Film: Beauty and the Beast
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen
This live-action version of Beauty and the Beast directed by Bill Condon has thrilling cinematic moments and beautiful special effects, but might not scratch your "childhood nostalgia" itch. The reasons? Painfully awkward vocals and some strange new additions that raise more questions than they answer.
Viewers are seamlessly introduced to the French setting with beautiful scenery and the elaborate clothing of the French aristocracy. Throughout the film, these wonderful costumes and attention to detail continues, with the exception of Belle's iconic ballgown, which was disappointingly anti-climactic. Otherwise, the film's rich colour palette and lush settings makes every scene mesmerizing to the eye; during high-paced action scenes, the dynamic camera movements and music somehow managed to add fresh drama and suspense to a story most of the audience already knew so well.
The Beast's appearance may seem uncannily anthropomorphic at first, but as the film goes on, his appearance becomes true to character as he himself becomes more human. Unfortunately, the opposite was true for the Beast’s star-studded array of servants: Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). The original caricatures were far more likeable than the overly realistic animated objects, despite the actors' strong voice acting.
This film diverges from the original in certain moments and even builds upon extant themes with new, added scenes; some depict strong female characters, in the same vein as the "girl-power" message evident in Belle's heroism and strong will, and others dabble in homosexual themes, exacerbating LeFou's idolizing of Gaston with a more heavy-handed twist. The music was also changed from the original film, as it was comprised of the songs from the original animated version (some with altered lyrics or rhythms) in addition to some songs from the Broadway version and even three new songs composed by Alan Menken.
While the symphony had a wonderful musicality, many of the new songs had formulaic melodic progressions, unsophisticated lyrics and overly simplistic rhymes. Most of the high-energy, large-ensemble numbers were tolerably similar to the original, but some new verses in “Gaston” subverted viewers’ expectations and made singing along (even internally) impossible and awkward.
On the subject of awkward, the entire audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats when the Beast began to sing his own prolonged and overly-dramatic ditty about falling in love that seemed to embarrass the audience as much as himself. With the exception of professional operatic singer Audra McDonald, it seemed as though casting director Lucy Bevan prioritized celebrities over singers. Watson was as auto-tuned as Ke$ha, and though Gaston (Evans) and LeFou (Gad) made valiant stabs at their numbers, they, like Thompson’s rendition of the titular theme song, fell flat; even Lumière’s highly anticipated “Be Our Guest” didn’t hold a candle to the original.
If Beauty and the Beast reveals anything about the onslaught of live-action Disney films yet to come, it's that they're far too scary for young kids but too campy and awkward to be sincerely enjoyed by adults. In light of this, maybe live-action Disney films would be better off as more mature, non-musical dramas. While the film may be less nostalgic this way, Beauty and the Beast's divergences from the original already make it darker and uncanny.