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“Beauty and the Beast” comes close, but still falls short

Faithfulness to the original may hamper rather than bolster this reboot.   |   Courtesy of movies.disney.com.au

 

Disney released their updated take on the age-old film “Beauty and the Beast” last Friday. Although audiences are still formulating their opinion, this movie will ultimately be judged by how well it stacks up to the original. The film added some smaller elements, like more backstory, but it still kept the core themes and scenes that made the 1991 version famous. It does everything the original did, just not as well.

prideful and headstrong

Emma Watson did a fine job portraying Belle, subtly altering the character. The Belle of this movie is a prideful and headstrong version. She is less endearing and kind than the original version. Her biggest challenge comes with having to follow up Paige O’Hara’s wonderful Broadway voice and Watson never reaches those heights. The result is a more modern and mellow vocal performance that occasionally impedes her character.

Her songs do not grab you like before. At times, Watson’s inability to sing with similar intensity and verve to O’Hara prevented her from conveying the passion for adventure that drives Belle. This is seen in the character's introduction when she is singing about wanting “more than this provincial life.” O’Hara’s massive pipes really drew you in and made you feel sympathy for her character. Watson does a good job, but she fails to really captivate like O’Hara did.

Dan Stevens plays the arrogant and self-absorbed prince who transforms into a beast by a guileful enchantress. His character differs from the original version. Stevens builds on the character of the Beast by portraying him less as an unsophisticated brute but giving him more of a sarcastic and morose wit — an interesting take on the character. The tradeoff was he just was not scary, and definitely not an ugly and nasty brute. That is not so much Stevens’ fault as it is the design of the character, but the Beast of it lacked any chilling or hair-raising qualities.

Shell of its former

Besides Belle and the Beast, famous characters return with the star-studded cast of Luke Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Kevin Kline as Maurice, Josh Gad as LeFou and the great Ian Mckellen as Cogsworth. Each of them do a great job in their respective roles, with Evans and McGregor standing out among the rest. The film took on the daunting task of recreating these famous animated characters with CGI. There were some points when the contrasting dynamic between live-action and animation caused the CGI characters to feel a bit awkward, as exemplified during the “Be Our Guest” segment. This famous song is hampered because the CGI characters do similar things that the animated characters did. While still enjoyable, the film’s attempt to translate what the animated characters were doing occasionally resulted in some awkwards moments. The CGI characters simply do not have the same vibrant and lively feeling that the animated version did. They feel a bit lifeless and stiff at times.

The film fails when it attempts to replicate the magic of the original. Director Bill Condon gave it a grand try, but it fails to stack up to the original. The film sticks too closely to the source material, not taking enough risks to be truly memorable. Most, if not all, of the additions to the story came in the form of added backstory, giving more insight into the past of characters. It makes the characters feel deeper than they did in the original, but perhaps more backstory is not what this tale needed.

“Beauty and the Beast” never truly treaded new ground and it did not do much to stand up on its own, hitting all the same beats but never becoming its own film. The film may have benefited from the approach that Jon Favreau took with “The Jungle Book” in 2016. Favreau took the famous characters and setting, but he altered the plot just enough to make it his own which was more than just a remake of the original. However, I think if they changed the plot too much, many fans would have lost their minds in anger, but good filmmaking takes risks and tries new things. I enjoyed watching the film, but I could not get past the fact that I had seen it all before in the 1991 version.

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