Despite being dragged to the theater like many unwitting boyfriends, husbands, and parents, Disney’s live-action reimagining of its now classic animated feature “Beauty and the Beast” is nothing short of magnificent.
Not without its faults, “Beauty and the Beast” still manages to effectively bring the cartoon world to life and, somehow, increase its beauty. The visuals are absolutely spell-binding and a prime example of how modern special effects can build a world once relegated to animation or story books.
For the most part, the acting is also quite strong. However, the writing and over-stuffed plot are negatively impacted by the mandatory cliché elements of fairy tales and its transition to a live-action film respectively.
“Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most visually spectacular films of the last 10 years, no contest. From quaint French villages bursting with life to the darkest dungeons of the Beast’s castle, every frame is expounded by visual accouterment. Of course, much of the film’s inspiration is lifted directly from the animation, but it somehow manages to enhance what came before.
Perhaps the greatest example of visual prowess is during the legendary song “Be Our Guest.” As if I were brainwashed as a child, the opening lines of the musical number instantly brought me back to a simpler time. When compounded by dancing dishes, furniture, and other antiques, the effect is jaw-dropping.
Emma Watson, who plays Belle, is clearly giddy to be a part of this famous scene despite working with invisible green screen animations—even imagining this scene is enough to put a smile on your face, but seeing it is unforgettable.
Whether in still-life or frenzied action, “Beauty and the Beast” maintains its high visual fidelity despite some minor dips—the wolves, oddly, look fake and would have benefited from the same effects sorcery used in 2016’s live-action “The Jungle Book.” In addition, director Bill Condon overuses a spinning camera technique that blurs all of the visual elements into muddy, nondescript textures.
Despite these small gripes, “Beauty and the Beast” is a visual marvel.
The Beauty and the Rest
While not as impactful as the effects, much of the acting in the film is spot on. Without such acting depth, the overly cliché plot of “Beauty and the Beast” could have come off as insincere. Thankfully, Emma Watson and Dan Steven’s provide ample weight as the beauty and the Beast respectively.
Watson is clearly the star of the show and her acting ability has come a long way since the “Harry Potter” franchise. She is never given much to chew on dramatically, but Watson effectively portrays a strong, intelligent woman with believable effect—there are times where Belle seems like a grown up Hermione and that is certainly not a bad thing.
Most notably, Watson is easily the best singer of the entire cast. I’m not sure how much they touched up her vocals in post-production, but her voice is equal parts sweet, melodic, and powerful. Apparently, Watson was a first choice for Emma Stone’s role in the Academy Award winning “La La Land” and, based on this musical performance, she would have absolutely nailed it.
Opposite Watson is Dan Stevens as the Beast and he is nearly just as great. Stevens has found a strong resurgence in his career with this role as the Beast and as the title character of FX’s “Legion”—if you have not seen Legion, why are you still reading this article? It’s TV’s best new show.
While Stevens’ visage is overlaid with hairy CG for most of the film, he is still emotive as the Beast and effectively portrays the anger, violence, and heart of the character. Also, Stevens is the second strongest singer just behind Watson and his solo song is the best of the new songs—yes, there are new, original songs in this film, but more on that later.
Even more surprising than the two strong leads, “Beauty and the Beast” is chockfull of legendary supporting actors who nail their roles; Belle’s father is played by Kevin Kline who provides the film’s dramatic heart and the villain, Gaston, is played by Luke Evans to cartoonish effect.
However, if you have not stayed up-to-date on which actors play the living antiques in the Beast’s castle, you will be pleasantly surprised: Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson plays Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor plays Lumiere, and Ian McKellan plays Cogsworth. The reveal of these actors at the end of the film was absolutely stunning and quickly explained how they brought these inanimate objects to life. In fact, this revelation might warrant another watch.
I must also mention Josh Gad’s character Le Fou, a completely original creation for the film and Disney’s first openly gay character. As a sidekick to Gaston, Le Fou allows for more dialogue and exposition from the two-dimensional villain, but Le Fou’s character is never fully developed. Gad is a tremendous comedy actor as seen in Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon” and Disney’s “Frozen,” but he is never given enough dialogue to earn the laughs that he could have. This underutilization of a great actor is symptomatic of the film’s biggest problem—anything that was not in the original animated film is, for the most part, underwhelming.
A Tale as Long as Time
Of course, creative license would be used as “Beauty and the Beast” made its jump to live action. However, it is mostly used to pad out the film and make it hit a two-hour run time. There are multiple instances where the film runs in circles, figuratively and literally—multiple round trips to and from the Beast’s castle are made in the name of deepening the plot. However, only some of the padding is necessary.
In “Beauty and the Beast” we are given more insight into the pasts of both the Beauty and the Beast. This is a nice touch that brings further understanding of the story at hand. However, the other unnecessary detours are not worth mentioning here. While these side stories are only 20 minutes of the film, they could have been cut to produce a leaner, meaner film.
As mentioned earlier, there are three to four new songs that were not in the original animated film. Oddly, they chose to incorporate one of these songs right at the opening of the film—I really disliked this un-catchy song and it put a sour taste in my mouth right from the start. Thankfully, the quality quickly improved afterwards.
One honorable mention is the Beast’s new original song. It is one of the rare instances where it felt like the song should have been in the original film—this is a testament to Stevens’ strong singing and an inspired, well-composed piece of music.
For Beauty is Found Within
The live-action “Beauty and the Beast” is a gorgeous and mostly faithfully reimagining of a classic animated film. Despite some minor gripes in terms of pacing, this version of the tale as old as time deserves to exist and perhaps that is the greatest compliment it could ever receive. While “Beauty and the Beast” may seem an unnecessary remake, there is plenty of beauty to be found within its familiar visage.