In Disney’s cinematic canon there seems to be no entry more revered than 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast”. The film was the first of very few animated features to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. And with remakes and reboots being incredibly trendy recently, it makes sense that the film would be one of the studio’s first to get a live-action makeover
However, remakes are tricky: stray too far from the source and risk alienating fans of the original, but stick too closely to the source material and become absolutely unnecessary.
The 2017 remake, directed by Bill Condon, stumbles more in the latter category, though not without trying desperately to differentiate the film from its predecessor.
The plot is similar, other than a few tweaks made here and there, and does very little to deviate from the fairytale from which it derives.
Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent, beautiful and ambitious girl, dreams of giving up her small town existence, which includes daily come-ons from the town’s resident hyper-masculine oaf, Gaston (Luke Evans), in order to pursue a life of adventure.
After her father is taken prisoner by a hideous Beast (Dan Stevens) in an outlandishly elegant castle filled with enchanted clocks, candelabras and teapots, Belle offers to take his place. Instead of letting Belle rot in a cell, as the beast intends, the autonomous objects decide her arrival signals a fateful opportunity: If Belle were to fall in love with the Beast, the curse set upon both them and the castle would be broken.
Casting Watson as Belle is nothing short of genius as she effortlessly embodies Belle’s determined spirit, helping to elevate the character from love-struck princess to feminist hero.
Despite Watson’s compelling performance, her musical presence is lacking at the very least. That is to say almost the entirety of her vocal performance is unforgivably auto-tuned, resulting in vocals so robotic one has to wonder if
Watson’s vocal work would be more rightfully credited to the computer that processed them. This is the film’s most glaring misstep, and immediately destroys any immersion the film works to create.
The rest of the veteran cast hold their own. Highlights include Ewan McGregor and Sir Ian McKellen skillfully perform as Lumière and Cogsworth respectively, but the material is so derivative of the original that they can never really differentiate themselves from their animated predecessors.
The only striking difference in character is Lefou (Josh Gad), who Disney revealed to be its first openly-gay character shortly before the film was released. However, Gad’s stereotypical performance does little more than render Lefou a caricature whose unrequited pining for Gaston is always the butt of the joke. The move is insulting to the LGBTQ community, playing more as pandering than progress.
This blatant attempt to shoehorn diversity, along with the film’s other slight deviations, including its marvelous live-action visual effects and grand orchestral score, feels like nothing more than a distraction, a spectacle whose purpose merely justifies the film’s right to exist.
But the film can never quite stand on its own, and only really succeeds in reminding audiences of how relevant the original still is.
As a result, “Beauty and the Beast” serves as nothing more than an empty reminder of what to avoid when remaking a movie, and considering the number of live action retreads Disney has already announced, let’s hope for one truly worthy of standing on its own.