Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST arrives a half-decade in to the studio’s live-action revamp-rampage of their beloved animated classics. While I’ve never been one to claim that a studio releasing remakes of their own movies is anything more than a cash grab, this recent string of movies has been, at least a few times (and very surprisingly so) effective.
While Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND and the Angelina Jolie-led MALEFICENT both failed in many ways, the post-2014 entries have been stunning, some in more ways than others. Kenneth Branagh’s CINDERELLA is appropriately dazzling, Jon Favreau’s THE JUNGLE BOOK is visually impressive, and David Lowrey’s PETE’S DRAGON is a marvel, and one of the best things Disney has made in years.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, not so much.
It isn’t that THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 director Bill Condon did a particularly “bad” job directing this age old tale of magic and affection, but he didn’t do a particularly good one either. The set design, while sometimes pretty, rarely ever feels as lush and luxuriant as the sets in Branagh’s Cinderella. This is especially evident during the infamous ballroom sequence, which only once manages to feel even half as alluring as Cinderella’s.
What BEAUTY AND THE BEAST gets very right is its casting. Emma Watson as Belle is a casting choice I didn’t expect, but one I also grew to like as the running time went on. She’s always been a favorite of mine (after all, I’m one of “those kids” that grew up with Harry Potter), but Belle is a role that she took on with grace.
Luke Evans as Gaston is a dream come true, and there’s no question that he is the best thing the film has going for it. Every scene with Gaston demands eyes be glued to the screen, but it isn’t limited to the terrific portrayal by Evans, but the inclusion of his consistently loyal buffoon of a sidekick, LeFou.
LeFou is also perfectly cast here, Josh Gad in retrospect being the only possible choice to play this character. He’s funny, sometimes very much so, and his relationship with Gaston is just as fun and entertaining as it was in the original. The outrage over LeFou being gay is at once troubling (obviously) and for a while I couldn’t have been prouder of Disney… until I saw the movie. LeFou is gay, I guess? I expected a big revealing moment, one that would make all these boycotts worth it. Instead, it’s a fleeting, wordless moment, one which is sweet enough but nothing ANYONE is going to give a shit about (which they shouldn’t anyway, which may have been Disney’s point). Here’s just to hoping Disney starts making gay characters as flamboyant about their sexuality as their straight ones.
Another standout casting choice here is Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric inventor father who seems to love pitting the town against himself. I never really gave his casting a second thought, but while seeing the film, he was one of the most enjoyable aspects.
All of this brings us to the Beast himself. In the months leading up to the release, I publicly stated many times that I do not like the way he looks. After seeing the movie, I still do not like the way he looks. The CGI work on his face feels unfinished at times, and there isn’t anything about him looks frightening (apart from his almost certainly Krampus-inspired introduction).
This being said, I do like the Beast more as a character here than in the original (which is still one of Disney’s best). He is more fleshed out, more human, and his relationship with Belle simply makes more sense. And it doesn’t hurt that the always reliable Dan Stevens provides the motion capture work (and by the end, seeing him with long, silky, Prince Adam hair made me wish I was like LeFou).
I have no desire to watch this film again, and I can’t help but think it’s because of its 120+ minute run time. It’s way too long, and some of the original songs are not very good. It lacks the amount of heart contained in Pete’s Dragon, a movie not entirely unlike this one when you think about it, but there are a few moments where tears are sure to be shed by the most passionate romantics. But as someone who generally cries in more movies than I care to admit, this just one didn’t do it for me.