Undertaking the task of remaking a tale as old as time and as beloved as Disney’s animated masterpiece “Beauty and the Beast” would be a difficult journey for any director. Bill Condon, though, does his best, and for the most part he is successful and true to the original material. This is coming from a person who has more “Beauty and the Beast” clothing and Funko figures than pairs of shoes.
It is this love of the classic film that has made me develop the unpopular opinion that Emma Watson did not fit into Belle’s tiny black ballet flats. Not only was her voice weaker than Paige O’Hara of the animated version, it was also inadequate in carrying her throughout the entirety of the film. Where the original Belle was fiery and rebellious, Watson comes across as quiet and mildly oppositional. Watson is a talented actress, but she brings nothing unique to the role of Belle; in fact, she draws the character backward. Hermione Granger may read as much as Belle, but Watson lacks the passion required to carry on the bookworm Disney Princess’ role.
The extreme miss on Watson’s casting does not stretch the rest of the lineup, though. Dan Stevens as the Beast is a splendid replication of the hot-tempered hairball, but he brings along with him a gentleness that adds more nuance to a character whose backstory was largely untold before. His tenor soars in the newly composed song “Evermore,” that I have found myself listening to on repeat since my first viewing of the film. Stevens’ performance is delightful to witness, and possibly makes up an entire half of why I enjoyed the film as much as I did.
Other big name actors including Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette) and others perform admirably in their supporting roles. And while I found myself wishing Broadway beauty and flawless soprano Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) had been Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson did not disappoint me to the point where I disliked her in the role.
The musical numbers set against the backdrop of a charming (albeit narrow minded) village or the decaying castle trapped in an eternal winter will leave viewers breathless. Watson’s voice may have been underwhelming, but her co-stars are more than enough to carry the songs and remain as enjoyable as the originals. Narcissistic Gaston’s aptly named song, “Gaston,” will have you wanting to jump from your seat and stomp along to the beat, despite the fact its only goal is to stroke the villain’s ego. “Be Our Guest,” sung by Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) and the chorus is as ostentatious and fun as it is visually stunning.
Despite the film’s strengths, there is still the issue of the “controversial” matter of Disney’s first LGBTQ+ character. LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, is played in a cute fashion by Josh Gad. However, the attempt at being progressive falls flat. This character, caught up in an unrequited love story, comes across as a silly joke thrown in so the film’s creators could claim they were being inclusive. As a queer person, this is not the way I wanted to see Disney introduce queer representation into its films. LeFou may find his happy ending with another man by the end of the film, but it is not enough to make people forget how he spent the majority of the film as Gaston’s lovesick companion.
Condon creates a visually stunning, respectful retelling that fills in plot holes from the original. Even with a completely miscast lead, elements of the film shine through and make it approach the level of joy the original film brings to viewers more than one would think possible.