The live-action version of Beauty and the Beast put our service to the test.
There’s a scene in the live-action Beauty and the Beast where the crudely computer generated Beast is fighting cartoonish computer generated wolves in the snow on what I can only assume is a blend of computer generated imagery and perhaps hopefully a branch or snowy surface on a studio soundstage. Also, Belle (Emma Watson) is there. She is real. She is maybe the only thing that is “live-action” in this scene from the live-action Beauty and the Beast. I thought to myself…
“What does a live-action remake consist of?”
Having a cast of actors in your film, sure. Real sets, obviously. What else? Is that it? Because in the retelling of Disney’s classic animated film we have something that still, at times, feels like it’s mostly animated. Granted, there is imagery of Belle in her village walking and singing or glimpses of the inside and outside of Beast’s castle grounds and it looks great, if not a bit stagey.
The film opens with the Prince in lavish makeup and wig which was quite delightful. You immediately see a real dance hall, costumes, people of color and you think that you may just have something special ahead, but like many remakes this version feels the need to add in some additional story elements that you can completely breakdown with just a few moments thought. The villagers of the town Belle moved to as a baby with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), hate being smart due to the curse the witch put on the Beast and his castle, and they specifically hate reading. This immediately doesn’t work because there’s a bookseller named, Pére who admires Belle’s love of books. We also find out Mrs. Potts has a husband who lives in the village and doesn’t remember her until after the curse is broken. This opens up many questions; Did the villagers commute to the castle every day? They don’t live on the massive grounds? How does this make sense? And depending on the convenience of the script it takes five minutes or five days to commute back and forth to the castle as well.
Why? What purpose do these additions serve?
The highlight and most tangible fun the movie has is with Gaston’s (Luke Evans) and Le Fou’s (Josh Gad) ‘Gaston’ number. They are inside the tavern drinking, singing, and dancing using physical comedy and flourishes that connect in a way that a lot of the other numbers didn’t. Evans and Gad themselves are some of the better performers in Beauty and the Beast as both give just enough depth to this outrageous and over-the-top duo. The addition of Le Fou openly caring and making advances towards the daft Gaston is welcome as is his moral center being the attempted guidance that Gaston desperately needs.
But what of the other numbers?
‘Be Our Guest’ is perhaps wholly animated with the exception of Emma Watson’s occasional reactionary smiles at nothing. It doesn’t translate to the screen in the same way the original animated film did. As nice as it is to hear Ewan McGregor sing in anything (he’s really really wonderful) his performance doesn’t hit where it should because of the silly design of Lumiére and how well that number specifically works for animation.
The other performances leave a lot to be desired. I adore Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in various ways (Stevens in Legion and The Guest and Watson for her humanitarian work alone), but singers they are not. This Beauty and the Beast adds a few new songs, and they all fall completely flat without a note I can remember. That’s very unfortunate and I admire the attempt to add something new to the original numbers, but it was a miss.
I will say that despite the awful design and rendering of the Beast, that Dan Stevens was still able to emote and it looked and felt like Dan Stevens. That is a huge success and really odd despite how silly the Beast looks. Seriously, just flip those horns at least! When he shows Belle the library and he then stays to talk about books with her (one of the best additions to this version) you can see him emote. If only they had used makeup and other prosthetics for his character we could have seen more with such a great actor in the role. I think that route would have really added something truly live-action and greatly needed. And can we please stop using cartoony wolves instead of real wolves? I’d even settle for computer wolves that actually look like real wolves. Please see last year’s The Jungle Book as inspiration on how to do this.
Emma Watson as Belle is okay. I really wish I could say more… There’s not much for her to do and this iteration makes her fully capable as it should, but there’s a lack of fiery energy that was present in the animated film. Her chemistry with Dan Stevens is also there despite it being hidden under thousands of pixels. If only these two had more actual face time other than the ending dance number which had one of the most groan-inducing moments I can remember seeing in recent years. Like, Darth Vader screaming “Nooooooooo!” kind of bad.
The original animated film is a high point for Disney and truly stands the test of time. This live-action version will and has made all the money, but lacks what it takes to be remembered as something more for a tale as old as time.