Beauty and the Beast is another film in Disney’s slate of live action remakes. We still have, among many others, live action versions of Aladdin, Mulan and The Lion King to come. A few years ago, Kenneth Branagh started off the experiment with Cinderella – a modern, delightful film with just the right amount of fluff and heart. Now, the reins have been passed on to Bill Condon, director of the last two Twilight films, to tell the iconic love story between a headstrong bookworm and an ugly, accursed beast.
Make no mistake – turning the first animation to ever be nominated for a Best Picture at the Oscars into a live action film is a monumental task. For millions around the world, Belle is the Disney princess of their childhood. Her story is the Disney story. Making this film work requires more than simply putting horns on the guy from Downton Abbey and hoping they look realistic. (They don’t.) Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the final result is a collection of hits and misses. While Branagh’s Cinderella is an obvious upgrade from the original, this Beauty and the Beast is undoubtedly far less superior to the animation.
Although it is an interesting experience to revisit such a beloved story, you leave the cinema feeling as though the original version of Beauty and the Beast somehow has more emotional heft. The transformation scene in the film, for example, falls short. The script does try to squeeze in a few new tidbits, such as side plots about Belle’s mother, the enchantress, the Beast’s childhood etc. This effort to bring something new to the table is commendable, but these plot points come across as forced and as jarring as the new songs. A solo number by the Beast, although sung superbly by Dan Stevens, is hilariously shoe-horned in. The Beast’s appearance also suffers from bad CGI work, proving the point that some characters are best left alone in the animation realm.
However, what still makes Beauty and the Beast an irresistible treat is the nostalgia, especially the original music. The whole cast does well in bringing these classic songs to life. Emma Watson is not the best singer in the world, but she is beautiful and charming as Belle while Dan Stevens as the Beast has some surprising pipes. The household furniture – voiced by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson and Ian McKellen – are a special highlight, providing not only comedy, but unexpected depth to the story. Another much-needed improvement is Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s elderly father. While the original Maurice is a bit of a hopeless buffoon, Kline is wise and full of heart. His relationship with Belle is well set-up and proves incredibly touching when the plot requires it to be.
The film’s true revelation, however, is Luke Evans as the villainous Gaston. Evans is not only dashing as hell, but he has the pipes and the comedic chops to back it up. Accompanied by his sidekick Lefou (the brilliant Josh Gad), Evans’ Gaston moves through every scene with effortless cruelty and charm. He eats up the screen, somehow managing to be even more ridiculously narcissistic and murderous than his cartoon counterpart. It is obvious that Evans is having the time of his life in this role, and the result is a villain who brings more entertainment value to the story than any other character.
All in all, Beauty and the Beast is definitely not a waste of your time. There are moments in the film which are truly magical and you should not miss the chance of seeing this version of Gaston. But, at the end of the day, nostalgia can only get you so far. The original animation is timeless for a reason. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.