Enchantress: For who could ever learn to love a Beast?
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
In the stream of Disney’s many live-action remakes came one of Beauty and the Beast in 2017. This remake did NOT need to exist. The original is amazing in its storytelling and characters as is. But if for whatever reason it did have to exist it is passable.
The story is relatively the same as the original: A young prince and his servants live in a faraway castle, on a winter night an enchantress disguised as a beggar woman offers a rose to the prince in exchange for shelter, he refuses and she turns him into a beast and the servants to furniture. Beast has to learn to fall in love before the last petal on the rose falls lest the curse remain in effect forever. We meet Belle who is an outcast in her small town living with her father Maurice. Gaston is in love with her though Belle does not return his feelings. Maurice goes out of town and stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, is taken prisoner by the Beast, Belle takes his place, and although bitter towards one another at first the two slowly let down their defenses and learn to fall in love.
If it’s not broke don’t fix it. That was the mindset going through the crafting of the storytelling this movie. There are some changes made in the story but they all lead back to the structure of the movie being the same as the 1991 version. On the one hand, this is understandable as changing too much could easily result in backlash in what is a beautifully told story. But on the other hand in recreating the moments that escalated the connection between Belle and the Beast such as Beast feeling bad and giving Belle a room after she takes Maurice’s place in the dungeon, the scene in the west wing, Beast calming down after yelling at Belle for touching the rose, him saving Belle from the Wolves, the aftermath of that scene, Beast deciding Belle the library, and Beast making the ultimate sacrifice by setting Belle free lack the same emotional punch of the original and given that these were such fundamental moments in developing the romance in the original, their romance here comes across as forced.
There are also things that make no sense like the magic teleporting book leading to Belle finding out the truth about her mother’s death. This is something entirely pointless, as the magical book never comes into play after this and it makes no sense as to why the enchantress left it. We also learn the Beast’s backstory with him having an upbringing by his cold-hearted father. It’s sad to know the Beast is like this but it doesn’t really add anything to the Beast’s nature.
The whole recreation however isn’t all that bad. For instance the movie does excellent in closing up a plot hole left by the original. As part of the curse the enchantress wiped the memories of the prince and his servants from the minds of those they loved. This is something that could easily be a throwaway line but we find out later that the villagers are in fact loved ones of the servants. That was a clever way of tying them together and it is quite heartwarming when they reunite towards the end. They take a bit from the stage adaptation by the curse gradually turning the servants inanimate with it being so forever if the Beast doesn’t learn to love and the scene towards the end when they lose their life one by one in the end is a legitimate tearjerker even if you know everything will be okay. Lumiere and Cogsworth’s banter is done with entirely original dialogue. The dinner request scene, while set up differently, is still funny in its own way. The choreography during the ballroom dance is great. Another neat detail is that the Beast actually locks up Maurice for a reason this time as he attempts to steal a rose, which is something from the original tale. It also makes more sense since the Beast simply locked him up in the original just for being in the castle when it would have made more sense to throw him out. The castle battle has some greatly timed slapstick. Finally there’s the set design for the castle. The look of it inside and out shows it as a spooky place but also an enchanting one. Given that the majority of the movie takes place within the castle it’s easy to get caught in it and get invested at certain points.
Emma Watson as Belle did seem like ideal casting but for the most part she doesn’t manage to portray a wide range of emotions whether it be fear of the beast or longing for her father. As a result, it very much remains difficult to feel anything for her. Yes this version of Belle is quite brave and strong but her big emotional moments always feel behind a wall that never comes down. On top of that there’s the fact that they auto-tuned her voice and in a lot of the songs it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Dan Stevens as the Beast was well done. The CGI on him as the Beast does look rather dated and not nearly as detailed. This is something understandable given that many thought that the Beast in the original actually looked better than the prince and the idea to find beauty within but you’re always going to be comparing it to the Beast in the original and how many animal features they combined there to make him look like a monster. Stevens’ voice as the Beast however brilliantly combines comedy and threat. I did like how they actually don’t show the Prince’s real face until the very end, which cleverly helps enforce the beauty, is found within message.
While Gaston wasn’t nearly as muscular as his animated counterpart, Luke Evans looked like he was having the time of his life chewing the scenery as the character both bringing the comedy and menace. They do give him a bit more of a backstory with him being a respected former war veteran and this does work in context of the curse and making it a lot more believable in today’s society than just being a self centered jock.
But by far the best characters in this re-imagining go to the side characters. The castle servants have some mixed CGI but the actors they got brilliantly capture the magic of their counterparts while also not making them feel recycled from the original. All of them give a great deal of energy that really should have been in the rest of the movie. Special mentions go to Kevin Kline who gave a sincere and loving performance as Maurice and Josh Gad as LeFou who along with Evans, was stealing the show along with Evans. The two of them together in every season always got a laugh. The movie also gives LeFou a story arc, which is quite surprising but also entertaining.
This adaptation actually uses all the songs from the original plus some new ones. They brought back the original composer Alan Menken to do the songs and for the old ones, even though the auto tune is distracting, he manages to alter the tune just enough to make it feel like new. Some of the lyrics and even one of the songs (Days in the Sun) pay tribute to one of the original songwriters Howard Ashman who sadly passed away before the original came out. And there is a lot of energy in the choreography of this song. The Mob Song gets a special mention as it was the only song I felt that this movie actually handled better than the original.
There are definitely a lot of flaws with this remake but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the good stuff in it. But are the good aspects of this movie enough to overshadow the flaws? For me, while the beast in this movie is noticeable there’s enough beauty in it to recommend at least one watch. What you make of it from there is completely up to you.