Over the last few years, Disney has started a new pseudo-franchise for itself: live-action classics. So far, we’ve seen Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon reworked and sent to the big screen as live action and CGI spectacles. Box office receipts have been great, so now it’s time to take a shot at the heavy hitters, and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast is up first. As one of Disney’s most beloved films ever, this remake has a lot to live up to, and even though it’s a guaranteed financial success, fans will be ready to rip it to shreds if it fails to capture the magic of the original. That ends up not being an issue though, because 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is basically the same movie as before.
Belle (Emma Watson) is a beautiful and intelligent girl living in a small French town with her loving but eccentric father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). She dreams of something more in her life, and she is going to get it when Maurice is imprisoned in an old castle beyond the woods. Belle offers to take her father’s place and discovers that her captor is a beast (Dan Stevens), and all of his servants are living household items. The curse that has been placed on them will be lifted if the Beast can get someone to love him before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls, and Belle seems to be the prime candidate. Meanwhile, the self-centered Gaston (Luke Evans) will do whatever it takes to get Belle to marry him.
As the plot goes, this is a nearly beat-for-beat remake. Many lines are the same, all of your favorite songs are here, and the characters and settings essentially look the same. The remakes for Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon succeeded because they were able to take rather simplistic films, smooth out the rough parts, and add more compelling plot details. Beauty and the Beast never really needed to do that, which has the adverse effect of making it feel less fresh than those films. There are a few new additions, including more fleshed out backstories for Belle and the Beast, a few new songs, and one or two new characters, but nothing heightens the experience the way that the new additions of the other films did.
With little new to bring to the table, Beauty and the Beast aims to tug on your nostalgia strings, and at that, it succeeds brilliantly. As previously mentioned, all of your favorite songs and characters are here, and it’s hard not to smile when you see them brought to life. “Be Our Guest” is as much of a spectacle as you could hope for, and Belle and Beast’s waltz, complete with the familiar stunning yellow dress and blue suit, is lovely. Alan Menken’s iconic score is back as well, and it’s just as great as ever, and the production design is breathtaking. As a treat for fans, Beauty and the Beast is definitely a success.
A huge part of its success can be found in its casting. After playing Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, Emma Watson is a perfect choice for Belle on paper, and she mostly works well. Her singing voice is heavily autotuned, and she’s never really been an Oscar-caliber actress, but she dedicates herself well to the role and looks the part. Dan Stevens adds a lot of humanity to the Beast, and Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, and Emma Thompson are perfect fits for the roles of Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts, masterfully capturing their respective personalities through voice work. Luke Evans steals the show though. He may not have the bulking physical appearance of Gaston, but he hits it out of the park with a funny and charming performance. Props to Kevin Kline and Josh Gad (as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou) as well.
Not everything translates perfectly though. Rather than showing the whimsicality of the animated film, director Bill Condon sets a strangely gloomy atmosphere that detracts from the fun a bit. And the CGI is not up to snuff. Beast looks as fake as he is, and some of the servant characters look pretty creepy in live action form. Aside from that though, Beauty and the Beast is a nice tribute for fans of the 1991 masterpiece. It doesn’t do much to build off of the original, but it never really needed to, and the additions they did make are inoffensive and mostly all welcome. Acting is great all around, and the actors do pretty well with the songs as well. It’s not the masterpiece that the original was, but it makes for a good two hours that will entertain your kids and bring you back to your own childhood.