Beauty and the Beast is the latest Disney live action remake of one of their animated classics. The original Beauty and the Beast, from 1991, is one of their most critically praised films, even being the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
The new remake follows the original very closely, with Emma Watson playing the lead role as Belle, and Dan Stevens playing the Beast. Much like the original the film is about not making assumptions about people by what you can see, and instead looking beyond what is on the outside. Meanwhile the villain Gaston, played here by Luke Evans, as well as the rest of the village represents that fear of otherness, and what is different to them. It’s a message that is exceptionally relevant in today’s society, something that is even more apparent given some of the reaction to Disney officially making LeFou a gay character in the film.
One of the biggest challenges facing Disney when transposing the world of Beauty and the Beast to a live action one was to capture the beautiful, and visually striking nature of the film, particularly in the musical numbers. The way the final managed to take what were beautifully drawn scenes and bring them to life is quite a feat, although after creating an entire jungle in last year’s The Jungle Book, no technical achievements see beyond them. The musical numbers are all well constructed, and brilliantly capture the magic of some of Disney’s best songs ever.
The new cast all does an excellent job in the roles. Emma Watson is great as Belle, and sings very well. Dan Stevens brings a gravitas to the Beast, all be it with some digital enhancements to his voice. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are brilliant as the comedic sidekicks Lumière and Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson does a good job following in Angela Lansbury’s footsteps. The highlights though are Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou. It’s nearly perfect casting in the roles, with the only slight issue being Evans not quite being able to bring the true vitriol during Gaston’s encounter with the Beast. Obviously the original voice actors are going to be hard to top in most people’s minds, but they couldn’t have filled the roles much better.
The weakest points in the film are easily the newest additions to the story, particularly the new musical numbers. There are several new songs, and they just don’t stand out at all amongst classics such as Beauty and the Beast or Be Out Guest. There’s also a fair amount of extra backstory around Belle’s parents, particularly her mother. This just feels like unnecessary padding to the story. The new material that works is the tiny details that just sort some of the smaller plot holes in the original.
And that’s the issue with this live action Beauty and the Beast. Whilst the production design is stunning, and the performances are excellent, it doesn’t feel original in any way. It’s certainly an enjoyable experience for fans of the original, and a great movie musical, but there’s no reason to watch this newer version over the animated classic.