Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Shines In Diversity But Missteps in Originality

Beauty and the Beast duet

Walt Disney Pictures continues its stride to have diversity and inclusion in their films that reflect our growing and changing world. There are elements where their latest adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast” gets upgraded by stunning visuals, but mirrored with some carbon copy replicas of the Oscar-nominated original, it tends to venture into a “Psycho-remake-like” level of “copycat” and “what’s the point?” Admittedly, they tweak the tale by giving a backstory to Belle’s mother and the Beast’s father, but both are dropped in, and left on the cinematic floor.

The animated version of the same name broke barriers when it was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1991. Stunning visuals, partnered with glorious music, set a new path for cartoons to be accessible and enjoyable by the youngest and oldest of fans. The live-action version, as directed by Bill Condon, explores new colors and wonderfully realized production values that will bring awe to a new audience. However, if you are a die-hard fan of the original, you could easily find yourself just wanting to pop in the Disney classic instead.

Star Emma Watson tries to make the most of her portrayal of one of Disney’s most iconic and beautiful princesses. Struggling to let loose, her tepid and stiff interpretation keeps Belle at a distance from the audience, even at times a little unlikable. In the original, Belle is relished as “awkward” and “strange” to the townspeople. Now – and for lack of a better term – she just comes off as a “snotty” girl, whose origins are in Paris and who is far too good to be limited to the conventional ways of this simple town. As Maurice, Belle’s father, Academy Award winner Kevin Kline does his best to bring the same love and comfort to the film that we found over 25 years ago. It’s mostly a success.

Dan Stevens‘ brooding interpretation of the Beast is mirrored heavily on the animated character, and doesn’t explore any new ways to show his despair or deep-rooted anger. His origins tied to his parents are dropped in the middle of the film, never to be seen or revisited again.

Emma Watson Beauty and the BeastOur favorite household items are back in the swing, voiced by great talents like Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Audra McDonald. Disney introduces the world to its first interracial relations within its own universe, but it almost feels self-congratulatory in the sense of putting it in for the sake of having it, rather than having it be just a part of the movie. I also have huge quibbles with the age differences between these love interests as McGregor, 45, being paired with Mbatha-Raw, 33, just further perpetuates the stereotype of Hollywood’s love affair with old guys romancing sexy, younger women. They seem to try to bridge the gap between McDonald’s dresser and Tucci’s piano, though, as proven by their ages of 45 and 56, respectively.

If we’re looking for some high takeaways, you’d be remiss not to mention Josh Gad‘s comedic and sensitive portrayal of LeFou, Gaston’s (played wisely by Luke Evans) lovable sidekick. Although it was widely reported that Disney would have its first gay character in their film, the drums for progression shouldn’t be pounding just yet. They suggest lots of his intention and sexuality without really truly “going there” in terms of what his intentions are. They just manage to shoehorn a scene in which a musketeer is transformed into lady’s clothing during the epic castle fight sequence, in which he walks away with Audra McDonald touting, “Be free!” as he walks away with a smile. That same character is shown stepping up for a dance with LeFou at the end of the film. We still have work to do, but we can surely admire the attempt.

Nice and early in the year, you can already add Sarah Greenwood‘s production design and Jacqueline Durran‘s costumes to your long list of Oscar hopefuls. The castle looks fantastic as does Belle’s infamous golden dress in which the couple shares their first dance in the ballroom.

Beauty and the Beast” is not without its flaws. With that said, it’s a wonderful family film for all to enjoy. The music will always be iconic; it manages to grip your foot and make it tap for hours to come. As a first quarter film, it’s perfectly fine fodder to get us through as we go through our big awards season withdrawal.

“Beauty and the Beast” is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and opens in theaters on March 17 in Real 3D and IMAX.

GRADE: (★★½)