I try not to get excited about new movies and this is why. I love the original animated Disney Beauty & the Beast (which I have mentioned before in my Favored Fairytales entry on the subject). But I also love the idea of a Beauty humanizing a Beast in general. It’s such a compelling story, so I was looking forward to seeing a live action adaptation. I was curious to see how they would play the story, what kind of depth would be imparted to the characters, a new spin on a “tale as old as time.”
What I got was an often inferior carbon copy of the original animated version.
I cannot express how much this disappoints me. Don’t get me wrong; the movie isn’t bad per se. I don’t feel like I should demand my money back or that I wasted my time. It’s competently done. The singing (for the most part) is good, the CGI passable, the sets rich and ornate (albeit over-Baroqued), the costumes were pretty, and I enjoyed the talking furniture. There are some good moments between Belle and her father, both Gaston and LeFou were entertaining, and some of the plot holes from the animated film were explained (like how Gaston knew where the castle was, what happened to Belle’s mother, and why everyone didn’t seem to know that a giant, impossible-to-miss castle was sitting within a day’s ride of the village).
There were so many things they could have done to enrich the characters, to deepen the story, that were missed. What depth the animated version had was mostly lost in the translation to live action, and what backstory there was felt pasted in as an afterthought rather than integrated into the film.
While I could go on at length pointing out all the flaws of the film (which others have done in great detail), I want to focus on three main points whose poor execution crippled the live action film:
1) LACK OF CHEMISTRY
While I liked Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast, I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two of them, which is crucial in a film where one of the romantic partners isn’t even human! (The romance between the wardrobe and the harpsicord was more compelling and believable than between Belle and the Beast.) There are two key reasons for this. First, in the animated version, Belle spends at least a month at the castle before returning to her father. In the live action version, she’s there about a week. That is not enough time for a romance to blossom. Second, so many of the lines that should have been said by a main character are said by furniture instead! In the live action version, the Beast never admits that he loves Belle; Cogsworth says it for him. That is a key moment for him, a turning point in his life, and it was stolen.
Nearly all of their interactions feel like they are saying the lines because that’s what the script says, not because the characters actually feel those emotions. The only exception was when the Beast introduced Belle to the library. That was the only scene between them that felt genuine. The film tried to make up for this lack by tacking on backstory that is either never explored in more detail or is woefully executed. Their little “bonding moment” in Belle’s old home (which, by the way, would have been burned to the ground if the plague had visited) was completely inadequate. (And if they had this magical Book of Teleportation, why doesn’t Belle use it to return to the village and save her father?)
2) MISPLACED EMPHASIS
I expected, especially in a modern film, for us to spend more time with Belle and the Beast as they get to know one another, but instead, I think we actually got less screen time with them than in the original. Heck, we get more time with the talking furniture than with the main characters! (I almost wish that they would do more like the original tale where the servants are invisible or wraith-like rather than objects so they wouldn’t eat up so much time with comedy. But that wouldn’t sell more toys, now would it?) A lot of valuable time that should have been spent developing the relationship between Belle and the Beast was sacrificed for the sake of the musical numbers, which are okay in animated films, but I loath in live action ones. (Especially when we already know these songs and, quite frankly, saw them done better.)
For example, the Beast should not have sung when Belle left. His single roar of anguish in the animated version was far more moving to me than the musical number we had to endure in the live action. Not because Dan Stevens sang poorly, but because it undercut the drama of the scene and the feel of the character. A short duet with Belle is about as much as the Beast should have sung, if singing had to happen at all. Which it didn’t need to.
3) MUDDLED TONE
The film couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be a live action cartoon or a more realistic tale of love and drama. In the beginning of the film, especially with the singing and Gaston, it feels like the former. Gaston feels especially flat and cartoonish, and not nearly as menacing as he turns out to be in the animated version. But then the interactions with Belle and her father or with Belle teaching the little girl to read feel so realistic and human that it’s jarring. The movie flips like this throughout (although I’d have to watch it a few more times to note all the places this happens.) It needed to be one or the other but tried to be both and, in my estimation, failed.
I think that, because the live action Cinderella didn’t do very well, Disney got scared and decided they would just remake the version everyone knows and loves, just with real people. Personally, even though the live action Cinderella isn’t a great film, I found it more compelling than this version of Beauty and the Beast. I wish they’d decided to do something more like Ever After, which is clearly Cinderella, but with it’s own unique spin. At least then we would have had something new to watch.
There’s a host of other plot, character, and cinematic problems with 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. According to my personal preference, that is. I know that a lot of people, especially kids, enjoyed the live action Beauty and the Beast, and I don’t begrudge them that. I just wish that Disney had taken the opportunity to showcase the depth and power of this story in a new way. It could have been so much more than a visually updated repeat of an old song.
So if you like it, go ahead and enjoy. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.