Disney have been making fairytales into box office gold for the better part of 80 years now. Their version of ancient stories have become so pervasive in modern culture that when I mention Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, it is probably the animated films you think of first rather than the original Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson tales. Now Disney is remaking their animated films in live action; they have already done it with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and somewhat with Maleficent and now Beauty and the Beast, the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture 1991 gets the third dimension treatment.
If you have seen the animated version of Beauty and the Beast you already know the plot: Belle (this time played by Emma “Hermione Granger” Watson) is a peculiar girl from a small French town who is held at an enchanted castle ruled by Beast (Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey, under a load of CGI) after her father steals a white rose from Beast’s garden.
I am not really sure what to make of this film to be honest. While it is definitely well made, with decent cinematography, editing and production design, something prevented me from enjoying the film in its entirety.
I have already made two references to the film’s biggest problem, Disney already made this film 25 years ago. It has the same songs, it even has the same costumes and set design. It was so obvious this was the case, especially when Luke Evans as Gastone put on his signature red coat and Belle was in her yellow ball gown for the tale-as-old-as-time sequence.
The only times when I fully enjoyed the film was when it was trying to do something new; I liked Beast’s song toward the end of the film especially. Another thing that saved the film for me was the fun that the cast was having in their roles. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere push caricature to the extreme but it so much fun to watch, as is Luke Evan’s hyper-masculine Gaston. Even the brooding Beast had some funny jokes, and he and Emma Watson’s Belle have some adorable chemistry together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Watson herself as Belle. She does a fine job as a strong and caring lead character, her singing voice isn’t half bad either; the film does an okay job trying to provide more material for Watson to chew on. You can see filmmakers bending over backwards to create a more fleshed out Belle, though the result is a little bland at times, but I suppose that is just the fault of the original story.
Beauty and the Beast the animated version was the first animated film to win the best picture award at the Oscars; the 2017 version is probably not going to win any accolades. Despite its production design and campy performances, it is just a shallow imitation of the original. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some of it, but it is a film that is utterly unnecessary.