Disney will find its stride again.