If you know me, then you know I love a good Disney Original Classic. The Lion King (1994) is in my top ten favorite movies of all time, and I’ve seen Aladdin (1992), The Little Mermaid (1989), and Mulan (1998) more times than I can count (and many more I’m too lazy to write out). One that I have not seen more than maybe once or twice, however, is Beauty and the Beast (1991). Did it just not peak my interest? Did I not have it on VHS? Who knows. My point is I went into this live action adaptation with relatively level expectations, having only a base-level appreciation for the original and an all-too-familiarity with the standout songs. Per usual with Disney’s cult-fandom, director Bill Condon was tasked with adapting a “perfect” movie (to just about any hardcore Disney fan, the animated films are considered critically untouchable). It’s a hard task to take on, but given the box office success of Disney’s previous live action attempts, it is in fact possible to (successfully) adapt these movies.
The plot aligns closely with the 1991 original but, whether or not by Condon’s orders, there are a few unwelcome tweaks and changes, The Beast being characterized as a vain man-child as opposed to a boy comes to mind as one such offender. The movie is certainly enjoyable to look at and I give credit to the production and costume design. There’s nothing wrong with what was kept from the original so much as there is with what was added. All the newly added songs seem forced down audiences’ throats and I asked myself more than once, “Why do we need a song here?” The old songs make their rounds with new voices, and run-of-the-mill camerawork follows Emma Watson’s Belle as she journeys to the abandoned castle to find her captured father and meets the humanized relics. Even Emma Thompson’s rendition of the titular song is wonderful, but by the time the movie gets to that famous dance, it feels more like welcome relief than enjoyable celebration. The original movie has an 84-minute runtime and adding an extra 45 minutes makes this new adaptation feel more drawn out, not more engrossing. Kevin Kline’s Maurice has way too much screen time for a movie about his daughter, and I could care less what the Enchantress is doing during her free time when she’s not cursing castles and vain Frenchmen.
I thought the acting was right there, that is to say it wasn’t bad acting, with Luke Evans’ Gaston standing out, as well as Ewan McGregor’s Lumière. Those two are easily the best castings this movie has to offer and it’s a shame that an entire generation will now know Emma Watson as Belle as opposed to Hermione Granger, and I think just about anyone will agree with me as to which character is a better role model. I don’t have anything against Dan Stevens’ Beast, and I think he does his best with what the script gave him, but I couldn’t shake how unrealistic the CGI makeup looks. I get it, it’s tough to render a live-action… whatever he is. Maybe I just hold Disney to a higher standard – I mean you’re DISNEY. You can afford a better job than that. When I watch a movie like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and am convinced that I’m staring an ape in the face, I don’t expect to be fully aware that what I’m watching was made on a computer and rendered in a warehouse with aisles upon aisles of hard drives. There was this constant barrier between myself and the movie due to what I thought was Disney mailing it in on the most essential character.
It saddens me that I didn’t receive Beauty and the Beast (2017) as positively as I wanted. There are certainly signs of a great adaptation throughout the movie: Gaston is absurd to the point of being hilarious, and it never feels like Luke Evans is a carbon copy of the original villain. The same can be said about Josh Gad’s LeFou, who does his own take on the character instead of trying to rehash something as memorable as Jesse Corti’s rendition 16 years ago. Most of the talent finds a solid balance between the original and the new version, and I think Condon’s direction is where the movie falters the most. Instead of focusing on the relationship between Belle and Beast, as well as some more world building, he chooses minor (pretty much irrelevant) characters to flesh out and the result is a dragging runtime and mediocre-at-best choreography. “Be Our Guest” is delightful, thanks to McGregor’s voice acting, but everything on the screen during his moment is jarring to the point of being just nauseating.
Beauty and the Beast (1991) is, for all intents and purposes, a classic. That classic is certainly still visible in this new adaptation if you strip it down to its core, but with so much added, the finished product feels as if no one proofed anything to make sure it all came together. I don’t think this new version is bad by any sense of the word. I do, however, think that the bare minimum was done to make a satisfying blockbuster that Disney could bank on longtime fans/nostalgia-nuts crowding the theater to recite the lyrics to every song and claim, like with all the other live action ventures from Disney, that it was “perfect.” Instead of adding elements to improve on the original, it feels like Condon added for the sake of adding as he grasped at straws to make the movie relevant.
I was told by many people at work that I was ‘wrong’ about how I feel, so I guess I just don’t know how opinions work.