Despite this being a remake that nobody really seemed to be asking for, Disney created a delightful adaptation of a beloved animated classic.
I think we all know this story by now. The story is much the same as it was in the 1991 movie, with a few small tweaks.
A conceited prince (Dan Stevens) is punished by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan). The enchantress comes to the prince as a hag seeking shelter from a storm. When the prince turns her away, she curses the prince to have the appearance of a beast so that he can learn to appreciate more than outer beauty. She also curses his castle and everyone who lives there to become household items. The curse will be broken if the prince can find true love. She also leaves him with a rose. The curse will become irreversible once the last petal falls from the rose. Years pass, and the beast and his staff begin to lose hope that the curse will ever be broken.
In the nearby town a young girl, Belle (Emma Watson), dreams of living a life bigger than the box that her small minded neighbors would put her in. She’s the only literate woman in town, and an inventor. She lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) after the passing of her mother in Paris. Belle is looked down upon by most of the townspeople. One of the few exceptions is the local hero Gaston (Luke Evans), who is determined to woo and marry Belle.
On her birthday, her father goes out to conduct business. She asks him to bring her a rose, a remembrance for her mother. When Maurice is attacked by wolves on his way home, he seeks refuge at a mysterious castle. He goes inside to discover magical talking flatware and decides to hit the road. Before he does, he spots a rose garden and decides to stop and pick a rose for his daughter. When he does this, he is taken prisoner by the Beast as a thief. When Maurice’s freaked out horse returns home by himself, Belle is afraid that something has happened. She has the horse take her back to where her father is. When she arrives at the castle, she discovers him taken prisoner. Not wanting her father to die in captivity, she agrees to take his place.
Seeing Belle as their chance to break the curse, the castle’s servants try to make her feel more at home. It’s the same crew that’s familiar to Disney audiences, with a some small changes. Mrs. Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson), her son Chip the cup (Nathan Mack), Plumette the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), Madame Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald), Maestro Cadenza the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci) and their leader, Lumiere the candlestick (Ewan McGregor). Lumiere takes on the role of Belle’s host, regularly defying the Beast’s more strict decrees. The servants start to win Belle over and convince her that the Beast is actually a good person. They reveal to her that he was twisted by a cruel father after the premature passing of his mother. The servants also reveal that they hold themselves responsible for not helping shape him into a better person. Belle gets a better glimpse of this when she flees the castle. She is attacked by the same wolves that attacked her father, only to be rescued by the Beast. When she sees that the Beast is injured, Belle decides to take him back to the castle and care for him instead of escaping.
Back in town, Maurice is seeking help to save his daughter. He finds it in the form of Gaston and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad). Gaston believes that helping Maurice will win him Belle’s hand, even though he doesn’t believe Maurice. When the search becomes uncomfortable, Gaston knocks Maurice out and leaves him for the wolves. Maurice is saved by Agathe (aka, the enchantress in disguise) but, when he tells the townspeople what Gaston did, Gaston accuses him of being mad.
At the castle, Belle and the Beast have been getting to know each other. The Beast reveals that he is very well read and opens up his library to her. He also shows Belle a book left by the enchantress that allows him to travel anywhere in the world. When he allows Belle to use it, she goes back to her childhood home in Paris. They are able to figure out that Belle’s mother died of the plague. Eventually, the Beast realizes that he cares for Belle and starts to tell her. Realizing that she needs to see her father, he allows her to look into his magic mirror and check up on him. Upon seeing that Belle’s father is being locked away by Gaston, the Beast allows her to return to him. He also allows her to keep the mirror in order to look in on him.
Belle arrives in town just in time to prove to the people that her father isn’t crazy by showing them the Beast in the mirror. Gaston immediately spins this story to make it seem that the Beast has enchanted Belle. He leads the townspeople in a charge to kill the beast. When they arrive at the castle, the Beast is in no mood to fight. Believing that Belle isn’t coming back, he sits atop the castle while the servants try to fight off the mob.
Belle and Maurice are able to free themselves, and Belle races back to the Castle. She finds Gaston at the top of the castle trying to kill the Beast. When she calls out to him, the Beast is re-energized and is able to beat Gaston. He tells him to leave, which Gaston pretends to do before shooting the Beast in the back. As the Beast dies, and the time runs out on the curse, Belle tells the Beast that she loves him. As she says this, Agathe appears in the Beast’s chamber and undoes the curse.
With everyone returned to their human form, the townspeople begin to remember the prince and his castle. The movie ends with a huge party, where the Prince and Belle dance together among the townspeople and the Prince’s servants.
What did I think?
It’s really hard to talk about this movie without trying to compare it to the 1991 animated film. A big part of what this movie is doing is trying to recreate that movie and the feelings it evoked. The other thing that the movie is trying to do is create something memorable or unique that it’s predecessor didn’t. It’s definitely better at doing the former. I didn’t leave this movie feeling like anything had been added to the story of Beauty and the Beast. I just felt like I had watched a good adaptation of something that I enjoyed when I was a kid.
It’s not a shot-for-shot remake, but it doesn’t stray very far from it. There are even several scenes and images that are directly recreated on screen. Not to mention that lots of the dialogue is also the same. The biggest changes to the story are the fact that some small details are filled in, like what happened to Belle’s mother. There are also some tweaks to the characters’ backgrounds. We now know that Belle is the only literate woman in her village. The Beast is also revealed to have a messed up childhood and is likened to Belle a bit more by also having a missing mother. The most hyped change was the revelation that LeFou is gay, even though that fact really only affects a couple of small moments in the movie. These added bits of plot were nice tidbits, but not significant additions.
The real task this movie had to accomplish was finding a way to convert animation to live action or, in this case, live action with a very heavy dose of CGI. Traditionally, I am not a fan of CGI in movies, but it’s definitely the medium that makes sense to do this remake in. For 90% of the film, it works very well. I loved the way that the servants looked. They had a very gothic feel and remained very expressive. I also have to mention the visuals for “Be our Guest”. I don’t recall ever seeing the visuals that you would usually see in a 2D animation sequence done with CGI like that. It was beautiful and very impressive. It was completely over the top, in the best way, with all kinds of allusions to different stage performances like Chicago and Moulin Rouge. I also have to point out that all of the music, not just this performance, was produced and composed brilliantly. They really forced it to have a much bigger impact than it did in the original film.
Unfortunately, the 10% of the movie that didn’t work for me was, perhaps, the most important. I did not like the Beast. He felt like he sat on top of the scenery instead of being a part of it. On top of that, he wasn’t very expressive at all. Even during his solo, I never got a strong sense that there was any emotion coming out of the character. I could hear it in the voice, but I just couldn’t see anything to go along with it. The Beast was definitely better off as a 2D character.
The human characters actually seemed to benefit from being real actors, at least the primary characters. I still prefer a lot of the side characters, like Mr. Potts in their traditional animation. However, Belle, Maurice, Gaston and LeFou were all great as humans. In some ways, I thought they were actually enhanced. While Emma Watson might not have been quite as strong a singer (and that’s splitting hairs), she really sold the side of Belle as a strong female protagonist. She made her look strong as much as anything else, even cutting some heroic poses here and there. I thought that Maurice had a lot more to do in this movie than I ever remember him doing in the previous film. He also seemed to have a much stronger connection with his daughter. Gaston and LeFou’s chemistry shines through a lot better as well. Their performance of the song “Gaston” really showed how the actors were good at filling in small moments with each of these characters.
Overall, this movie is very fun. It might not have been something that “needed” to happen, but I’m glad that I did. It allowed me to revisit a beloved story without feeling like the story was being infringed upon. It’s the perfect balance between trying to update a movie while keeping the story intact.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
- Very faithful to the original material while still managing to add some depth to the story
- Every member of the star-studded cast delivers
- They don't try to
- The visuals in
- Pushes the right nostalgia buttons
- It's hard to get much more out of this than you would have gotten out of the original
- Beast just doesn't work as well as a CGI character, there's a real lack of expression / emotion in a lot of his scenes