The 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most revered classics. It’s a masterpiece. So when a live-action remake was announced, it was all but certain that it was going to pale in comparison. And it turning out to be something superior is an impossibility. Hence, since it would be a lesser film no matter what it does, there’s only one approach left for it to take to avoid being a hated remake; that is, to essentially duplicate as much of the immaculate essence of its source material as it could – meaning it should retell the animated classic in live-action form down to a T.
That’s exactly what the live-action Beauty and the Beast smartly does. It executes the original movie’s notable sequences and key musical numbers with minimal deviation. Except for the addition of a few extra plot points, scenes, and songs, the movie is generally a beat-for-beat live-action reproduction of the animated movie, as many scenes are conveyed shot-for-shot and many lines are delivered word-for-word.
And it worked! When a gorgeous imitation is based on an embodiment of perfection, it might not be as perfect as the original, but it’s still gorgeous. A well-shot photograph of the Grand Canyon won’t be as glorious as the actual Grand Canyon, but it’s still beautiful to look at. The original animated movie is the Grand Canyon, and the live-action remake is the gorgeous photograph.
In fact, it is when the times the movie tries to do something different that its quality starts to dip. Belle is already one of the best-layered Disney Princesses, and yet she is given this distracting, pointless backstory that doesn’t add anything to her character. There’s also repeated emphasis to articulate that the Beast has a mean personality because he had daddy issues. They’re just there to add additional drama, but they failed to lead to anything notably rewarding. Rather, I found them annoying. In addition, the new song numbers aren’t that impactful either.
Visually, the movie is sumptuous to behold. It can’t match the glorious aesthetics of the animated film, but there’s an admirable effort to be meticulous and exquisite.
The CGI work on the Beast is particularly fantastic and realistic. Seeing him go all adorably awkward or helplessly in love with Belle is extremely charming. I’m not sure if this can be entirely attributed to the CGI or actor Dan Stevens deserves as much credit. If it’s the latter, then kudos to him.
The cast is a delight. Sure, what’s easily noticed about this movie is Emma Watson – the Emma Watson, Hermione Granger herself – as Belle. She’s great, but she’s not quite the best thing about this movie. Though they mostly did voice work for this movie, I was thrilled of the excessive talent that made up the Beast’s ensemble of servants: Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, and Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe. Kevin Kline, as Belle’s father, also displayed subtly impeccable comedic timing and dramatic handle.
But the greatest thing in this movie is Luke Evans, who is a magnificent bastard of a Gaston. He flawlessly played the “villain you’d love to hate (and punch)” persona. The funniest moments of this movie are when Gaston goes overly narcissistic and smug, celebrating how much of an “amazing” person he supposedly is. (There’s also this scene where Le Fou calms an enraged Gaston by telling him to think of his “happy place”, which happens to be when he was still a soldier at war. How hilariously absurd this Gaston is!)
So, overall, Beauty and the Beast is another continuation of Disney’s “live-action remake” winning streak (I’m most excited about Mulan now). And, again, it’s a success because it just replicates its source material. However, there’s also a sense of trickery at play there. Yes, this movie had me smiling. It gave me the feels. But, come to think of it, I felt this way towards it because it was simply channelling a beloved classic. I was smiling because of sequences and songs I’ve been fondly familiar with for years. I had the feels because the love story of Beauty and the Beast (the animated one) has always had such effect on me, as I consider it the greatest romantic movie of all time. So the live-action remake just essentially re-directed what love I had for the original to itself.
I enjoyed watching Beauty and the Beast (live-action remake) because I’ve always loved re-watching Beauty and the Beast (the original animated movie). Since the former was replicating the latter, then it was as if I was just re-watching the latter for the nth time. I was manipulated.
In this sense, then, though Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful remake, it’s also a fundamentally unnecessary one. If watching it is basically like watching the original animated movie – a cinematic masterpiece – then isn’t it much more rewarding to just go watch the original again?