Beauty & Beast: not the Belle of the ball
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In a quiet village in France, Belle spends her days reading copious amounts of books, awaiting the day she can escape the ordinary life of a village girl and the advances of the hyper-masculine Gaston. Belle hopes to escape to the fantasy worlds in her books, but little does she know, that day of liberation is closer than she realizes.
When her father stumbles upon the castle of a prince who takes on the cursed form of a beast, Belle races to save him and ends up as the Beast’s prisoner in her father’s stead. Comforted by the castle’s enchanted staff, Belle begins to live at the castle and hopes to break the curse on the Beast, unbeknownst of the trouble brewing back in her village by the love-sick Gaston.
“Beauty and the Beast” is Disney’s live action remake of their animated 1991 classic of the same name. Director Bill Condon has an eye for detail in translating the hand-drawn images to real life, the prince’s castle being the most visually striking set piece of the whole movie.
The opening village scene is another aspect of the film taken straight from the animated original. The frame is constantly filled with motion as the villagers go about their daily lives and create the exposition for the audience.
One more delightful detail in this live-action version is the depiction of French costumes and specifics of the villagers’ lives, all of which make it clear that this movie takes place in France.
Unfortunately, this eye for detail doesn’t make everything a smooth transition from cartoon to real life. “Be Our Guest” is undoubtedly the most impressive song of the movie, wowing the eyes with just as much splendor and energy as the original version.
“Gaston’s Song,” however, comes off as underwhelming compared to the over-the-top style of the original animated song due to the limits of live-action filmmaking.
While the staff of the castle are creatively personified through CGI in their cursed furniture forms, the Beast is rendered onto the screen by motion capture, when it would have been perfectly acceptable – and even more visually impressive – to create his monstrous personage with costuming and practical effects.
If you have seen the animated “Beauty and the Beast,” then you have seen this movie. Not to say this is a bad thing, but rather that both films feature pretty much the same plot and characters.
There are several attempts in this recent version to give the characters and the story more depth. While some of these are welcome additions, especially those regarding the prince’s curse, other elements feel tacked on or unnecessary.
In particular, there is a bit that expands upon the parental circumstances of Belle and the Beast, but it is not executed all that smoothly, thereby losing the emotional impact that it could have had.
Even though each actor and actress had their own strengths they brought to their respective roles, there was one glaring problem throughout most of the movie.
Because this is a remake of a Disney classic, many of the lines were taken right from the original. This resulted in a great deal of the acting feeling a bit forced, with lines being said simply for nostalgia reasons because their 90’s counterpart said it, as opposed to the character themselves needing to say it.
This is a problem I foresee plaguing the future Disney live-action remakes. It takes away from the emotional connection that the actors and actresses can have with their role, and it can especially affect how the audience connects to the performance on screen. It’s an experience akin to a band doing a cover of a classic song.
Despite this issue, the cast still manages to put their best foot forward, with Luke Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellan stealing the show as Cogsworth. Emma Watson as Belle is solid enough, shining in the more emotional moments – especially with veteran actor Kevin Kline as her father, Maurice.
However, Dan Stevens as the Beast is one of the more disappointing points of the movie. His voice and presence just isn’t as powerful or intimidating as Robby Benson’s, who voiced the Beast in the 1991 animated film.
Despite some unnecessary fluff and animation-to-live-action translation issues, “Beauty and the Beast” is charming at its core. This new film features entertaining performances, eye-popping set design and will undoubtedly engage members of younger generations who have never seen Disney’s original adaption.
TL;DR (TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ)
+ Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan, steal the show as Gaston, Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively
+ Set design and ‘Be Our Guest’ are visual high-lights of the film
– Some things work better in the 90s animation than they do in live action
– The Beast is a bit underwhelming, both in visual and vocal presentation