Disney’s 1991 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was the studio’s first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Twenty-five years later and we have a live-action adaption directed by Bill Condon, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. There wasn’t a guarantee this could be done successfully, with a lot to be wary of in this CGI and live action combo. One of the largest challenges this film faced was to retain enough of the original content that made it popular, while also reworking or adding new material that allows the remake to stand as its own piece. And largely, I believe, Condon succeeds.
What makes this film so good (much like the original) is the songs. Though Watson doesn’t have the same Broadway vocals as her predecessor Paige O’Hara, she more than makes up for it by singing with vulnerability and personality. The same can be said for the rest of the cast. Favorite’s such as ‘Be Our Guest’ are delivered with extravagant, bombastic aplomb and completely done justice to. ‘The Mob Song’, which I had never enjoyed before, ends up being one of the best and most rousing pieces in the film. The new original songs, if not perhaps as memorable as the classics, at least add to the story’s narrative and are brief enough to be inoffensive.
The scenery for the film is consistently rich and distractingly beautiful. This is part of what makes the iconic ballroom scene so satisfactory. Dramatic and lavish, the film knows what we want and delivers. Belle and the Beast sweep across the ballroom as the music swells and the background glows, and it’s almost enough to justify the entire remake.
What probably made me enjoy this film as much as I did was the way in which all the additions given to the character’s personalities and backgrounds made the story so much more engaging. The casting of Emma Watson only adds credibility to Belle’s evolution as a character. Belle is more inventive, defiant and assured in this film. More attention was given to the castle servants and what they have lost and what they stand to lose being under the curse is explored and adds to the emotional drama of the film’s climax. Even characters like LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick played by Josh Gad, turns out to be a surprisingly compelling character in the film.
Most pleasing of all is how goofy this film can be. Jokes are made, and the film pokes fun at itself. Luke Evans’ Gaston is the perfect blend of villainous and unhinged. When the Beast scrunches up his face and says something ridiculous, Dan Stevens shines through the heavy animation and infuses the character with personality. These points relax the story and allow the quieter, more emotional parts of the film to resonate.
Not everything in this film works however. The first half of the story feels a little perfunctory, and at times the dialogue is clunky. The classic Disney trope of dead mother equally automatic sympathy is invoked more than once in the story and the emotion it tries to generate from this plot point doesn’t feel earned. In addition, though the animation is very fine, there are points in the film where the Beast standing next to Belle is so obviously a product of CGI that it can be distracting.
Aside from these points the film proves to be exactly what it promises in the trailer: a faithful adaption with enough additions to the story to make it a worthwhile piece on its own.