I don’t care how old I am — Disney movies are still some of my all-time favourite movies. I was lucky enough to grow up during the “Disney Renaissance,” the period that extended from The Little Mermaid in 1989 all the way to Tarzan in 1999. Many of those movies still rank as my favourites to this day, especially The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. Actually, one of my earliest memories of watching Beauty and the Beast is seeing it in my doctor’s office while waiting for some kind of vaccination. I have a distinct memory of eating mini marshmallows and watching the movie — and unfortunately a strong memory of the pain from that vaccination as well. In the past few years, Beauty and the Beast has really took a strong hold as one of my top Disney movies, second only to The Lion King. Although I was excited to see the new live-action remake, I was also hesitant because it never really struck me as a movie that needed a remake, let alone a live one.
At it’s core, the new version of Beauty and the Beast sticks very closely to the classic cartoon. The story is about a young prince who was cursed to live his life in a monstrous form because he refused to help an enchantress in disguise. The curse will only be lifted when he learns to love and wins someone’s love in return, and only if this happens by his 21st birthday. In a nearby small town lives a woman named Belle who is seen as very strange by the other townspeople because of her eccentric father, her interest in reading, and “peculiar” ideas about how her life should be — including her rejection of the handsome but arrogant Gaston. When Belle’s father is taken prisoner by the Beast, she decides to rescue him and take his place in the castle instead.
The new version of the movie sticks quite closely to the original plot. I especially enjoyed the nod to the original fairy tale, in which Belle’s father, Maurice, is imprisoned because he attempts to take a rose from the Beast’s garden. In the Disney cartoon, Maurice is imprisoned because he attempts to take shelter in the Beast’s castle after being chased by wolves. Other plot changes were minimal. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the decision to include an LGBT plotline for LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick. Given the amount of attention that was given to this, I was surprised to find this element was actually quite subtle. The other major change was Gaston’s attempt to abandon Maurice in the woods to prevent him interfering with his pursuit of Belle. I didn’t find this scene particularly necessary, although it did fit the story somewhat. Otherwise, the live-action remake sticks quite closely to the cartoon, although this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Cast and Characters
In general, I thought the human cast of characters were brilliantly chosen. I thought that Emma Watson was perfectly cast as Belle. She really captured the spirit of Belle as an intelligent young woman looking for something more in her life. Dan Stevens as the Beast also brought a great blend of anger and vulnerability to his role. Kevin Kline brought a unique angle to Maurice, who was changed from a bumbling, eccentric inventor to a strong, protective father. Luke Evans was an excellent Gaston, and Josh Gad easily stole the show as LeFou.
Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the casting of the enchanted furniture in the Beast’s castle. There were some big-name starts involved — Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. While these are all great talents who I’ve enjoyed in other roles, they all felt a little underwhelming to me. I actually did not even realize that it was Ian McKellen until the very end, when he was shown in human form. The cast also included Stanley Tucci as Masestro Cadenza, an enchanted piano who I don’t recall from the cartoon, and Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe, Belle’s wardrobe. In general, I found the enchanted furniture all a bit lacklustre and I didn’t really enjoy the CGI effects that attempted to bring them to life. With such an impressive cast, I expected a bit more from these characters. That is not to say any of them were bad choices. The problem is the original voice-actors were so distinctive, it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
I was surprised to find that several new songs had been added to the movie, apart from the cartoon classics. If anything, I would have expected songs from the Broadway show to be incorporated. I was especially impressed by the beautiful “Evermore,” performed by the Beast just after Belle leaves his castle. This was by far the most memorable of the new additions. The film also added “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” a brief song sung by Maurice, which was nice but added very little to his character or the plot. There was also “Days in the Sun” performed by the household furniture, another solid addition but nowhere near as memorable as the rest of the music.
In terms of the performances, I was very impressed by the performances of all of the human characters. I never expected Emma Watson to be a singer, but she actually has a really nice voice We already knew from Frozen that Josh Gad could sing, but Luke Evans did a great job as Gaston. Dan Stevens as The Beast also did a great job, especially with Evermore. All of our favourite songs from the cartoon version were there, although some were better than others. I enjoyed all of Emma Watson’s songs, especially “Something There” which has always been a favourite of mine. “Gaston” was hilarious, and “The Mob Song” cemented it’s place as one of the best Disney songs so far.
Unfortunately, I was once again disappointed by the performances of the enchanted furniture. “Be Our Guest” was surprisingly underwhelming, and although Emma Thompson did a good job on “Beauty and the Beast” during the classic ballroom dance, I couldn’t help but compare it to Angela Landsbury. I think the main problem with these two songs specifically is that the voices behind them are so iconic, that it is hard to hear anyone else without making comparisons.
While I enjoyed the movie and thought it was a generally well-made remake, I’m still left with the feeling that it was a film that really didn’t need to be made. Although I was hoping they would stay pretty close to the original cartoon, it made this version feel a little underwhelming. It is very difficult to capture Disney’s magic in a live-action format, and attempting to do so only seems to draw attention to itself. In many scenes (Be Our Guest, for example) it felt like they were attempting to recapture the original almost frame-by-frame, whereas it might have made more sense to take a bit more of a risk and do something new. It was an enjoyable movie, and I was glad to see it, but when I want to see Beauty and the Beast in the future, I’ll probably be sticking mostly to the Disney classic instead.