Beauty and the Beast
Updated: Feb 4
Full disclosure before I start reviewing Disney’s live-action remake of their beloved 1991 film Beauty and the Beast: I saw the animated Beauty and the Beast in theaters when I was nine years old, didn’t particularly like it, and I haven’t seen it since. My memory of it is very fuzzy. I watched the new film without being able to confidently compare it to the original. Though I am familiar with other film versions of the story, I came to this film without any preconceived notions about the Disney adaptation.
That being said, I found this version, which has been skillfully directed by Bill Condon, to be reasonably enjoyable.
The story is familiar: The independent-minded Belle’s (Emma Watson of the Harry Potter series) loving father (Kevin Kline) comes upon a mysterious castle after getting lost in the forest. He picks a rose for his daughter from a nearby tree and is subsequently captured by the castle’s cursed inhabitant, the Beast (Legion’s Dan Stevens). Belle discovers what has happened and saves her father, taking his place as the Beast’s captive. That sets up the romance and songs that everyone remembers from the original.
Even I remembered some of the songs from the animated film. I know they are treasured by fans of the original but, besides “Be Our Guest,” I don’t think any of them are particularly special (though I did enjoy “Gaston”). Additionally, the romance between Belle and the Beast isn’t that convincing. This film is about forty-five minutes longer than the 1991 version (at two hours without the end credits, it is about half-an-hour too long), yet the romance doesn’t feel fully developed. Therefore, the end of the film doesn’t feel earned. However, there were some things I really liked about it.
For starters, it looks great. The production design by Sarah Greenwood is fantastic. The beast’s castle is a tremendous gothic creation that seems truly alive, the forest is fittingly menacing and the village is quaint and restrictive. All of the locations are great to look at and perfect for advancing the story.
On top of that, there were two performances I really enjoyed. The first is by Josh Gad (the voice of snowman Olaf in Disney’s Frozen) as villainous egomaniac Gaston’s (Fate of the Furious’ Luke Evans) biggest admirer, LeFou. Gad’s comedic timing is great and he provides several laughs throughout an otherwise serious film.
The other performance was by Emma Watson as the brave, smart and caring Belle. She is perfect for the role, showing just the right amount of vulnerability while creating a strong female lead. Her Belle does not need a husband to feel fulfilled. She would much rather spend her time with books than in the company of the boorish Gaston. This behavior scares the other villagers who think she is crazy. A woman doesn’t need to read! It is an effective feminist portrayal, even though the social commentary introduced at the beginning is mostly ignored at the end in favor of the happy ending.
But that doesn’t lessen Watson’s performance. She is part Disney Princess and part contemporary woman and that combination brings a depth to the character that makes the overall film better.
As I said earlier, I enjoyed the film for the most part, but I think it would have been better if it was a tighter package. A stronger focus on the titular couple and less screen time for the annoying Gaston could only make the love story more powerful.
However, fans of the animated version will probably love it and even I had a good time with it. Therefore, I give this film a solid recommendation.
3¼ out of 5
Cast: Emma Watson as Belle Dan Stevens as Beast Luke Evans as Gaston Josh Gad as LeFou Kevin Kline as Maurice Ewan McGregor as Lumière Ian McKellen as Cogsworth Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts Nathan Mack as Chip Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette
Directed by Bill Condon Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos