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As if having to put up with the never-ending onslaught of superhero movies isn’t enough, Disney has just begun its 22-movie-long series of live action remakes. And in an age where big budget cinema is at a loss for original content, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is just another new release you can add to your list of already seen. The film is as entertaining as it is charming, but the story is one we all know — and it struggles to hold up in live action.
In case you’ve been hit by a sudden case of amnesia, here’s a recap: Belle is a smart girl in a village of small-minded people who finds herself trapped by a mysterious Beast in a castle. After attempting an escape, the Beast saves her from wolves, and their relationship begins to blossom. On the side is a stubborn macho man from the village eager to earn Belle’s hand in marriage, and a curse on the Beast and his friends by a creepy witch who shows up only when there’s drama.
Emma Watson plays Belle like she plays all her roles: safely. Her singing voice is beautiful, but it’s the only above average part of her performance. She is never noticeably bad, but she also never pushes past her comfort zone of a few eyebrow raises and a wry smile. Even with the incredible display that is the musical number Be Our Guest (expertly animated), the only emotion she manages to tap is amused.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is just another new release you can add to your list of already seen
The stand-out performances, though, come from Luke Evans and Josh Gad as the narcissist Gaston and his pining sidekick Lefou. Evans nails Gaston’s narcissistic charm and persistence, but his shining moment is when he realises he’s lost the girl and his greed turns to anger. Riling up the anger of the masses is something we’ve all seen plenty of over the last year, but Evans brings the frightening humanity of it to the forefront — and his performance is all the more threatening for it.
Gad’s Lefou, on the other hand, has caused a stir as Disney’s supposed first canon gay character (Sebastian? Ken from Toy Story? Timon and Pumbaa?). But it’s not just the homosexuality that makes the character remarkable — Gad is simply delightful in the role. Gaston is undoubtedly the best number in the film, and it’s largely thanks to Gad and his musical theatre background. He’s funny, he’s charming, and he’s a little gay (though if you’re looking for more than subtext, you’re going to have to wait for all two seconds of it at the end).
Stellar performances are the only positive of a live action remake, though, and unfortunately the cons outweigh the pros. All of the creepy plot points of the original Beauty and the Beast remain, except this time they’re more real. If you thought watching an animated girl fall in love with her animalistic kidnapper was uncomfortable, try watch it happen in live action and not want to gag when she makes quips about being attracted to his beast mode. It’s disturbing to say the least.
In spite of this, the film provides for a visually spectacular night out that will have you smiling more often than you cringe (and you will cringe). But if you stay home to watch the original Beauty and the Beast instead, you’ll get the same — albeit Josh Gad-less — experience for a far lower cost. And who needs moral ambiguity at the cinema when you can have it at home instead?
Verdict: The film is entertaining and fun, but the grave misgivings of the plot are even more obvious in live action. If you’ve been counting down the days, the film won’t disappoint –but if you’re indifferent, you’re no worse off staying home to watch the original.