Wait what?!? Only four stars?!? Yes. The remake of the 1991 animated feature film which went on to be the first animated film to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars really doesn’t work well. The film stars a lackluster Emma Watson and is directed by Dreamgirls-director Bill Condon and features the original music by Alan Menken. The film has some good performances, some nice visuals, and obviously some great songs, but it also has some poor writing, poor directing, and a snoozefest of a leading performance.
The directing by Bill Condon is not great. He treats the movie as if it were a cartoon, with no realization that a live-action film has to be a little more human. This creates a weird experience in which it feels as if great actors were forced to dumb down their performances in order to accommodate Condon’s attempt to recreate the original film rather than remaking it. The scope of this film also seems too large for Condon to handle as there is not a single shot that does not look exactly like it was shot on a sound-stage due to poor lighting, weird camera-work, and poor use of the space.
One part of the film that Condon does not deserve blame for though, is probably Emma Watson’s boring performance as the iconic Belle. Firstly, she does nothing to make the character the slightest bit interesting: no character flaws, no overarching quirks or personality whatsoever. She also sings incredibly poorly and cannot, by any means carry the songs. The supporting cast of Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and Kevin Kline works well though with each of them giving their character some life and intrigue. They are all well-cast and seem to put some heart into the otherwise dull film. And then there is Josh Gad. Gad is perhaps the reason for two-out-of-the-four stars this film earned. His singing is (as always) wonderful, his acting is terrific, and his comedic timing is near-perfect. Then there are of course also the performances by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Audra MacDonald. And as much as i would have loved to love these performances, there’s just nothing to them and they end up being forgotten.
The writing on this film, just like the directing, is also cartoonish and pulls the same missteps as Condon. It treats every character as a stereotype and doesn’t try hard to make them relatable like The Jungle Book or Cinderella did back in their day. The story also ends up dragging at several places and what the writers did to the character of Gaston (making him distinctly evil) is also just condemnable. There are a couple of well-written lines of dialogue scattered around the movie to provide a little comedy and nostalgia, but that sadly does not by any means make up for the laughably dull and silly dialogue that the actors also had to get through.
But thank god for Alan Menken’s original score though. With such iconic songs as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” it is impossible to truly hate this movie. In this movie especially, it is “Be our Guest” and “Gaston” that truly shine as they are each just a party onscreen. But Menken also wrote a couple of original songs for this new picture, but sadly only one of them is close to memorable, “Evermore”, and that may also just be due to the fact that in its promoting of this film Disney released a Josh Groban cover of the song. But nevertheless, the songs helped to hold together this otherwise messy film, and Alan Menken knows perfectly well how to write (or update) a tune for a Disney movie.
Overall, this movie may entertain children or even adults who can overcome the film’s significant flaws for the sake of nostalgia. But is the movie good? By no means. Bill Condon really did not put on his A-game for this one, and neither did Emma Watson or the team of screenwriters. It’s a shame, it really is…