In the long list of animated Disney films the studio could add to its ever-growing live-action stable, Beauty and the Beast probably wouldn’t strike many as the obvious choice. Not only is it the most recent of the animations chosen for live-action conversion, having only been released in 1991, compared to the previous films, all of which had initial releases in the 1950s and 1960s, but one of the pivotal characters is a beast.
While the success of last year’s Jungle Book went some ways to assuage concerns over Disney’s abilities to bring furry characters to life, the time frame of animation to live action remains problematic.
They decided nonetheless that it was time to transform one of its most beloved animations to live-action and picked a star-studded cast to bring it to life. The most well-known face is probably Emma Watson, but the film is littered with greats of the big and small screen including Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Sir Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, and Josh Gad.
But can Disney maintain its recent run of animation to live-action successes?
To anyone who has seen the animation the plot is already well-known and for those who haven’t, you really should watch it! Here’s the official synopsis:
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated classic which refashions the classic characters from the tale as old as time for a contemporary audience, staying true to the original music while updating the score with several new songs. Beauty and the Beast is the fantastic journey of Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within.
While the film isn’t without flaws, it is a resounding, and to some extent surprising success. The story is, unsurprisingly very familiar, but with some additions that help provide a more consistent plot and better-rounded characters.
It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that most, if not all, of the key developments and plot points from the animation are present. But this version of Beauty and the Beast adds significantly more depth to the original 2D film by providing some much needed backstory. This allows the film to progress at a more even pace that the at time frenetic animation, but also ground some of the characters and make them much more relatable.
The change is particularly beneficial for the Beast as it explains much of his behaviour and attitude and makes the character significantly more relatable. In so doing, it makes the key emotional moments much more powerful and allows the audience to embrace the character and his inner turmoil in way that isn’t really present in the animated version.
Emma Watson puts in a decent performance as Belle. While not the strongest voice on display, her singing is perfectly adequate to hold attention and maintain interest throughout. She’s brings an emotional centre to the film and helps the film to further the inversion of the fairy-tale traditions of most Disney princess films.
Dan Stevens does exceptional work as the titular beast. Despite the layers of CGI, he manages to make the beast relatable, bringing a depth to the character that was largely missing from the animated version. The underlying melancholy and forlorn hope of the character become increasingly apparent as the film progresses making him emotionally accessible in a way that belies his imposing physicality.
Luke Evans is good as a toned down Gaston, bringing a bravado and pomposity to the role, while ensure he becomes more than a simple caricature. There are layers to this Gaston that allow the viewer to believe he is capable of the subterfuge and intrigue he shows as the plot progresses.
Josh Gad does his best with LeFou, but, for all the controversy around the character’s sexuality, he remains a bit-part player in the film as a whole. There is certainly some level of comic relief, but his contribution remains limited and thus his overall impact is minimal.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the performance of Kevin Kline. Not only does he do a decent job with his generic non-accent, but he also brings a warmth to the film and to Belle that would otherwise be missing for much of the opening half of the film.
The score and musical numbers are excellent. All the key songs are present and performed ably, with Luke Evans probably possessing the best voice despite the limited opportunities he has to actually sing. As previously stated, Emma Watson’s voice is not the strongest, but she performs all the songs ably, and is particularly good when performing alongside Dan Stevens. But it is the latter’s’ Beast who steals the show with the newly added heartbreaking song Evermore. The addition of that single song is essential in grounding the beast and giving him an accessible emotional connection through which the audience can feel him inner turmoil.
The voices of the servants are mostly well performed, although there is a slight question-mark about the choice of Ewan McGregor to play Lumiere. While his accent holds up adequately for most of the dialogue, it fades in and out during the musical numbers which is somewhat distracting.
The CGI for the beast and the castle’s servants holds up well for the most part, although isn’t without fault. There are moments when the CGI becomes apparent and it is particularly evident during the Be Our Guest routine. While the CGI works well when interacting with itself during these scenes, it struggles to blend with Emma Watson and the other physical elements. There are moments when things that previously appeared solid, move with a weightlessness that is rather jarring, and the slightly vacant aghast look on Watson’s face only amplifies the artificial nature of the spectacle.
But those moments aside, the film as a whole still works incredibly well. There are some very good performances from pretty much the entire cast and, unlike the Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast maintains its musical heart and finds a way to add to it. The songs enhance rather than detract from the story with Evermore undoubtedly the highlight.
While most of the previous live-action versions of the studios animated classics have provided an interesting alternative, Beauty and the Beast succeeds in actually surpassing its animated predecessor. There is a depth to the film that goes far beyond anything from the 1991 animation, particularly in respect of the Beast, his attitude and his decisions. The CGI is, for the most part, good and certainly does not interfere with a good performance from Dan Stevens and the various members of the household staff. While some elements of the film that do not quite work as desired, as a whole it provides an enjoyable, emotionally engaging and fun watch that demonstrates Disney at its best.
Source: Beauty and the Beast