It is the tale as old as time, and it is also the newest live action adaptation of a Disney animated classic. Now, normally with these reviews, they tend to be as close to spoiler free as possible, but since Beauty and the Beast is a Disney adaptation, of the Disney animated movie, the plot and major story beats are all more or less the same. While there are small differences, and some additional scenes, everything is pretty much the movie everybody remembers. The iconic scenes are still great, even in live action, and the big ballroom dance to the title track, still feels like a grand moment, just as it did in the animated film. Where the story tends to falter is not in what it adapts, but instead in what it adds. One scene in particular sees Belle and Beast travel via a magic atlas to Belles childhood home. Doing so reveals what happened to Belle’s mother, a fact long assumed, though finally confirmed in this film. While this piece of information is interesting, it serves as needless exposition, and does not advance the plot in any significant way. There are other moments like this one, that may seem like good ideas, but tend to slow the film, rather than continue the normal flow of the story. Thankfully there are not too many new scenes, so the film is not dragged down to a point if can’t recover from.
The move here from live action to animation works the majority of the time, and the casting of all the major players are spot on. Many will go into this movie with feelings one way or the other regarding the need of this remake, but for the most part, it is a more than serviceable version of the classic film, though is certainly far from perfect. With Disney ramping up production on turning all of their classics into live action, the success of each will be determined on how well the story translates once it enters the real world. Since a large part of the story features human characters, Beauty and the Beast translates rather well, however there are a few aspects that come off rather silly, such as the bookended scenes featuring the non-transformed residents of the castle, as well as some of the CGI furniture that do not interact as well with the human Belle. Overall though the CGI is quite impressive, Beast, Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Chip are all well done, and realistic enough that they do not detract from the viewing experience.
Those characters are also portrayed extremely well by their voice actors, and they chose the best people to bring those characters to life again. The issue with all adaptations from animated to live action, is that people who enjoy the original, enjoy hearing the characters as they remember them, so for any new voice actor to come in is an uphill climb. Luckily that is not an obstacle for this version of the film, because the main cast of still animated characters gives their own unique portrayal, that never crosses into an impression. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are both great as Lumiere and Cogsworth, and since they have the largest furniture roles, it is good that they both work so well. Arguably the hardest role to take on though is that of Mrs Potts, as stepping in for Angela Lansbury is an incredibly large kettle to fill. Thankfully Emma Thompson does a wonderful job, and fits the role well, and while not as good as iconic as Lansbury, her performance never sounds out of place.
The most important roles here are of course that of Belle, and the Beast, and both Emma Watson, and Dan Stevens are more than fine with their respective performances. Watson fills the shoes of Belle quite well, and has the charm and wonderment to bring that character to life. Steven’s Beast is also good, though not particularly great. His quiet and reserved demeanor, as well as his angry moments are all well done, though he doesn’t have any stand out moments. His performance also suffers from the moments where he is not the beast, as his overly done up character at the beginning, as well as the moments at the end, do the actor and character a disservice. The other supporting human characters are all ok, Luke Evans’ Gaston is exactly the character that he is portraying, though the character is one of the elements that feels much more silly than it does in animation, since it is a caricature of a macho hunter. Josh Gad’s LeFou is also just like his cartoon counterpart, and much like Gaston, is pretty silly compared to the rest of the characters.
With these Disney classic remakes, what will matter most to people, more than the acting, or the story, is the music. Alan Menken’s original soundtrack features some of the most famous songs in all of cinema, so to recreate those is no small task. The familiar songs are there, and all are faithful covers of the originals. The singing voices for all characters are ok, though they are nowhere near that of their predecessors. None of the classic songs are bad, though some, including Belle’s theme, are not quite right, which is a little jarring at first. Be our Guest, and Beauty and the Beast are again the standouts, and the renditions by Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson respectively, are both good, and seeing them played out again on the big screen is an enjoyable experience. Where the songs dip in quality however is in the new ones added for this film. It is puzzling how much the filmmakers felt they like they needed to add new things, especially given that the new things do not work well. Kevin Kline’s How Does A Moment Last Forever was particularly noticeable as not fitting within the flow of the film, and could really have been left out.
What Beauty and the Beast does well, it does really well, and the moments and story beats that it keeps from the animated film, all come across as thoroughly enjoyable. What stops the film from being a truly great experience is everything new that was added. The new scenes, and new songs do not fit, and really serve as a detriment to the rest of the film. The film is by no means bad, though there is a much better film that could have come from this adaptation. Hopefully future remakes continue to adapt the best parts of these classics, while only incorporating newer elements if they fit, and not just for the sake of adding something new.