Beauty and the Beast is a new take on an animated classic! Read our movie review here:Disney has done a superb job at translating their lesser-animated movies The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon into fresh and vibrant remakes, but they’re playing with fire when tackling Beauty and the Beast. The original animated film is undeniably a Disney classic, having been so perfect it became the first animated film ever nominated for the Academy Award of Best Picture. These are some deep boots to fill and it’s rather unfortunate that director Bill Cordon stumbles in them as though he’s playing a game of dress-up with clothes much too big.
Cordon does make an admirable effort though at trying to replicate the decadence and melodies of the original animated movie. All the familiar songs, characters, settings and story beats are present and accounted for. But much like a Broadway production of a Disney animated film the limitations can be felt. The opening scene with the energizing song “This Prudential Life” was a mesmerizing sequence in the animated film for a village brimming with life as Belle strolls through. Something feels lost when translated into live-action where characters don’t feel as lively or colorful. The film seems to be taking a more faithful approach to the era in that a village of this time period wouldn’t be as bustling or ecstatic in the morning hours. But if this were the case, why open with such an upbeat musical number?
Beauty and the Beast attempts to remain faithful to its source on a cosmetic level, but without much flair. Emma Watson slips on the familiar blue smock and the iconic yellow dress, but doesn’t seem to be as entranced by this fantasy as her animated predecessor. There’s stiffness to her as when she runs up a hill to proclaim how she wants adventure, standing firm more as though she’s projecting to a Broadway crowd than being inspired for more out of life. She doesn’t appear all that scared by the cursed Beast (Dan Stevens), but that is forgivable considering this monster is much more fetching than frightening. Even the musical sequence “Be Our Guest” features Watson not as impressed by the sight of household items serving her dinner, acting as though it’s her second time viewing this show and faintly smiling to be nice.
The chemistry between Belle and the Beast doesn’t seem as romantic as it should be for showcasing most of the original songs. Sure, both Watson and Stevens are decent singers for this material, but what good is that if they don’t have that indefinable spark of magic? Just watch the scene where the Beast reveals to Belle his old library with wall-to-wall shelves of books. Her reaction is less of awe and more as though Beast had just bought her a new car. There’s a strange lack of subtle charisma and emotion to their relationship that seems to be stuck in the rut of adhering to the animated movie. And considering how revered that picture was, it doesn’t bode well to be nostalgic.
One element that has changed greatly is the designs of the servants trapped in the bodies of household items. Now appearing with more realistic textures and designs, they’re scarier than the Beast when viewing the candelabra Lumière (Ewan McGregor) with his golden face and the wardrobe Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald) with her mouth of drapery. Strong talents from the likes Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson voice all the servants, but their designs occupy this strange dimension of the uncanny valley that tries to balance lifelike textures with cartoonish characters.
This computer animation is not as uninspired as the movie’s finale where a CGI Beast hops from tower to tower, but I’d much prefer the cartoonish proportions of an animated Mrs. Potts that can defy her design than a delicate teapot that cannot deform. Some characters are just better built for animation and a talking teapot is certainly one of them.
When the film does try to veer off into its own picture, it unfortunately stumbles into much different territory that is ill suited for the tone of this story. There are a handful of scenes that better showcase Belle’s knowledge of reading and inventing, but it does little to affect the general story. The Beast is not only well-versed in books, but also has access to a magical atlas that can allow him to travel anywhere in the world. While this addition does provide an opening for exploring Belle’s tragic childhood (did anybody really want to see Belle’s pathos of a plague-stricken mother?), it doesn’t convey the Beast as a lonely soul, which needs the love of Belle.