Movie Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Plot: A selfish, decadent prince is cursed by a sorceress to remain a terrifying beast until someone could love him for who he is. Dissatisfied farm girl Belle finds herself trapped in his castle and they both learn to see past their first impressions.
Review: Well, here we go again. Disney have made a real hobby out of refilming their animated classics of late with variable results. Alice in Wonderland was unwatchable, Cinderella was playing it safe and left me cold and The Jungle Book was a fun distraction. In spite of myself I found myself quite looking forward to Beauty and the Beast because of the impressive cast, interesting production design and, of course, Gaston.
Any live action adaptation of a previously animated work is going to be hampered by its inability to replicate the energy and physicality of the original. Director Condon has been able to compensate for this with a constantly moving camera and a bright, rich colour scheme. He’s also brought in a dedicated, passionate cast who seem determined to give it their all.
The most discussed casting is Hermio…Emma Watson as Belle. The concern is her heavy association with another well known bookish character who the audience may have trouble ignoring. This turned out to be no problem whatsoever, as she is Belle from the moment she walks on screen in the signature blue dress. What makes it easier to accept her as Belle is how much Watson’s singing voice sounds like Paige O’Hara’s in the original. It’s similar to the point that one wonders how much they tweaked it to match them up. Sharing the title card is Dan Stevens, taking time out from blowing our mind in Legion to act through a mask of effects work. This could well be Stevens year because he’s giving us two very different yet equally impressive performances.
Filling out the cast are the voices of Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci as a harpsichord and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. Luke Evans is clearly enjoying himself playing the ego-driven bully Gaston with Josh Gad is his sidekick Le Fou. They both capture the characters perfectly and have some of the most entertaining moments in the film.
Although on the surface everything appears to be identical to the original there have been a number of tweaks and adjustments to the characters. Belle is less polite in rejecting Gaston’s advances early in the film and is an inventor like her father. She does, at one point, invent the washing machine (to the horror of the villagers). Both Belle and the Beast get more fleshed out backstories leading to less of a Stockholmy feel to their relationship as they bond over a shared love of reading, feelings of being an outcast and both having been heavily affected by the loss of their respective mothers. Gaston is more vicious this time around, outwardly sneering at his admirers and attempting to murder Maurice when he tells her he’ll never marry Belle. Some of the new sub-plots, such as Mrs. Potts having an amnesiac husband in the village, are pointless additions.
The enchanted castle of it’s denizens must’ve been a production designers dream come true. The art team have gone about and beyond in filling the entire film with details and imaginative versions of familiar characters. The way the curse works is changed so that the housekeepers slowly change more into inanimate objects as time passes and we see them discussing how much they’ve changed over the course of the film. It’s all a treat to look at…except for the slightly horrifying looking Mrs. Potts and Chip. I think it’s the porcelain texture but something is off about them.
All of the original musical numbers have been recreated by the new cast and they’re all solid performances. There’s a couple of new musical numbers that certainly emulate the original style and fit in nicely. Originally Disney only wanted short half song versions to move away from the musical format, but Condon wisely insisted on the full versions. I can’t imagine many people who’d be satisfied with short versions of the well known and expected musical numbers.
If there’s one sequence in the film that falls completely on it’s face it’s when Maurice (Kline) first discovers the castle. His performance is quite flat compared to the rest of the cast and he wanders about a stunning and seemingly haunted castle with barely a raised eyebrow. When he does lose his nerve and flee he inexplicably says “Oh wait…Belle wanted a rose” and stops to pick some flowers. This is mere moments after he was terrified into running out of the castle and back into a forest full of hungry wolves. It was like realism was suddenly ejected from the cinema and a very clumsy way of setting up the next sequence of events.
Beauty and the Beast manages to capture the magic of the original, one of only three animated movies to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It’s certainly a jewel in Disney’s crown and this new version doesn’t feel like a pale imitation. Out of all the live action Disney remakes we’ve seen the past decade this is the one I’d be interested in rewatching as much as the original.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN
Oh…wait. Le Fou is gay. I don’t want to be the only reviewing this on the internet to not mention this, do I? No doubt this is going to generate some discussion and huffy tantrums. It’s great that Disney have taken this step, as the company has had a good relationship with the homosexual community as seen in their unofficial annual Disneyland ‘Gay Day’. Honestly it’s a throwaway, blink and you’ll miss it event. Le Fou doesn’t act much different towards Gaston as he did in the animated version and at the end he’s briefly seen dancing with a guy who is outed as a transvestite during the final battle. That’s all.