There’s no disputing that Disney’s 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast is beautifully crafted. The costumes, sets, music and cinematography are so detailed, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to look.
But as the film’s moral itself will tell you, appearances aren’t everything.
Plot-wise, the remake is about as close to the source material of the 1991 animated film as it can be. Some scenes, and most musical numbers, are almost shot-for-shot, word-for-word, lifted from the original. This effort to remain faithful to the beloved Disney staple works to keep nostalgic viewers from Disney’s golden age satisfied and everyone entertained.
Occasionally, and to its betterment, the 2017 remake goes off-script. Additions to the otherwise identical story elaborate on Belle and the Beast’s family backgrounds and open up new song opportunities. These deviations are where the adaptation finds its strength as a standalone feature, instead of being constantly compared to its animated counterpart.
The additional solo song ‘Evermore’ for instance, demonstrates Dan Steven’s vocal talents and commands a deeper emotional connection to his character of the Beast that was missing from the original movie.
In comparison, Emma Watson’s Belle feels less like Watson playing a character and more like Watson playing herself. The core of the original Belle’s character, and the reason she was able to connect with so many viewers despite being two-dimensional, was her voice. It communicated an optimism and sincerity that Watson, no matter how well suited she is to the character visually, can’t match. Her voice is nice, but just that.
The reason animated films are able to make their characters feel like people is their equal attention to facial expression and voice expression. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast seems to forget that so much of the soul of their characters exist in their voices. It isn’t enough to sing the same songs, or even sing them well.
Watson’s failing in the film is that her parts are sung with the intention to sound as pleasant as possible for a non-professional singer, without worrying too much about the emotion that has to be present in Belle’s songs for her character, who has limited spoken dialogue, to feel like a character.
Watson’s rendition forgets that in any musical, the character is in the voice. Her casting feels sub-par because her physical likeness to the animated character was made the central focus rather than her musical abilities.
In a surprising reversal, this is exactly why Steven’s Beast worked so well. Stevens wasn’t actually pictured on screen for the majority of the film, but rather a beautifully-rendered computer-generated Beast. The quality of voice-acting was emphasized for his character and worked to the advantage of creating a depth for Steven’s Beast that unfortunately wasn’t matched by Watson’s Belle.
No other actress could’ve looked more the part, but there were plenty who could’ve pulled off Belle’s songs twice as compellingly. Disney attempts to play up Belle’s strengths and passions in this adaptation in preparation for a different cultural climate, but the strong, independent Belle I was hoping for came off as more of a limp echo of what she could’ve been.
The remake is extremely entertaining, visually stunning, creative and, as faithfulness to the original goes, pretty much perfect. The only off-key note in the production was its inability to capture Belle, despite Watson’s extensive screen-time.
But hey, she sure looked pretty in the yellow dress.
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