Ever since Maleficent was released in 2014, Disney have been on a hot streak when it came to adapting some of their classic animated films into live action. The critical response to Maleficent was mixed but the two films that followed it, Cinderella and The Jungle Book received far more praise. All three films have had major success at the box office, anyway that brings us to their fourth live action fairytale adaptation and what is probably their most anticipated one yet, Beauty and the Beast.
I doubt I have to go into details about the story, as I’m sure you’ve probably already seen the 1991 animated classic. The long and short of it is basically a vain prince is cursed and transformed into a beast by an enchantress, and the only way for the curse to be lifed is for him to learn how to love and for him to be loved back. He then crosses path with Belle, yeah you know the drill I won’t go any further.
I felt the script was mostly a success, usually with book adaptations I expect the film to not include all the finer details. Now I know that this isn’t a adaptation from a book, but I was still surprised that they managed to include a large amount of the key content from the animated film. There was also a surprising amount of new content as well, that delves into both Belle’s past and what happened to her mother and the same with the Beast. The plot arc surrounding Belle’s mother reached it’s conclusion and payed off, whereas the backstory about the Beast’s mother felt very brief and unfinished. Despite it feeling rather brief, the character development we received improved upon the characters in comparison to the animated film. Something that the film also improved upon was the actual relationship between Belle and Beast. This time round their growing love for each other felt more natural and palpable. We were given more scenes to witness their relationship develop whereas in the animated film thier love developed too quickly and didn’t feel like it fully blossomed naturally.
Other new aspects of the film felt a little pointless to me, I won’t reveal who it is but there’s a character that kept appearing through out the film at certain moments. Initially I thought the character was someone else, if it were that person I was thinking then it would’ve added an interesting story arc to the film. In the end the character’s inclusion didn’t lead to much and felt rather unnecessary. Also one massive change is made during the end of the film, I don’t know why this change was made other than to create dramatic effect. I didn’t like what they did and how they did it. Without going into it too much, it broke the rules of the curse in the film.
Emma Watson’s performance as Belle was perfectly fine, I don’t think it was anything more than that. She handled her singing scenes well, and her emotional moments. But the performance overall didn’t push her to do anything else new or different, to what we have seen her do in the past. I felt Dan Stevens did a good job of using his eyes to convey emotion, I connected with the Beast through his eyes, his motion capture work was impressive as well. In a number of scenes I did honestly feel quite sad for the Beast because of his facial expressions, and emotion. The only negative thing that I did notice about his performance was a small shift in his accent throughout the film.
The two standout performances came from Luke Evans as Gaston and Ewan McGregor as Lumière. It was easy to tell that both actors were having a lot of fun with their roles. Evans brought the larger than life and boastful characteristics to his version of Gaston very well without making him irritating in any way. His interaction with LeFou who was played by Josh Gad provided the audience with quite a few laughs during the film. I thought McGregor’s voice acting for Lumière matched that of the original and maybe even surpassed it, he brang a real likeable presence to the character and the majority of his comedic dialogue landed with myself and the audience I was with. The rest of the voice actors included Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and more. I thought all of them brought their characters to life brilliantly. Also Kevin Kline gave one of the better human performances in the film as Maurice, Belle’s father. The script actually gave him a little more to do than the animated film did and Kline used that material to his advantage effectively.
Bill Condon did a superb job with the directing. The entire film has this magical quality to it. The musical scenes in particular, were a magical treat to behold visually. Some of the songs did feel a little drawn out though and I think that’s because they added more lyrics to some of the songs, but apart from that those scenes worked really well and had a high level of grandeur to them with the way they were directed. There’s a few new songs in the film, none of them I particularly liked that much apart from the one that Dan Stevens sings himself. I thought that song came at a time in the film where it actually added to the emotional weight of the scene and what occurred moments before it. One thing I dont usually comment on that I noticed was that Condon used some interesting visual scene transitions throughout the film. Look out for the scene with Belle singing on a hill top, in the style of the Sound of Music, and wait for the terrific scene transition after it.
The production value was very impressive, the sets looked great and so did the costume design. The visual effects on the other hand didn’t look so great at times, in fact quite a lot of it didn’t look polished, especially the Beasts face. When he was still or not moving much he looked quite believable but in motion it was very obvious to me that it was a CGI creation I was looking at. Even when he was walking alongside Belle, it just didn’t look real enough to me, not as real as I know CGI can look. That may sound like I’m being rather picky but things like that can take me out of the experience sometimes. The decaying visual design of the Beast’s castle is something I loved. It looked more grand in scale than I expected, subtle details like the lack of handrails on the staircase added a nice little desolate touch to it.
The only other issue I had with the film was the pacing. Towards the middle of the film the pacing certainly takes a dip, as things start moving slower than they did in the first act. I think this is maninly due to the inclusion of all the new scenes, that padded out the middle of the film and lengthened the run time. I feel a few scenes throughout could’ve of been trimmed which would’ve made the pace of the film a lot smoother.
Overall, Disney’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast certainy has it’s magical moments. It improves upon the character development in comparison to the animated classic. But the inclusion of some unnecessary new scenes hurt the pace of the film, and the visual effects were lacking in some areas too. It’s not Disney’s best live action adaptation, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.
(3 Stars out of 5)
Beauty and the Beast; Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad and Kevin Kline.
Directed by Bill Condon. Now showing in UK and US Cinemas.