Despite a Few Bumps, Disney’s Update of “Beauty & the Beast” is Absolutely Charming

These Disney live-action remakes were an obnoxious oddity for me until Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Bookbeauty-beast-cast-tweets last year. When they announced a live-action remake of Beauty & the Beast I was tentative. Emma Watson as Belle, that’s a no brainer, but a full live-action remake sounded worrisome. Then the rest of the casting came pouring in – Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, it all sounded pretty great. I shook my head at the casting of Luke Evans as Gaston (he’s not slick as Gaston, quick as Gaston, his necks not incredibly thick like Gaston) but even that was not enough to keep me from getting a little excited.

I have to admit that while I still have problems with the movie, it’s pretty damned enchanting.

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The film rides heavily on nostalgia to sell itself and it works like a charm in places. The visuals are glossy versions of the story we’ve already grown up seeing, the characters fairly well brought to life (come on, we all knew LeFou was in love with Gaston from way back), and the music remains gorgeous. In fact the entirety of “Be Our Guest” in live action may have been one of the most fun things I’ve seen in a film up to this point in the year, it’s a blast.

The performances carry a lot of the film. Emma Watson is a fine Belle, adorable and entertaining, and Dan Stevens is another decent addition to the cast as The Beast (seeing him in human form with flowing Fabio hair is one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in the film, at least for those who’ve seen The Guest and remember him as a menacing badass) but it really is Gad’s LeFou and Evan’s Gaston that shine through ere.

I’ll be honest, I was most worried about Gaston. That character is so overwhelming (as large, in fact, as a barge) in the animated film that recasting him in a live-action setting is something that was going to be something nigh-on impossible to satisfy. Yet, somehow, Disney got it together and let Luke Evans completely go for it in a wild cacophony of crazy. Gaston is, in fact, one of the most narcissistic and self-involved performances I’ve seen onscreen and he has been given free reign here. This is loud, bombastic, and ridiculous and it works03-gad-beauty-beast-w600-h315-2x so excellently. LeFou, on the other hand, is a bit over-the-top and in any other setting that might not work but when held up next to Luke Evan’s performance he’s given just enough room to shine and bring the laughs as well as establish his own character arc. I’m just blatantly surprised at how much I enjoyed these two in the film.

My issues lie, unfortunately, with the pacing and the new pieces of the plot. I get it, Disney wanted to add a few new songs to extend the film to two hours and update it a bit for a modern audience by inserting some new scenes and ideas. The frustrating part is how hit or miss (mostly miss) these additions are. Dan Stevens performance is fine, but when we have to hear him sing a reprise of a monologue he just delivered merely to have another musical number it slows the film down. In fact this film seems too long in a places and trimming these additions is, sadly, the way to fix it. The only time the magic truly lets up are these moments. Even the additions to the characters’ backstories, the work they do to give them depth and things to bond over, works for the most part (they even tangentially add little details from the original fairy tale). It just doesn’t work melodically.

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I adore Emma Watson. I think she’s a fantastic actress who, thanks to Harry Potter, has established a wonderful career for herself. That said…maybe singing isn’t her thing. I like her songs, but especially following in the wake of La La Land (and the reveal that she was originally supposed to be the lead in that film) it is hard to listen to her voice being autotuned to the correct pitch in the opening number. She holds her own decently enough from that point on, it was not a great first impression and unfortunately taints the performance a little bit. The girl has many talents and singing is kind of one of them, it just might not be one she should rely heavily on.

Overall this is a gorgeous film to look at, full of fun performances and characters and interactions (McGregor’s commitment to that hammy French accent is amazing, it’s great). This is a family film that hits all marks and can satisfy fans of the original film while bringing a new generation a more-than-serviceable update to the classic. It’s worth the ticket price, it’s worth the time, and Be Our Guest is going to be stuck in your head for days and really…is that, in any way, a bad thing?

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