The past few years have seen a trend towards remaking and re-imagining classic Disney films, mining on nostalgia to make more money, with there being mixed success with this trend. Whilst The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon were strong films, Cinderella was fairly bland and, whilst the idea behind Maleficent was strong, and the scenes focusing on her worked really well, the overall film didn’t work. The one with the greatest likelihood to succeed though was the new version of Beauty and the Beast. A brilliantly chosen cast, a solid director (for the most part, Bill Condon did still make the last 2 Twilight films) and a story that has good scope for expansion, this should have resulted in the definitive version of Beauty and the Beast. Instead, we get a tired rehash of the 1991 film and the elements that were included for expansion ultimately added nothing to the story.This version of Beauty and the Beast follows pretty much the same story as the first one, with an arrogant prince turned into a Beast by an Enchantress after he denied her entry during a storm, with the only way to break the curse being for the Beast to be loving and loved by another person. Years later, Belle, a villager living nearby, comes into the Beast’s castle to save her dad after he gets captured by the Beast after sheltering there, imprisoned for stealing a rose from his garden, with Belle taking his place as prisoner. Over time the more gentle nature of the Beast comes to the surface, with Belle gaining feelings for him. At the same time, Gaston, a suitor of Belle back in her village, is manipulating Belle’s father, supposedly helping him find the Beast but only so Gaston can get his permission to marry Belle. Now, when the film sticks to the plot of the original film, it’s an okay retelling of the story, even though it is pretty much a shot for shot remake at some points. However, the additions made to the story not only add nothing new to the story, but they detract from what made the 1991 film work. The addition of backstory for the Beast relating to an abusive dad doesn’t add anything new to the Beast’s character that couldn’t be gleamed without this information, making LeFou gay comes into play for less than a second before it’s ignored, the additions to Gaston’s backstory don’t add up to anything, Belle being an inventor adds up to nothing and a scene where Belle and the Beast go to Belle’s childhood home, whilst a good idea on paper, doesn’t add anything new to the relationship between Belle and the Beast. What detracts from the original though is how the library is presented. In the original, it represented the Beast showing his respect for Belle’s intelligence and meaning it as a genuine, heartfelt gift, and the element of Belle teaching the Beast how to read further adds to the mutual respect in the relationship. In this film, it comes after the Beast insults Belle’s taste in books, mansplain’s Shakespeare to her and brings her to the library to show his superiority, it just detracts so much from the respect that Belle and the Beast had in the original. The only time the additions add something is when we get an understanding of the magic of the castle making people forget the Beast, showing why he has to earn the love of another. This also leads into a bigger problem with the film in terms of pacing, it moves way too fast, even though it’s longer than the original film, too much is added that goes nowhere that some of the quieter, more dramatic moments lose the impact they had.
The cast is a bit of a mixed bag. On paper, Emma Watson is a great choice for Belle, showing the intelligence of the character brilliantly, along with growing respect for the Beast, but her singing isn’t the best and it did feel a bit autotuned. Dan Stevens as the Beast meanwhile sings well and shows off the Beast’s aggression but the caring side came off as more arrogant that caring. The best member of the cast is Luke Evans as Gaston, he plays the smarmy, show-off brilliantly in the first half, his singing is really solid, and he presents the more sinister side of Gaston emerging brilliantly. Josh Gad is also strong as LeFou, singing the ‘Gaston’ song brilliantly and having a bit more character through his slow turn away from Gaston whilst Kevin Kline does a good job as Maurice, even if he is underutilised. Of the servants in the castle, Ewan McGregor does a good job as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is good comic relief as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson is as good as you’d expect as Mrs Potts. On the other hand, the talents of Gugu M’batha-Raw, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci are wasted.
The technical side of the film is the one area where the film is strong throughout. The production design for the castle is excellent, combining the best elements of the 1991 version and the Jean Cocteau version (the handelabras make their return to Beauty and the Beast). The effects used for the Beast are solid, the motion capture highlighting Dan Stevens’ eyes and showing off the movement of the character that make-up would have constricted (even if the design isn’t the most unique and part of me would have preferred the use of make-up). The costume design is great, effectively evoking the classical French feel of the story, the designs of the servants, whilst not working as well as the 1991 version, are still strong, with the effects used to create them being very effective and the music, aside from the pretty bland new songs, is solid throughout the film. The only real problem on a technical level is the editing, which adds to the overly fast pace of the film and doesn’t give the film time to breath.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast was a crushing disappointment. This could have been the definitive version and the production design, cinematography and some members of the cast help add to this, but the plot isn’t as tightly constructed as the 1991 version nor as embracing of the fairy tale logic as the Cocteau version (even though there are elements clearly inspired by that version, the map in this version being similar to the glove in the Cocteau version), some of the cast feel wasted and the changes made for this version detract from the brilliance of the original. This is another one of the remakes that feels completely pointless, skip this, watch the 1991 or Cocteau versions instead.
My Rating: 2/5