Beauty and The Beast satisfies visually but lacks in full emotional appeal
It’s been one of the more anticipated films of the year and coupled with the public’s desire for nostalgia, it’s safe to say that the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast film will be a success at the box office. But is it a good movie, or rather does it do its original beloved source material justice?
The answer is a mixed bag because while the movie is certainly visually appealing, it lacks the emotional appeal of the animated original. It is emotionally underwhelming in fact and for a story that is built on love and redemption, it’s disappointing, to say the least. If this film version were the original that Disney first presented its unlikely we would be calling it a classic, or be seeing it remade 26 years down the road.
The 2017 version follows the 1991 film fairly closely, including the iconic songs and score of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The performances of these songs are done well and prove that the power of the music first heard over two decades ago is still very effective. There are a number of new songs written for this version of the movie, that while are moderately pleasant, do not have that same excellence or memorable nature as the original songs.
While the storyline is similar to the original, more back-story has been added to the characters of Belle and the Beast which ultimately doesn’t add the desired increased depth the filmmakers were going for. Other characters like Maurice and Le Fou are actually better developed in this film, but in the end, these fleshing’s out don’t make the story any more compelling and just adds to the film’s length. Compare the original’s runtime of just over 80 minutes to the live action’s 129-minute duration.
Emma Watson is a confident Belle, but the most memorable is surely Luke Evans’ Gaston. He steals the spotlight in whatever scene he’s in, and while not as overtly masculine as the original it’s a good time whenever he’s on screen. As for the gayness of Le Fou, if you blink you’ll miss it. It’s something so slight that if you haven’t been told about it, you wouldn’t guess. It was a ploy by the filmmakers to generate conversation, and it certainly did that.
Visually speaking the effects, costumes and set design are good and capture the look audiences would want. The castle staff end up being well animated (despite early concerns) and sequences like the “Be our Guest” musical number are fun. But in the end, it all goes back to emotion, and though there is emotion no doubt in this film it does not feel to the level of the original and is frankly not nearly as moving.
This is not to say the filmmakers have made a cold film, empty of humanity but I could not help but feel wanting just a little more, especially in terms of the love Belle develops for Beast. Perhaps this is because the original has become so ingrained in the mind that any deviation would disappoint.
The final scene of the Beast’s transformation was however very emotionally underwhelming; this is the emotional high point of the original and was animated so beautifully with Menken’s rousing score that it still brings some tears to the eyes today. The live action version of this moment was simply not as effective. It is a further testament to the beauty of hand drawn animation. Lines on paper can bring out the emotions of sadness and joy in the most wonderful way.
In the end, this live action version is a worthwhile see and does contain a number of goodies. The songs are generally good (more musically inclined viewers may pick up the occasional auto-tuning), the design and visual effects are pleasing and the acting is commendable. It is ultimately a question of heart however and though it presents the same story as the animated original, it doesn’t have the emotional hold the 1991 version had.
As was mentioned earlier, this version would most likely not be in people’s hearts as the original is if this was produced first. Looking at this film as a whole, it really makes one appreciate just how special the animated one is. As Disney moves forward with other live action projects of their celebrated animated cannon, let’s remember that the cartoon classics are classics for a reason. I think it’s time to re-watch the original Beauty and The Beast.