Disney’s latest live action retelling of one of its renaissance classics is Beauty and the Beast, one of its most beloved works, the one that was good enough to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. And it’s about . . . well, you all know the story, right? A handsome but selfish prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed to live as a beast until he can truly love someone and have them genuinely love him in return. Enter Belle (Emma Watson), a simple country girl who loves reading and becomes The Beast’s prisoner after freeing her father from his own imprisonment. Gradually, they develop a relationship as The Beast falls in love with her and Belle begins to witness his inner beauty. Tale as old as time.
I may as well begin my review with what I believe to be the film’s biggest problem by far – Emma Watson. I remember way back when I first heard of her casting as Belle and I was honestly optimistic since Watson was herself born in France, she’s very intelligent and can handle herself in action scenes. But then I started watching all the film trailers and I started getting worried; I believed her to be quite wooden and feared that she wouldn’t fit in at all to this classic film. Maybe I went into Beauty and the Beast with a hint of prejudice but overall, she is the film’s weakest link and threatens to derail the whole affair.
She essentially scowls and grimaces her way through the film’s opening scenes, occasionally forcing an unrealistic smile when required to do so. The opening scenes also prove that she fares the worst when it comes to the singing; she’s alright and she gives it all she’s got, God bless her, but she does oddly transition between English and American accents and is a little off-putting when singing. To her credit, she becomes more bearable and genuine in the middle of the film when she gets to loosen up and have a bit of camaraderie with Dan Stevens but ultimately, she doesn’t do Belle any justice as she doesn’t have her passion for reading/adventure, warmth, sweetness, determination, courage or genuine, caring nature. Honestly, I was disappointed every time she came back on screen!
In this film, Emma Watson plays Emma Watson. She ain’t Belle, no sir.
But how does the rest of the cast fare? Well, I really enjoyed Ewan McGregor as Lumière; even with his cod French accent, he is tons of fun and constantly keeps the energy levels at maximum, helping the film greatly. Similarly, Ian McKellen is a great comic foil, getting to do his whole “crotchety grandpa” bit as Cogsworth, having some charming chemistry with McGregor’s Lumière. We also have the great Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and she’s another welcome addition, bringing dignity and panache, though after Angela Lansbury, she had some pretty huge shoes to fill.
All in all, Lumière, Cogsworth and company are the heart of the film, the most entertaining and likeable by far. It’s also great that we get to see much more of their human selves than we saw in the original Disney film.
Elsewhere, Luke Evans is a great Gaston, though he wasn’t quite brutish and boorish enough (and I still maintain that Evans was more Gastonesque in High Rise) and Dan Stevens is a pretty good Beast, actually delivering some genuine laughs after a while but unfortunately, Kevin Kline is rather lifeless and dull as Maurice.
And I guess that we have to address the whole “gay LeFou” controversy; I’ll admit that Josh Gad camping it up was a bit unnecessary, I’m guessing it was all done to make LeFou more of a good guy, but certain countries banning the film because of it is certainly going too far and clearly ridiculous. I was actually really looking forward to watching Gad as LeFou, believing him to be a perfect choice but I actually felt that the campness actually held him back; I kinda wanted to see him clown it up a bit more . . .
On to the musical numbers. And they’re a mixed bag. As you might expect, the wonderful “Be Our Guest” is the highlight as it is incredibly rousing and is the scene most likely to get smiles and laughs. “Gaston” is another particularly good one as Luke Evans and Josh Gad perform brilliantly (well, Evans does come from the land of song 😉), though I’m definitely biased towards this number as its one of my favourites (it’s one of my mother’s favourites, so that’s how it became one of mine long ago!) Plus, Emma Thompson does as well as she can with “Tale as Old as Time”, though yet again, Angela Lansbury set an insurmountable bar on that one!
We also have some new numbers (I’m guessing they’re from the stage production) but they don’t really work as they are too “stagey” and simply serve as padding to beef up the runtime. The song that The Beast sings after Belle leaves is a perfect example – unnecessary and awkward.
Visually, the film is suitably pleasing; the character design is quite good, though nothing to write home about, and the CGI on The Beast was more pleasing than I thought it would be.
And I’m glad that I left the cinema just as Ariana Grande started singing. Ugh.