I went into the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast with certain expectations, given that the soundtrack of the 1991 animated version lit up my sixth Christmas… and most of the rest of that year. I played that VHS tape on repeat and knew every song by heart. It has a special place in my heart, and I desperately wanted this remake to hold the same magic and wonder. Sadly, it is a pale (if mostly entertaining) replica of a cinematic masterpiece.
The story hasn’t been changed, except to add a few,small details that are interesting but unnecessary. And no, the “change” made to LeFou doesn’t count, because it ended up in an actual total of eight seconds in the film. So let’s break down what worked and what didn’t.
The supporting cast is incredible. Even though they are mostly animated, the A-list cast for the enchanted servants deliver a delightful performance that’s rich with the heart and magic of the original film. Additionally, the village and servants’ wing is filled with obscure character actors bringing their moments on screen such pomp and excitement that I could feel the joy that must have gone into their production. Gaston and LeFou provide the perfect blend of bad guy and comic relief sidekick – I could not picture a better casting for either character.
The art direction is really what steals the show. While clearly set in 18th century France, the magical elements creeping in everywhere give the rococo style a Gothic flair that is completely new, and frames the story beautifully. When Belle’s father enters the Beast’s castle for the first time, I was half expecting the walls themselves to come alive. And the visual design of each of the servants-in-furniture-form was at once practical, comical, and perfectly anthropomorphized. Even the coat rack – who never speaks – had a distinct personality and vitality. The exquisite special effects are probably the strongest argument for seeing this film in 3D and in a theater.
However, there is a fundamental problem with a movie where the furniture and the bad guy are more impressive than your hero and protagonist. I adore Emma Watson. She’s a good actor and a fantastic human being, leaving a legacy that goes beyond her acting chops. However, she was made to look small in the role of Belle because she simply could not carry the musical elements of any of her songs. When Watson came out in her first scene with the iconic notes of, “Little town, it’s a quiet village….” my heart sank. It was like I was listening to an auto-tuned fangirl covering the song for YouTube. Belle is written as a smart girl, and even in this updated version is presented as a bookish inventor with a heart as big as the wide world she wants to explore. But so much of that is communicated through song. And in casting an actress that really (no, I mean REALLY) can’t sing, the studio completely undercut that part of her character. The Beast is a little better. He, at least, could belt some of his songs. But every time either Belle or Beast started to sing, I wished that we could do another Gaston number.
The lack of melodic talent from the principal actors crippled the musical elements of the show. Everything was slowed down. Everything was lacking feeling. And the end result was that the musical numbers that had been the heart of the original movie, and had spawned a Tony-winning Musical, were distractingly bad. In addition, the cinematography couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a shot-for-shot recreation of the original, or if it wanted to be it’s own film. I’d be anticipating moments that I loved in the original, only to have the rug pulled out from under me as we cut to a slower, more expository variation on what I remembered.
I left wishing for so much more than the production had delivered. Aladdin (another classic favorite of mine) is up next, and with the Box Office numbers from the weekend, Disney will likely deliver the same treatment of A-list casting at the expense of musical ability. As long as it makes money, they have no reason to change. I just hope that maybe, by some twist of fate or studio politics, they will let good artistry take the lead over sensational headliners.
About Our Rating System:
The Loresworn Order reviews games, movies, TV, books, and music on a four-point scale.
No Medal, “Not Recommended”