We have to resign ourselves to accept that Disney is going to remake all of its animated classics into live-action musicals. If you leave out Maleficent, this is the third consecutive year that we’ve received a straight, nearly scene-for-scene adaptation. You may not like them all, but it’s going to happen. That being said, just because something is a remake doesn’t make it inherently bad. The previous entries, Cinderella and The Jungle Book were both better than expected, and you can add Beauty and the Beast to that mix.
I grew up in the 90s, right in that sweet spot where I had all the Disney films on VHS, in those patented oversized Disney packaging, and my sister and I would watch all of them on repeat for days on end. Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Robin Hood, and The Lion King were all staples of my childhood, as was Beauty and the Beast, which is possibly the best of the Disney New Classics from that time period.
Having said that, it’s hard to imagine that any adaptation of the original story or an adaptation of this film could hold a candle to (or a candelabra, get it?) to the 1991 film that became the first animated film nominated for Best Picture. While I don’t think this 2017 live action version of Beauty and the Beast reaches the same level that the original does, I can’t deny that I enjoyed myself while watching. Incredible special effects, fun performances, and a lavish set design make this film worth your time, even if it’s all a bit familiar.
I don’t really need to spend too long talking about the plot, but I’ll tell you that this film does not stray too far from the source material, by which I mean the animated film. Yes, this one deviates from the original source material the same way, right down to key (and not so key) pieces of dialogue I vaguely remember from a cartoon movie I haven’t seen in 25 years. There are even your favorite songs from the 1991 film, and a couple added to fill out the runtime. In essence, this feels very much like a Broadway musical adaptation, if you could achieve exemplary CGI in that medium.
Impressively, all the actors hold their own musically, as I assume they all do their own singing. While maybe we’re not talking about Idina Menzel in Frozen, we’re also not talking Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, and everyone else give solid singing and acting performances, although I can’t help think how much better anyone else besides Ewan McGregor could have been as Lumiere. If the animated version Lumiere had a bad French accent, this one is a worse version of that.
While Emma Watson gives a fine performance, the standouts for me in this film are Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as Le Fou. Gaston is a great character in general, and Luke Evans gets to really play up the smarmy narcissism and he effectively chews the scenery; he’s so much fun in this role.
There’s been a lot of controversy regarding the choice to make Josh Gad’s version of Le Fou a homosexual, but honestly, it just works. It gives an added level to the relationship between he and Gaston past generic adoration. Le Fou’s complicated sycophantic crush on the brash Gaston really plays towards the extended arc that Le Fou winds up with in this film, which I think winds up being the biggest change the filmmakers made with this adaptation. It’s a bold choice and I think it works.
Beauty and the Beast is a complicated movie-going experience. Deep down, this version never makes me forget about the movie that preceded it, but I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy my time revisiting the familiar characters. The sets look wonderful, the music is great (though not as great as the original voice talent), and the performances overall are solid. It’s a quality time at the theater, especially for the younger audiences.