In my childhood, our house contained VHS tapes of Disney animated films from the 1940s onward, and we watched them over and over again – but the ones I still feel the greatest affection for are those that I actually got to see in the cinema, from Beauty and the Beast to Hercules. I consider Beauty and the Beast my favourite only because, while I love Aladdin and The Lion King about as much, BATB has the highest quality. It was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and is still considered one of Disney’s greatest masterpieces. So, like many people, I was rather unsure when I heard that the film was being re-made for live action. The 2015 remake of Cinderella was lovely; it was faithful to the big picture of its source material, while updating little details to make it more palatable to a discerning modern audience. But aside from a few well-documented plotholes (e.g. just how old the Beast was when he was cursed, the inconsistencies of how far the castle is from the village), the original Beauty and the Beast is pretty much perfect (not to mention, much younger than Cinderella), and how can you remake what is already perfect?
If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know the story, and the film sticks to it for the most part – but there are little changes here and there. The film successfully strikes a balance between changing too little and too much, though admittedly, some of the reiteration of original dialogue feels forced, like in the prologue. The overall atmosphere is also slightly more grim, though there is still plenty of humour and lightheartedness interspersed throughout. Most of the plotholes are fixed: for example, the Prince is shown to be an adult in the prologue, and there is no mention of just how long the curse has lasted before Belle comes along; also, the castle is shown to be well hidden, and part of the curse is that everyone in the village has forgotten about it. Also at one point, Gaston declares that the Beast has placed Belle under a dark spell; this could be a subtle shot at the people who claim Belle has Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
One change I didn’t like was the treatment of Gaston in the first half. The original Gaston begins the film as loud, obnoxious and unashamedly egotistical; it’s clear both that he’s meant to be the antagonist, and why Belle isn’t into him. The live-action Gaston, however, is quieter and a little more subtle and charming in his attempted wooing of Belle; he doesn’t set up a wedding on her doorstep, for one thing. It’s only about halfway through the film that he does anything outright villainous; until then, he doesn’t seem like a bad sort, which makes his role rather more confusing when treating this as a stand-alone. The longer run-time for the film gives us more scenes of Belle and the Beast alone together – which do manage to serve the romance – and some extra backstory about Belle’s mother and the Beast’s parents, which doesn’t really add very much.
As a live-action musical, the film works very well: all the original songs are included, and staged with wonderful co-ordination and splendour. I wasn’t that taken with the rendition of ‘Belle’, though that might be because I was still warming to the film at that point – but all the rest brought a smile to my face. ‘Be Our Guest’, in particular, has visuals worthy of a Disney World night-time spectacular. There are even some new songs, though most of them are short and unmemorable. I did, however, like ‘Days in the Sun’ (sung by Belle and the servants) and ‘Evermore’ (sung by the Beast after Belle’s departure), which both had some real emotional power.
Even outside of the songs, the film certainly looks great for the most part. I personally prefer the stylistic choices of the animated film, but a lot of effort has been put into the remake’s sets and costumes, with more emphasis on the French setting providing inspiration. One of the main worries I had from watching the trailers was how well the designs of the Beast’s servants would translate into live-action. Cogsworth is probably the best one, with his eyes and mouth fitting into his clock face fairly well. Lumiere, Mrs Potts and Chip do look a little more disconcerting, but I got used to them quickly. However, I might have been rather frightened by the pupil-less eyes, large mouth and wild movements of the wardrobe, were I a small child.
I really believed Emma Watson as Belle: she captures the charm, intelligence and independence of the character very well, and while you can tell her singing is autotuned, it does the job. I especially liked her little cry of joy after the Beast shows her the castle library. Dan Stevens, playing a CGI Beast for most of the film, is also very good: I liked the various aspects of his development over the film, down to how he speaks; his awkwardness as he and Belle start warming to each other; and how you can sometimes see traces of the prince he used to be in how he acts. As previously mentioned, Luke Evans as Gaston isn’t best served by the script, and Kevin Kline’s Maurice is a bit too reserved, but I very much liked Josh Gad’s performance as Lefou, comedic without being too slapsticky.
So, is the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast as good as the original? No. Did it need to be made? Probably not. Is it worth your time, and will it bring some pleasure to Disney fans who watch it? Personally, I say yes. Rating: 4/5.