Ever since Disney decided to rehash all its beloved animated movies into live action iterations, it was inevitable that a tale as old as time like Beauty and the Beast was always going to be in line for the same treatment. Bill Condon takes the safe route for this classic tale as he retains most of the original story and all of its lovable characters, albeit some tweaks to some scenes and the questionable sexual orientation of a character. While Beauty and the Beast manages to hit most of the right notes with that , this modern take doesn’t really recapture the charming and dreamlike essence which made the 1991 version great enough to score a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
In provincial France, Emma Watson plays Belle, a bright and beautiful young woman who is ‘not like the rest of us’ according to what the film sings during her introduction. While her father, an inventor named Maurice (Kevin Kline), is out looking for a rose for her, he runs into the Beast (Dan Stevens) who imprisons him in his castle for being a thief. The Beast was once a self-centred and vain prince who was punished by a mysterious enchantress for being too judgemental of people. As part of the punishment he is cursed to look like a monstrosity – a half-man, half-animal hybrid. In order to break the curse, he must find someone to love him before all the petals on the rose he was given falls off. If he fails, he remains a beast forever.
If you were to plot the quality of songs throughout the movie in a chronological order on a graph, it would probably be in the shape of a ‘U’. Beauty and the Beast kicks off with the infectious opening number of ‘Belle (Little Town)’ and the songs which come afterwards fail to match up to the catchiness and brightness offered during the opening sequence, only picking up again when Gaston starts to belt out his narcissistic personal song, which is of course named ‘Gaston’. Beauty and the Beast finally hits its peak again when its signature theme ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is roused from the graveyard for the ballroom dance and only then does everything start to feel as sweet as it sounds.
A total of three new songs were added to the original extensive playlist which made the film a tad bit too choked up with song and dance. Tune after tune was crooned and it left little to no time for purposeful dialogue in some pivotal moments of the movie. Lyrics are always important in telling a great story in a musical but it served too much as the focal point for unravelling the chronicle and deepening the characters. It often felt like the songs were a substitute for storytelling through dialogue and action, which shouldn’t be the case at all.
Tonal inconsistencies stick out like a sore thumb and I am not a fan of it, let alone the ones in Beauty and the Beast. I’m not sure whether it is just me or the jaded quality of the screen in the cinema I was in but the movie was especially dark for what has always been a happy-ending fairy tale. Shouldn’t a story like Beauty and the Beast which possesses themes of love, hope and identity incorporate more light into its set pieces? It makes the optimistic setting of hope in breaking the curse feel awkward and I don’t remember spotting a slither of sunlight after the first act of the movie. It sometimes felt as though I was watching a scene from the Passion of the Christ – when the villagers start raising their pitchforks, rakes and fire torches, ready to kill something that they don’t quite understand a.k.a. Jesus Christ.
Sceptic killjoys of La La Land’s singing should feel immensely delighted that Emma Watson’s singing while better than Emma Stone’s, is thick on auto tune. The artificial flexing of the program’s vocal cords bleeding into Watson’s natural voice is sometimes so distractingly noticeable that it would make DJ Khaled proud. And at those moments when it is at the height of its prominence, I heave a sigh of relief that Emma Watson ditched La La Land to be a part of this. But take nothing away from what Watson brings to the table for Belle – while she is excellent in depicting the intelligent and well-read side of the titular character (partly because of her role as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador), she honestly felt like a slight miscast overall. I wouldn’t rate Watson as a great actress and it is reflected in the stiffness of her performance, whether it is during the dancing or the execution of her script.
Beauty and the Beast doesn’t necessarily try to outdo the 1991 classic, but it does do it justice by keeping true to the source material, fixing the glaring plot holes and expanding on the backstory of many characters – all of which will be pleasing to long-time fans. Ultimately, it is still a visually stunning and incredibly well-made homage to the beloved story and it is a hard to resist, dare I say even easily enjoyable experience for the newcomers.
Should you spend money on it? Yes
Directed by: Bill Condon
Screenplay by: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Based on: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen
Running time: 129 minutes