The critical approach is going to address quite a bit in this remake in Beauty and the Beast, so I'll begin with the concepts that do work as well as the enjoyable aspects. First, three of the supporting characters are absolutely perfect. Specifically, that's Kevin Kline as Maurice, Luke Evans as Gaston, and Josh Gad as LeFou. All three of them are just completely enjoyable in their respective roles and bring out the best comedy too. Each of them nails their respective characters completely, too - from the serious and protective nature of Maurice, to the pompous and veiled sinister motives of Gaston, and the silly charm of LeFou.
Speaking of Maurice, he's one of the few characters whose backstories have changed for this remake and it does work really well. This Maurice is bitter, depressed, serious, and Belle's protective father as opposed to a bumbling and warm-hearted inventor. Kline's portrayal is warm-hearted and charming at times too, but a brilliant backstory regarding Belle's mother keeps him rooted to a much more believable and even relatable character.
Gaston and LeFou are such a great onscreen pair. Gaston's attempts to woo and marry Belle are much more modern - in this case, his pompous and boastful nature is still apparent, but he attempts to conceal it to act like "the nice guy" that will somehow win over the girl. Of course it doesn't work out for him, but it is refreshing because his role is appropriately handled well. That is, until Gaston's true nature is revealed and he starts going mad, in which case he becomes much more interesting as a result.
LeFou, on the other hand, is just hilarious and Josh Gad really fits this character well. Like the original film, he's a bit of a buffoon and the comic foil for Gaston. What's interesting about Gad's LeFou, though, is that instead of being just a comic foil, he has serious doubts about his best friend and unsure about his true intentions. He also doesn't quite fully believe in the cause, either, which ends up in a great payoff for the character's story arc in this regard. The elephant in the room regarding LeFou (the publicized one causing some controversy) will be addressed later.
Apart from this, there's some other key features to this version of Beauty and the Beast that do work well. The cinematography is decent enough... except when it's not. The animation and CGI used is pretty decent too... except when it's not. The older songs and newer music work well cohesively in a number of places throughout... except when they don't. One of the magic curse's consequences when the last petal falls is a great touch to the story and pretty clever... except when it doesn't work for a big reason (which will be explained in good time). The story is told reasonably well... except when it's not. Finally, the reason for why Maurice gets captured by the Beast is actually now taken from the original fairy tale. Not the animated film, but the original fairy tale. That's a nice touch for this film. It's also the last one, because good God, there is so much of this that is completely unnecessary, wasteful, and doesn't work. At. All.
Emma Watson as Belle... well, her acting is as great as always. She still has that fierce, tough, intelligent, and inquisitive charm to her carried over from her days as Hermione Granger. She's a perfect fit in that aspect because Belle and Hermione share a lot of personality traits. But... Emma Watson just can't sing. She can't. It's terrible. Almost every single line she utters in song is auto-tuned to the extreme, which makes this whole conundrum even worse. It's really a shame because Watson is great as Belle otherwise, but it's very clear that she really wasn't given enough time for proper singing lessons and ear training before Disney and Bill Condon rushed into a shooting schedule. Watson just can't carry a melody where it needs to go, and every lyric just falls completely flat because of the auto-tune, a scourge of the music industry and a cop-out for the artists using it or are being forced to use it. What a shame.
Dan Stevens as the Beast, on the other hand, is fine. His singing is decent enough, and he balances the act of being grumpy to learning how to be a kinder spirit reasonably well. Stevens and Watson do share a decent amount of chemistry onscreen as well, and when Belle and the Beast do begin their romance, it is believable because of their charming personas. It is mentioned in the film once that the Beast has a troubling backstory regarding his parents. It is briefly mentioned and explained, but it never returns again. Does it serve a purpose? Yes, but not a fulfilling one.
The supporting cast members portraying all of the enchanted objects are either miscast or making choices that don't work at all. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, for example. The original Lumiere (voiced by the late Jerry Orbach, an American actor) didn't intentionally have a French accent - none of the characters from the original film intentionally did. Why is McGregor trying too hard to have a French accent when no one else is (Watson grew up in France for some time, so that doesn't count)? It never comes across as French and it's really distracting. The same can be said for Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts attempting to do a Cockney accent. Angela Lansbury, as the original Mrs. Potts, never had a Cockney accent and never tried to use one for the role. If Bill Condon told Thompson she needed to imitate Lansbury's mannerisms as much as possible, then this was the completely wrong approach to do it because, again, it's very distracting. Unfortunately, Thompson's singing is awful too because of her attempts to perfect this accent.
Cogsworth is just a one-sided bore. Ian McKellen does fine with the role, but he's miscast. This Cogsworth is just grumpy, cowardly, and flat as opposed to also being high-strung, ridiculously comical, and full of life. And... That's it. That's all there is to him. Nothing relatable or interesting regarding who he is or what he does, but just a complete bore. Aubra MacDonald as the wardrobe is a complete waste of her talent as well. The only trained Broadway singer of the entire main cast, MacDonald only sings for about forty-five seconds, plus a line or two here or there. Literally, she sings a famous line or two from one of the older songs near the end of the film but is completely phased out in the end... Wow. This is just one of many completely disappointing decisions from Bill Condon.
One of those is for the animation and CGI used. The design of the castle? Fine. The castle wilts along with the petals of the rose falling from the flower, which is another clever touch. The enchanted objects themselves are absolutely terrifying. The facial designs are creepier than the uncanny valley of motion-capture films from the past. Every time they smile, it is horrifying and nightmare-inducing. The wardrobe doesn't have eyes!!!! HOW IS THE WARDROBE SUPPOSED TO SEE?!?!?! (Okay, so the wardrobe has two little curtains at the top that seem as if they are supposed to function as eyes, BUT THEY'RE REALLY CREEPY TOO!!). This makes them very difficult to connect with onscreen, especially when the fateful, clever twist when the last petal falls happens to them. The only enchanted object that is exempt from this is Stanley Tucci as the court composer, a harpsichord named Cadenza, who does a decent job with the role too. Cadenza doesn't do much as a supporting character, but in this case, he doesn't need to. The other supporting characters have many more expectations because, coming from the original animated film, they are well-loved, memorable, and timeless.
Every film has their weaknesses, and certainly the original film did with a few plot holes (bestiality? Stockholm syndrome? My God!). This remake, in attempting to tell the story once more, creates a ton of new unnecessary plot holes, which unfortunately hurt the film even more. The story, for starters, is the same basic story. Apart from a few modern changes Condon made to update it and also the backstories for the Beast and Maurice, there's no changes to the actual basic plot. If you've seen the original film (which, let's face it, you already have), there are no surprises to this one at all, which is disappointing as far as remakes go. At least with Angelina Jolie's Maleficent or the remake of Pete's Dragon, there were more honest and hardworking attempts to refresh the story for new audiences. Hell, the latter did something completely different altogether!! Some classic scenes from the original Beauty and the Beast (Gaston's wedding ceremony attempt, for example) are taken out in this one, which is fine for plot and pacing purposes.
The plot holes in this remake are too many to count and too great to ignore, starting right from the very beginning of the movie. The famous opening narration starts out fine, but after Aubra Mcdonald's only song, it all goes downhill from there. What happens onscreen doesn't even match to anything the characters are doing. Does the Beast turn her away? Yes, but not twice as the narration states. Does the selfish prince cry for help as the narration suggests when the enchantress reveals her true form? Not in the slightest. I realize that this is becoming extremely nitpicky, but when the events happening onscreen don't match with what is supposed to be happening from the narration we're concurrently hearing with it, that's a major problem.
Everything the Beast does before his redemption, including his motivation, is completely changed for the worse. After Belle takes her father's place as prisoner to the Beast, the latter does not show her around the castle and offer her a room. That goes to Lumiere and Cogsworth instead, for some odd reason. While rightfully overprotective of the rose, the Beast cares more about it than Belle. He's never around to get on Belle's nerves initially, nor are we allowed to see him fully realize she could be the one to break the spell. It's all just assumed. When Belle initially runs away, he doesn't care. There's no realization to him that he may have screwed up his one chance to find love again and, thus, we can't emotionally connect with him at all because he isn't very interesting.
Now one can make the argument that the Beast doesn't begin to truly care about Belle until after he is tended to his wounds and the two begin to spend some time together. But, there's one major flaw with this argument. Belle runs away from the Beast and gets attacked by wolves. We all know what happens next - the Beast saves Belle and gets hurt, she tends to his wounds, she thanks him for saving her life, and they start to finally, slowly bond. In the remake, there is absolutely no reason for the Beast to save Belle at all. There's no buildup, no motivation, no sudden shock in the scenes beforehand that the Beast has an inkling of remorse or compassion, because he has no compassion for Belle or any sort of connection with her whatsoever (except for anger) until after the fact. The only reason it can be assumed the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, then, is due to sudden compassion which is never explained and comes out of nowhere, or because "the original film did it, so we have to!!" Holy. Hell.
In fact, Belle's initial tour around the castle isn't the only instance where lines from the original film are adapted to different characters. Gaston's comments about his future with Belle (you know, the whole bit about the fireplace, his latest kill, and multiple strapping young boys) are now told to LeFou because there's a weaker scene earlier where Belle flat-out turns Gaston down in a non-humorous, but decent moment. The other instances this occurs is the changes made to some of the lyrics in the original songs, which will be addressed momentarily.
The other major plot hole with this remake has to do with a new addition to the enchanted castle. In one scene, the Beast shows Belle a magic book that allows the reader to go anywhere they want, at any place, in any moment of time. Essentially, it's the TARDIS in book form. The Beast doesn't have a use for it, calling it a cruel trick by the enchantress because he would be repulsed no matter where he went, and this is understandable. The two end up using the book as a means for Belle to discover her family's backstory, which effectively works too. So what's the problem with this book? IT'S NEVER BROUGHT UP AGAIN. Remember when Belle goes to rescue her father after dancing with the Beast? Well, WHY THE HELL DIDN'T SHE JUST USE THE BOOK TO GO RESCUE HER INSTEAD OF RIDING BY HORSE BACK TO THE VILLAGE?! Never explained. Never brought up again. In other words, the book is completely pointless. Belle's family backstory could have been told differently, and in a much more logical, conceivable way.
The other plot holes, in the meantime, are smaller in nature, but still very distracting. Belle is made out to be somewhat of an inventor like her father, but all she really does for the most part is help her father or attempt to escape the castle out a tall window and not follow through with it, so that leads nowhere. Again, the Beast's backstory is mentioned briefly, but never appears again and doesn't go anywhere, so it doesn't really add much to his character at all. The romance between Belle and the Beast is handled alright. Although the chemistry between Stevens and Watson does help a lot, it just sort of happens because the story demands it. The Beast's convoluted motivations in the beginning, along with the events leading up to their sudden spark, don't exactly help either. They are, however, given more time to make conversation and learn from each other, which also helps their romance become more believable by quite a bit.
It's also never fully clear how exactly Belle is different from the village townspeople. Is it because she doesn't like the quiet, farm life? Is it because of her inventive nature and the desire to always learn? To be fair, none of the other women in the village seek to read or explore and instead do household work instead for the family. In short, Belle's oddness is closer to the desire to be active, outgoing, and adventurous, all of which is unlike the village she and her father live in. To be fair, this does work, although it could have been stronger.
Sadly, there's problems with the music, too. Yes - even the classic songs. This, for the most part, is not Alan Menken's fault, because he once again does a great job with the tasks he's been given (even with the new songs). No, these are definitely Bill Condon's choices, as he's directed musicals before and has made changes such as the following before. First, the classic songs from the original animated film. With the exception of an expanded version of "Gaston," and a clever quote from the musical Cabernet, every single song from the original animated film is poorly synced up with what is happening onscreen and it doesn't match up at all. For example, Cogsworth is now singing with the entire ensemble at the end of "Be Our Guest" now... when he has absolutely no legitimate reason to do so. While he briefly does enjoy the number at the end of the original animated film, there's no reason for him to do this here because he barely tries to stop the enchanted characters from putting it on in the first place. The beautiful imagery of Belle singing her heart out to the most fantastic, sunny French countryside is now met with dark thunderstorms blended in with a sloppy transition effect. That's not beautiful; that's insulting.
There's moments in the remake when Belle sings in the songs "Belle" and "Belle (reprise)" in which the lyrics clearly represent she's technically supposed to be interacting with somebody (such as when she shows her favorite part from a book to sheep passing by in the town square), but now she just sings to herself. That just takes Belle out of character for a split second because this isn't something she would do - she'd want to share to someone that'd listen to her and not judge her for somehow being odd. In the original film, that's why she sings to the sheep or her home's farm animals, because regardless of the fact they can't comprehend what she's saying or singing, they still listen to her all the same and that ultimately makes her feel better about her predicament of not being able to fit in. On a side note, what was up with the 5 seconds of Cogsworth in an Indian outfit in "Be Our Guest"? Was that really necessary?
Some unused lyrics for the old songs written by Howard Ashman are used in this remake. Remarks by LeFou doubting Gaston's motivations, for example, as well as alternate lines for how long the castle has been enchanted by their dark spell are great additions to the overall story. In this regard, it does make the remake more refreshing while still paying tribute to the original film it's based on. The new songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice (taking over for the late Howard Ashman) are decent too. "Days of Our Sun" is a good replacement for "Human Again," about the enchanted objects' desires to be (you guessed it) human again. Kevin Kline's song "How Does a Moment Last Forever," along with its reprise, is also a great song for Maurice's backstory with Belle. Audra McDonald's "Aria" in the prologue is great for her, but it's too short and she doesn't sing much after that in the rest of the film. And, the Beast's new solo number "Evermore" is very well-written too. Was it needed? Not necessarily, but it is a great postlude for the Beast when he frees Belle for her to rescue Maurice.
Menken's new score for this remake carries material from the original film, including key themes and moments from the animated film of great drama and suspense. For the most part, though, the score is relatively brand-new. It does work well for the film, but I will say that the re-orchestrations done for some of the songs (along with the previous score) aren't the greatest either. For one thing, it's more heavy on brass and strings than woodwinds, which is quite a shame because the previous score had some great woodwind moments. Quiet, calm, and peaceful moments from the original film's score are now mostly string-heavy in this remake, and it sadly loses that character of serenity because there isn't that much variation to the re-orchestration.
There's one last major topic that must be addressed with Beauty and the Beast. That's regarding a statement on the news from director Bill Condon stating that LeFou is gay in the remake, and part of his character development in the film would also be based on this decision. The most that the film makes of this is that (apart from a scene near the end) LeFou makes advances on Gaston multiple times but are rejected based on comical sidesteps. In other words, LeFou's extent on being gay is mainly for sexual advances towards his friend and nothing else (told implicitly because it's a children's film, obviously), later turning into doubt when he is unsure of Gaston's intentions. His comical and playful nature towards Gaston could now be considered by some as stereotypical actions by gay men. This isn't an advance on including authentic gay characters in cinema; it's a major step backwards, insulting, and not handled well because the approach makes LeFou extremely shallow. For all that Disney is attempting to do in terms of inclusivity, one would think that they would actually have a decent and worthwhile character in their films to match it. This isn' even necessary for the remake, nor for the character to be gay, at all and should have been approached in a different manner.
Of all the major issues with Beauty and the Beast, the biggest crime of all is the amount of misguided direction that happened with the entire film. Lines and lyrics used from the original animated film are either spoken robotically or misused. Scenes taken from the original are rushed, inauthentic, and robotic in nature. The plot holes are too large in number and too distracting, but more so create a quantity of issues with how the story is told. The majority of characters are miscast or okay. Except for "Gaston," the elegant dancing choreography isn't really good at all and feels out of place with the rest of the movie. And, above all else, this entire remake seems like a paint-by-numbers version of the original animated film. Hell, one could play an old Disney Interactive CD-ROM game of Beauty and the Beast and still get a better experience than this remake.
A number of cast and crew members have gone on interview to talk about their inspirations from the original film and the passion they brought to this project. I don't see the passion anywhere, save for the few good things about this remake. That leads to the number one issue predominant in this entire movie: Bill. Condon. The director. He cannot make another large-scale, big-budget musical to save his career. Yes, Mr. Holmes was wonderful, but it was a smaller-scale detective drama. Chicago wasn't even that great of a film. Bill Condon just can't do this anymore. Yes, the Twilight series was doomed to begin with, but after his work on the last two films, someone should have realized this wasn't going to work. His direction is awful, the actors/actresses in most cases just don't know either how to react to something or it's really disturbing when they do, and interesting things that should be taken in the scene more (like the ballroom actually resonating musically during the dance - that was cool! Why didn't we get more of that?!?!) are completely glanced over.
Overall, this remake of Beauty and the Beast is a complete and utter disaster. What a shame, too, because everyone who worked on this remake (except Bill Condon) is exceptionally good at what they do. They tried their absolute best to make this work as well, and it's clear that they cared a lot about this film and put in as much passion as they could. Too bad it's not translated well on screen because of some ridiculous choices made along with misguided direction and a number of story changes which make the film even worse overall. The few moments of interesting to great things that do happen are relatively small in number, but aren't enough to save the film from being a complete bore.
Of course the remake was never going to be as great, if not better than the original animated film. The latter worked so well because of beautiful animation, timeless and unforgettable music, strongly developed characters (yes, all of them), story decisions that (for the most part) make a lot of sense and work very well for the movie, and have an all-around unforgettable message that is simple to the fairy tale and proves a point. This remake has a similar message, but also throws in five or six more morals that just aren't needed. What. A. Shame.
If you like how Disney has told Beauty and the Beast, do yourself a favor. See the original animated film again. If you end up deciding to see this garbage, it'll make you appreciate the timeless classic even more. This remake is just another tale as forgettable as yesterday's leftovers.