Disney has had quite the run recently in adapting their animated films into live-action features. First came The Jungle Book and now here’s Beauty and the Beast.
Synopsis: Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside. (Google)
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, and Luke Evans
Writer: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliopoulos
Director: Bill Condon
Running Time: 129mins
Those expecting anything new here may be disappointed as this was pretty much a shot for shot remake of the original animated film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing with the original being released 26 years ago. It will either introduce the story to a new generation or perhaps bore fans of the original film. For the few who don’t know the story, the film is about a young woman named Belle (Watson) who is taken prisoner by a beast (Stevens) in his castle.
What this film does offer is an extended backstory for the Beast, showing him as a rather flamboyant, arrogant prince and his loyal servants. One of his many parties was interrupted by old woman looking for shelter from a storm. When the prince refused her shelter because of her ugliness, she handed him a rose and cursed him and his servants, turning him into a beast and his servants into a series of inanimate objects. To break the spell, the prince must learn to love another and earn her love in return before the rose’s last petal falls.
This film is a musical but always seemed to be more compelling without characters singing. Being a big-budget Disney film, the production values were there. The musical numbers were well shot and had some good choreography but they couldn’t help but to come off as overproduced, making some feel overwhelmed. There was a surprising amount musical numbers which just ended up creating “here we go again” moments. The musical numbers didn’t quite fit within the story, leading to spontaneous singing moments that didn’t always work. The score was great but other than Be Our Guest, none of the music was particularly memorable.
Belle was an interesting character to watch as she was unlike most Disney heroines. She was strong-willed and can think for herself. She was very close to her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) but the film didn’t spend enough time on them or the subplot involving Belle’s deceased mother. She also had to fend of the advances of the town’s resident good-looking guy named Gaston (Evans). He thought she was the most beautiful woman and he wanted to marry her but the feeling was not mutual. He would go to great lengths to prove his good looks and manliness to her but she wanted none of it which only made him more interested in her.
Any Beauty and the Beast film lives or dies on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. Belle and the Beast were okay to watch but their relationship could have been much better. Everyone knew they were inevitably going to end up together but their relationship could have been more believable as it felt mostly forced. It was difficult to get emotionally invested because of the Beast’s almost emotionless CGI face. The scenes between Belle and the objects were fun to watch but she spent more time with them than she did with the Beast.
The production values extended beyond the musical numbers into the film’s visuals. This was a dark film, perhaps darker than expected for a Disney film, highlighting the contrast between the Beast’s castle and Belle’s town. The castle acted as another character in the film, appearing larger than life and towering over Belle and emphasizing her isolation from the outside world. Other than with the Beast, the CGI was well done in bringing the castle and the objects to life, depicting their many intricacies with great detail.
Watson was riveting as Bell. She was likeable and engaging to watch despite not having a proper grasp on the emotional scenes. She had great chemistry with Kline and the various objects. Stevens was good as the Beast but the prosthetics and the CGI didn’t do his performance justice. We didn’t get enough of him either since the film focused mostly on Belle. Their chemistry could have been better but it wasn’t necessarily their fault. Evans’ over the top performance as Gaston was fun. The voice acting from the objects was the best part of the film with the standouts being Ian Mckellan as Cogsworth and Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe.
Overall, this was a good adaptation of the animated classic that stayed true to the source material. While the film took advantage of its budget, the overproduction of the musical numbers often did more harm than good. The film depended on the relationship between Belle and the Beast’s but it wasn’t the most believable because of the lack of development and chemistry between Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.
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