The Disney remakes have been going on for a while and even if you do hate the fact they are just going through their old film library to make new films, you have to admit it has done some good. Smart film makers have found flaws pieces of work such as The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon and has massively improved them. Those two examples were some of my favourite films from last year and were great watches. But what happens when you remake a stone cold classic, one adored by millions across the world? You get the live action Beauty and the Beast.
Belle (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) is judged by the rest of the French village she lives in for being smart and daring to read books while also being female. However when her father Maurice (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda) gets captured by a beast (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), Belle takes his place. She then discovers there is a curse placed on the beast and the castle he lives in where he has to fall in love with someone or be stuck as a beast forever.
So the thing with those other Disney remakes, even the bad ones, was that they all offered a new perspective on the original. So yes, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is not a good film, but it was certainly a very different take on both the book and the original Disney film. Same for Maleficent, which is also rubbish but tries to give the Sleeping Beauty villain actual humanity. For Beauty and the Beast, they scrap all of that. They just remake the film straight, almost shot for shot at times. Admittedly, they couldn’t do much different as the original film is a classic and any change would be confronted by a similar mob that Gaston (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold) gathers at the end. But this raises the question, what’s the point of this film?
The point comes with the few changes they have made, we just have to decide whether they are enough to decide we should sit through this film rather than the cartoon. Well, we have a few new songs and a bit more backstory. And to be quite frank, neither are enough and bring the film down slightly. While the new songs aren’t that bad, they just don’t fit. Evermore is a fine song, sung very well by Dan Stevens, even if it is obvious that it is yearning for an Oscar nomination for Best Song. But it’s Broadway style doesn’t mesh well with the other classic songs already present in the film. And that backstory I briefly mentioned? It’s basically a short scene which tells you what happened to Belle’s mother. It adds nothing but more running time.
But if you are just going to remake the original straight, you are at least going to get the strengths carried through and Beauty and the Beast does manage that. And to illustrate that, we are going to go back to the songs I briefly mentioned. Tunes such as Belle and Be Our Guest are just as iconic as the film they are in, and the movie is under a lot of pressure to do them justice or else, Gaston’s mob etcetera. Luckily, the film manages it. Emma Watson does a very jaunty and personality driven version of Belle, and Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) is having a lot of fun with his daft French accent doing Be Our Guest. Add on the energy that director Bill Condon (Dreangirls) puts into these scenes, you get moments that are highlights of the film.
And this film really does look great as well. Admittedly, the village of Villenueve doesn’t look that real, it looks more like a section of Disneyworld, but it still looks very nice on screen and I don’t think they are going for realism here. The castle itself is very beautiful as well, the gold truly does glitter even when it is covered in all that dust when we first see it. That is a pleasant surprise as colour palettes that rely too much on gold can end up looking rather gaudy and like what we think a castle should look like, rather than what a castle should look like. But the set designers have got it spot on here, making it look lavish but not tacky.
There is something I’m going to have to admit as well. There is one part of this remake that is better than the original cartoon. That is Gaston. He’s great in the original don’t get me wrong, but the praise for him is mostly because of the way the usual Disney hero became such a fiendish and arrogant villain. All of that is still present in this but we also have Luke Evans’ performance, which is absolutely delightful. He realises that this is a character you shouldn’t be looking to add depth so he decides that all the scenery is chocolate frosting and he’s going to chew on every last bit. Evans makes every scene his own and makes parts which could be tiresome into something just delightful to watch. It’s great.
Beauty and the Beast is not a bad movie. It is a very good looking movie, has some very catchy songs which you will be humming for ages after the film ends and the performances are great, especially Luke Evans. But all those great things are in the original, a movie that is much more efficient with its running time and is overall more creative. If this film is not going to give me a reason to watch this one over the original, I’ll just watch the original thank you very much.