Hot Take: It’s great to see a live action version of one of Disney’s greatest films. Emma Watson is wonderful. Did it need to be more cartoonish than the cartoon though?
After the financial success of The Jungle Book, bringing any animated tale to life makes fiscal sense for Disney. The choice of Beauty and the Beast, though, is a no brainer as it is one of Disney’s best and must human cartoons of all-time. There’s so much humanity and emotion in the original animated version, it was nominated for Best Picture in 1991 eventually losing to The Silence of the Lambs. That does pose a challenge for the live action update as it has rather large shoes to fill unlike The Jungle Book which was never really one of Disney’s best films.
The live action update of Beauty and the Beast works in a lot of ways. First, Emma Watson being cast as Belle is nearly perfection. She embodies the strong-willed brilliance of the character and is very believable as the beautiful but odd girl from that small provincial town in France. The voices chosen for the anthropomorphic objects of the Beast’s castle are also selected well with the highlights being Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, the head of the Beast’s household staff who is now a clock and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, the head of the kitchen who is now a teapot. Like the original, these two capture the humanity of the characters despite their lack of human form.
There’s not enough of that in the live action version though. The rest of the characters and the movie itself has a habit of going overboard and becoming a more cartoonish version of its animated inspiration. I remember seeing The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas a few years back and thinking how adding all the elements of Las Vegas stripped away some of the most important elements that made The Phantom of the Opera great. It was a lively production and very entertaining but something was missing. The same can be said for Beauty and the Beast. From the opening number, it is incredibly entertaining and nostalgia rules the initial reactions. However, once the film settles into its grove, it becomes overly theatrical and almost Vegas-like in its grand musical numbers and lavish sets. It wouldn’t be as damning if it didn’t have to walk in the shadow of a near perfect animated classic that we’re nearly three decades removed from.
As a huge fan of the original, I highly recommend the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast for nostalgic reasons alone. However, don’t be surprised if you’re a little disappointed in the finished product or find yourself wanting to go back and re-watch the animated version because, well, it just works better. The one thing on its side though is the fact that the film not only tells a tale as old as time but one that is timeless and works in any generation. So, even with its flaws, it’s still a rather enjoyable night for everyone at the movies.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Emma Watson
Watson has done the best of escaping the shadow of the Harry Potter films which is amazing considering Daniel Radcliffe has gone as far as playing a flatulent corpse. Watson is great as Belle and her singing voice isn’t half bad either even if it is aided by auto-tune.
- The Musical Numbers
One of the best things about the animated classic is its music. From “Belle” to “Be Our Guest” to “Something There” the music works just as well in the live action update as it did in the animated classic. Plus, they’ve updated “Beauty and the Beast” with Ariana Grande and John Legend if you stick around through the credits. (Or download it on iTunes.)
- Emotional Heft
The relationship between Belle and the Beast is as spectacular as the animated version and the emotion is as real as the first run through the story.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Some Things Just Don’t Work When They Aren’t Animated
There’s a suspension of disbelief when you see something animated and I’m not talking about anthropomorphic objects here. The climactic siege of The Beast’s Castle by the townsfolk just comes off as odd when it isn’t animated and overall it loses a dose of reality that the animated version survives.
- The LeFou Controversy
Josh Gad’s interpretation of LeFou has received a decent amount of backlash for being a more openly gay character. The film isn’t as open as the controversy makes it out to be and after seeing the film, it almost feels as if the controversy was drummed up for publicity. LeFou has always been enamored with Gaston and the film does nothing less than play on that. But, as far as controversy goes, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.