WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2017)
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
A tale as old as time…
The latest live action offering from Disney following Cinderella and the acclaimed The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast had high expectations as a beloved classic animation. It was a wise move to assemble a stellar talent pool to lead the proceedings, and to re-team with Alan Menken to recreate the sounds and magic of the animated version, but this is not a shot-by-shot remake of the 1991 classic.
It's the same age old tale – a young prince has been cursed and imprisoned as a large, fearsome (and hairy) beast. Only true love can free him but he’s against the clock, a rose imprisoned in glass and ice is left in the West Wing of his castle and if the last petal falls, the curse can never be lifted and he and his servants will forever lose their humanity. Then one day, a young woman visits his castle to release her father from his imprisonment and suddenly there’s a chance for freedom.
This movie had a lot already going for it, but, crucially, also a lot going against it. With a film as acclaimed and much-loved as this, expectations were high – and there were questions well up until release. How would the relationship between Belle, a human, and the Beast, a…beast, transcend into live action? Would the musical numbers be scarred by this? Would the original charm be alive and well here? Two out of three ain’t bad.
In casting Emma Watson as Belle, Disney selected the best possible choice they could. She looks like Belle, has the same sensibilities and the soft voice she is remembered for, and plays the part perfectly. When she put the famous yellow dress on sealed it. Dan Stevens bought a lot of realism and humanity to his performance of the Beast, more than just grunting and shouting. There was a lot to like about what he did. As for the supporting objects, how could you go wrong with McGregor and McKellen as Lumière and Cogsworth? (Hell, I wouldn’t fancy a fight against Obi-Wan and Gandalf)
Luke Evans and Gad are great as the double act of Gaston and LeFou – Evans playing the arrogant, horny pest a little too well, only ever loving himself and lusting for Belle. The ever-reliable Kevin Kline and Emma Thompson are as dependable as ever, as is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Lumière’s feathery lady, Plumette. The entire cast was great.
The musical numbers are as loud and spectacular as you’d imagine in a production of this size. The opening of the movie as Belle is dreaming of a better life, it could have been lifted straight from the stage. Contrast to our favourite ornaments having a ball with “Be Our Guest” which is big, colourful and just as bizarre as the animated version, though my brain hurt at the amount of work that went into the sheer-CGI party. The original numbers are faithfully reproduced, and the new songs compliment the movie nicely.
Did the movie retain the charm of its animated counterpart? Yes and no. As mentioned, it’s not a full re-tread, there are additional beats added (it’s 40 minutes longer) and at times it’s not entirely kid-friendly (Gaston gets a bit gun happy). There’s less classic and more Gothic feeling, especially with the Beast’s castle and it sure looks good. The same can’t be said entirely of the CGI used to bring the Beast to life. At times, it looks flawless and at others it’s noticeably the elephant/Beast in the room – Stevens’ performance is a lot more consistent.
It’s hard NOT to compare this movie too much as the animated version is held in such high esteem, though had that movie never existed, this one would still be great. There’s a freshness to this version and it translates brilliantly to the big screen. Through the newfound darkness and shadows, the movie is feel-good and you’ll leave the movie humming the iconic songs once more.
It’s a good thing the Beast didn’t transform into an old, ugly man after all that.
July 6th 2017