Full disclosure: I am not the target audience for Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast remake. I am neither a big musical person, nor remember the original animated movie very well. But even to a ingrate like me, the film from oddly-careered director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2, The Fifth Estate) can feel’s like an overly faithful cover song. Sure, it does most of what the original did pretty well (or even better), while making it feel more modern, but it’s so concerned with fidelity to the original that it’s not very original itself.
You know the plot: a selfish prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed and turned into a giant Beast, living in his castle with his servants, who have been transformed into household objects. If he doesn’t find true love in time, they’ll all be stuck that way forever, and worse. Meanwhile, young Belle (Emma Watson) is the only girl in her village who loves to read, looked at oddly by all but oafish suitor Gaston (Luke Evans), who isn’t much better. When her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) ends up trapped in the Beast’s castle, she takes his place, and a surprise romance ensues, complete with song.
While the transmutation from animation to live action is impressive, it does make the movie feel sterile at times, especially in the more greenscreen-y moments. The sheer amount of magical snowy backgrounds, enchanted castle, and moving stuff onscreen can sometimes verge too far into weightless territory, making the the magical feel they’re going for feel somewhat forced on occasion.
The first act, too, is pretty rough: again, I’m not a big musical person, but the acting and singing by Watson and Evans just doesn’t seem to feel right for the fantastical, musical world. For awhile, the only person who really seems like they’re acting in the right mode for this is, of all people, Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, who brings just the right kind of cartoon-y, stage musicality.
Once she’s in the castle, Watson’s performance clicks much better though, and the romance works pretty well, while doing a surprisingly good job avoiding the Stockholm syndrome-ness almost inherent in the plot. Tweaks like this, from Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos’ script, are joined by some fleshed out backstory for Belle’s mother, making her an adept inventor, making LeFou canonically gay (in the most minimal way possible, but it’s still something), and giving the Beast his own song are generally good moves, and, aside from some of the singing, makes for a pretty competent and faithful update. But, however well done, it doesn’t make for much more.
Review by Charlie Heller, exclusive to SFVMedia.com
Images from Disney Pictures