Disney have had a string of sure fire hits with its live action remakes from Maleficent, Cinderella and the gargantuan hit The Jungle Book winning both critics and audiences with a great story, beautiful music and stunning CGI. When Disney confirmed that Beauty & The Beast would receive the live adaption treatment with director Bill Condon and an all star cast with Emma Watson as Belle, Josh Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Luimere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts it seemed like a sure fire win for the studio with this formula. Unfortunately the film is a beat by beat rehash of the animated classic (with a few extra scenes added) and the decision to keep it as a musical is a detriment to the film. The inferior musical numbers combined with a emo-ish Belle combined to make this Disney’s live adaption disaster.
Belle (Emma Watson) is a bookish “odd” girl who has just moved to a quiet town in France in the mid 1700’s with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) a local craftsmen who specialises in selling antiques at the market and sets off on his annual journey leaving Belle at home. A storm brews and Maurice seeks shelter in a castle covered in ice and snow (but it’s only June!) After warming up and eating some food Maurice takes a single rose for Belle and the beast in the castle locks him up forever (yes it is as ridiculous as it sounds writing it as watching it)
Fearing the loss of her father, Belle sets off in search of the castle and attempts to rescue him, in doing so she trades her life for his. Meanwhile the castle itself has had a spell cast upon it and can only be broken by if someone falls in love with the beast. In the village the hunky villain Gaston (Luke Evans) and his campy sidekick Lafou (Josh Gad) plan to make Belle the wife of Gaston and recruits the villages to kill the beast.
You know the story, so does it live up to the hype and childhood treasured memories of the Oscar winning classic animated film? Quite simply no, no it does not. The decision to make the movie a musical and include all of the original songs was a mistake. Big hits like “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” are slaughtered with sub-par vocals and a slower vibe that completely ruin the original and offer nothing new. A lot of scenes feel rushed and aren’t left to generate the magic that the original film nailed.
Josh Gad’s queeny performance of Lafou is not as progressive as Disney has boasted it is. It is an insult to the LGBT community and Lafou and his character arc are there for comedic relief and provide no substance or depth. This is the part I was most disappointed with this film, he is not a character that is gay, he is a cartoonish, over the top, slapstick comedy gay and it is such a let down. Also the fact of another straight actor playing a gay character is another minor annoyance that films like this should know better. As I am writing this Malaysia has lifted the ban on the film being shown due to the toned down nature of the two extremely short moments in the film.
Visually the set pieces are stunning, it has all the backdrops and sets of classic musicals like Mary Poppins and is something that the film excels in, particularly in this modern era of green screen and CGI. As a consequence of this whenever they used CGI as the background, in particular a lot of moments involving scenes with the Beast, these transitions looked cheap and tawdry. In addition to this a few of the scenes with the Beast looked unfinished and rushed and this takes you out of the moment.
The additional scenes with Belle’s backstory and a few from the Beast and Prince’s history were interesting. These were the rare moments that the film worked and showed depth to this story. Watson is a mixed bag with Belle, in the opening song she doesn’t portray a bored village girl desperate for some adventure, yet in the scenes of discovering her past conveys a sadness that is one of the most beautiful moments in the movie.
The voice acting for Lumiere (McGregor) and Cogsworth (McKellen) are spot on, as is their transition at the end giving the film some much needed comedic moments. Evans has a lot of fun as Gaston and translates the character to life flawlessly. His arrogance and vanity are core parts of the character and come across beautifully in this iteration. Mrs Potts (Thompson) doesn’t give the character enough, granted she has massive shoes to fill with Angela Lansbury in the animated version, but she didn’t commit enough to make it her own. Kevin Kline delighted as Maurice and played the heartbroken widow and doting father role beautifully. His moments with Belle are among the best in the movie, as well as his intro song the best moment in the film.
Overall Beauty & The Beast tried to be too many things which resulted in its downturn. Instead of retelling the classic story with new songs or taking the somewhat darker route and giving the audience something new, Condon was content with a beat by beat remake of an Oscar winning animated film. This let the film down immensely,along with some sloppy scene transitions and CGI that is not reminiscent of Disney’s usual high standard. This tale as old as time will be easily forgotten and we can hold out hope that the next live version of The Lion King will avoid these costly mistakes.
Beauty & The Beast is playing in cinemas now
Review by Alaisdair Leith