Originally posted on thedistantcloseup.com (Mar. 17th, 2017)
A lot is riding high on Disney’s remake of their animated classic Beauty and the Beast. As was previously mentioned in my review of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Disney has had a so-so history with their live-action adaptations thus far, and this particular film cost $160 million just to produce – god knows how much they had to spend on advertising. Disney simply can’t afford to let this movie under-perform, which won’t likely happen thanks to some generous projections for its weekend take at the box office, but you never know how far the drop-off is going to be for any film.
I must admit, as excited part of me was to finally take in this experience, I felt equally apprehensive heading into the theater. It wasn’t just because the original animated film was a big part of my childhood or the middling nature of Disney’s recent live-action adaptations, but rather mostly because of my trepidation watching big blockbusters before May. Yes, movies like Logan and John Wick: Chapter 2 have made for fabulous starts to this year, but Kong: Skull Island was a dud and let us not forget last year’s horrendous Batman vs. Superman.
But no matter how worried I was that the picture had reached its peak point of solidity, this Beauty and the Beast put those fears firmly to rest with a genuinely charming adaptation of its source material.
Outside of the Marvel and Star Wars properties, I can’t remember the last time a Disney film received as much hype as this one. They knew they had to throw everything they could at this project: the right production and costume design, the right cast for the right parts and songs – everything needed to be pitch perfect. It means that they had to play things a little safe, as well. Aside from a few new original songs and some other plot details not seen in the animated original, this is a completely faithful adaptation almost entirely similar to the film that inspired it.
Though it would have been nice to see something of a different take much like what Disney provided in Malevolent, this finished product is so well-executed that such minor grievances are easily forgiven. The production and costume designs are as thoroughly rich and decadent as you expect them to be, getting the full treatment in some sweeping, wide-angle cinematography that does all it can to transport you into its setting. Every visual is sumptuous to feast upon in one respect or another, and everything you see effectively communicates the magic Disney and one its greatest films are known for. Surely, you can expect some Oscar nominations to come Disney’s way next year for these two categories, if nothing else.
Though it isn’t a lock yet, maybe they’ll see some recognition for the music, as dazzling as it can be and arguably the film’s primary draw. We’ve all been waiting to see how the filmmakers would approach some of the film’s most classic numbers, and the results are decent. Some are definitely better than others, though. “Gaston” could have used a more dynamic approach considering the songs that precede and follow it, and for what it is, this rendition of “Be Our Guest” holds its own even if it doesn’t quite match the almost chaotic vitality of the original. The new songs are well orchestrated, but the spotlight thoroughly belongs to the opening “Belle” and the title song, performed by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts.
The writing in between the numbers often leaves something to be desired in its overly simplistic nature, but there are still some strong scenes, and the music is such that it carries the film along at a fine, steady pace. But even when the film can’t help but throw itself into even some of the most ridiculous pitfall clichés, it still comes out no worse for wear because it is so impeccably cast.
There isn’t any doubt that the ensemble brought together for this picture keeps it from falling apart. Everyone had been clamoring for Emma Watson to be cast as Belle when the project was announced, and that wish was granted. She delivers on every front of the character, and it truly is hard to imagine anyone else doing a finer job. Dan Stevens is an appropriately intimidating Beast, Josh Gad was perfect for LeFou and Luke Evans is a surprisingly compelling Gaston. Like the rest of the human characters, the power in this Gaston’s portrayal is the understanding of the character without resorting to cartoonish or overly theatrical antics, grounding them (somewhat) in a realism that doesn’t undercut the film’s necessary histrionics and melodrama.
Getting to the primary castle characters, Thompson was the right choice for Mrs. Potts and Sir Ian McKellan was spot-on for Cogsworth. If I had to be a little nitpicky, I might not have chosen Ewan McGregor for Lumiere. Don’t get me wrong, he does very well with the character, appropriately alive and vibrant in his vocal performance, but he wouldn’t have been my first choice.
And not to waste too much time on it, but the much rabble-roused ‘gay’ moment for LeFou isn’t as significant as you might hope. It’s wonderful to have an LGBTQ character in such a major blockbuster, no doubt, but its importance to the plot has been well overemphasized. All we see from Gad’s LeFou are a handful of instances of him fawning after Gaston and finally dancing with another male character for a split second in the finale. It doesn’t match up with effeminate gay male stereotypes, but it has no overall significance in the plot, or even the character himself, as LeFou isn’t given enough screen time to separate himself from most of the supporting players.
Perhaps expected though enjoyable all the same, Beauty and the Beast is light, agreeably entertaining fare that won’t rustle too many feathers – unless you’re not an LGBTQ ally – with some very well-performed music and gorgeous production value. Unless its pertinent to the social and political cues of the times or finds a way to tweak the original story, almost any remake is going to be unnecessary, but that shouldn’t strictly count against its overall worth. Judging for what it is and what the obvious intent was, it may not get the nomination for Best Picture like its predecessor, but this Beauty and the Beast is more than worthy of its place in the Disney catalogue.