The 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is arguably the best movie that Walt Disney Animation Studios has ever produced. It was the first animated movie to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. So it’s needless to say that the live-action remake has a lot to live up to. In general, a remake should stay true to its original source while taking the material in a unique direction. Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t seem concerned with doing anything different. The new film is indeed faithful to the original, but its strict adherence to the structure of the animated version is ultimately what cripples it.
Beauty and the Beast is not a bad film. In fact, there are several things about it which left me completely charmed. This is a gorgeous looking movie, with stunning costume and production design. The motion-capture work on the CGI characters is excellently rendered and breath-taking. The casting is also very inspired. On paper, Emma Watson is a great choice to portray a new version of Belle. Luke Evans walks a fine line between funny and menacing as Gaston. Dan Stevens does an admirable job as the Beast. However, the best casting choices are demonstrated by the supporting players. Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson provide the voices of the enchanted objects in the Beast’s castle, and they all bring a comedic element to the somewhat-dreary situation.
Even though Emma Watson seems like an ideal Belle, her performance actually left me disappointed. Some of her acting choices left me quite puzzled. At times, she seems to give off a slightly cocky attitude, which is the opposite of how Belle should be characterized. She also has trouble with some of her musical numbers, and it’s clear that her voice was slightly modified in post-production. She is certainly a talented actress, but this was far from her best work.
In general, this film feels slavish compared to the animated version. If you’ve seen the original film many times, you’ll be able to predict how nearly every scene will play out and in what order they arrive in. The writers did add some new material to flesh out some of the characters’ backstories, and there are also a few new songs. However, none of these changes feel substantial, and they leave little impact on the film as a whole. Some of the major sequences aren’t even as well-directed as the original.
Disney has churned out several live-action remakes of their animated classics. Some are better than others, but each has managed to take the old premise and present it in a unique way. In comparison to Cinderella and The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast just feels lazy. This is not a bad movie, but when comparing it to its older sibling, I was disappointed.