“Beauty and the Beast” Reinvents The Wheel, But Did It Have To?
By Scott Kurland
Film: Beauty and the Beast
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, and Emma Thompson
Directed by: Bill Condon
I know my headline might seem alarming, but don’t worry. I’m not going to trash a classic Disney film, or it's remake. I love the original “Beauty and the Beast.” In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest animated (if not the best animated) films of all time. I love the Broadway musical and, deep down, I understand why Disney felt it had to remake that musical into a live-action film. Yes, that's right - this remake is not actually a remake of the original 1991 animated movie. Instead, it’s a cinematic version of the Broadway show. I think this is where some of the other critics are getting all jumbled up. I’ll address that later in the review, but for now, let’s take a look at this week’s film “Beauty and the Beast” shall we?
We all know the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s a tale as old as-well, you know what the tea pot sings. A greedy and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) denies shelter to an elderly woman caught in a storm. He thinks she’s too hideous and judges her solely on her appearance. She turns into a beautiful enchantress, transforms the prince into a hideous beast (still Dan tevens) and turns his servants into housewares. The Prince will have to remain a beast until he learns to love another and that "other" can love him in return . Pan forward years later, to a small town on the outskirts of the kingdom. Everyone thinks that Belle (Emma Watson) is the most beautiful girl in town but there's one problem: she thinks and reads too much. Belle is the unfortunate romantic target of the arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans), aided by his partner LeFou (Josh Gad). When Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) gets lost on his journey to a nearby village, he ends up at the Beast’s kingdom and becomes a prisoner. Belle shows up takes his place, and cue the Stockholm Syndrome. Oh, and a candle stick that sounds like Ewan McGregor sings.
I know that synopsis sounds like I’m making fun of the film, but I’m not. It's just that we know this story backwards and forwards so I needed to spice things up a bit. As I stated before, I did like “Beauty and the Beast.” I truly did. Still, there’s three problems in this film that I feel need to be addressed. The first is that, in this film, Belle lives in the heart of the town. This was a mistake, albeit a minor one. You see, if Belle lives dead-center in the midst of all the action, it strips her of one of the main qualities that both she and the Beast share; they are outsiders-both literally and figuratively. But that’s small potatoes. My main problem lies in the addition of unnecessary characters such as a talking harpsichord voiced by Stanley Tucci. Disney clearly wanted as much star power as they could get their hands on here. They also made the wardrobe, voiced by Audra McDonald, a bigger role than was needed because she’s the queen of Broadway. There’s plenty of characters in both the play and the film. You don’t need to muddle up this remake with new ones and longer backstories. Stick to the classics. Lastly, Emma Watson. I can easily see why she was cast. Hermione Granger is a book worm as is Belle. However, she has such a delicate voice that they clearly had to autotune her up; not because she can’t sing. She can, but they had to adjust the audio so she could belt out the song "Belle". They should have cast Anna Kendrick. She has proven she can belt out a tune time and time again. Also, she looks like Belle...like, a lot. I did like Watson’s portrayal of Belle but, ultimately, it was Hermione I was seeing on the screen; not the bookish Belle.
Now, let’s go to what actually worked in this film and, believe me, a lot worked. The updated story makes more sense than the original. Belle and the Beast are together for far longer than just three days. Also, the Beast is well-educated and well -read, so he’s a worthy match for Belle who no longer has to rise to the task of trying to educate
him as she did in the original. It’s two smart people who are outsiders learning to love one another for the brainy know-it-all's they both are. This screenplay also fixes two problems with the original movie. In the opening, director Bill Condon shows the actual event of the Prince turning away the beggar woman. It’s a breathtaking scene and looks like something out of Milos Forman’s “Amadeus.” There’s a big ball, powdered wigs, and a selfish young man laughing drunkenly on his throne. PERFECT.
Finally, in the opening they at last address why everyone in the town forgets that they have a ruler. I won’t spoil that though. I did like “Beauty and the Beast,” and I do recommend parents take their older (ages 8-16) children to see it. Dan Stevens is the best beast we’ve had. Josh Gad is incredible as LeFou and you get a richer backstory to him and understand why he follows Gaston around blindly. Finally, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor are fantastic replacements for Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach. When Thompson sings “Beauty and the Beast,” I dare you not to have chills - I dare you. As for McGregor, it’s Obi-Wan. He can do whatever he wants and I’ll see it.
“Beauty and the Beast” does have its faults, but they can be forgiven because the story is strong, the production design is gorgeous, and the performances from the cast are so entertaining. However, this film won’t be considered a classic like the original was. Keep in mind that the 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” made history by being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Still, take your kids to see this movie. If you don’t have children, go see this to remember your childhood. It’s a very enjoyable remake.
B (a solid B bordering on B+)