Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gadd, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Plot: A reimagining of the classic Disney animation. A Prince and his castle is cursed by an enchantress. He must find someone to love him for who he is, as he looks like a Beast, before time runs out and looks to the beauty who stands out in the small town nearby when she stumbles upon his castle.
As a huge fan of Disney fan and the original 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast, I went into the cinema for the live action version feeling a little sceptical. I grew up with the original and it is the epitome of a Disney classic, so I was rather protective of its legacy. However, after only a few minutes of the film being on screen my concerns were gone. I thought that Disney really worked their magic in their live action version of The Jungle Book but, for me, Beauty and the Beast really knocks it out of the park. This version is filled with the sort of nostalgia any Disney fan can enjoy and really does justice to the original in how it embodies the magic of its predecessor.
I am going to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
As far as the story goes this version kept very true to the original, and it kept many of the most iconic scenes such as the ballroom scene, Gaston’s tavern and the final battle pretty much the same, only tweaking them ever so slightly. As can be expected there were some plot points added to the live action version as the film was two hours long compared to the seventy minute animated original. Don’t let the idea of additions to the story put you off though, if anything they only added more depth to the beloved story. It allowed for more complex character development, especially with characters such as La Fou who was a elevated from his status as sidekick to Gaston, to a fully developed character by the film’s end. We also get to see the relationship between Belle and Beast develop in a more complex and subtle way, and were really encouraged to grow to love Beast as Belle does, avoiding the often rushed romances of the Disney classics. One thing this version of Beauty and the Beast does so well is that it answers questions that the original does not; we get more backstory and more history. For example, without giving too much away, we get to see who the Prince was before the curse and we find out the reason for why he was not such a nice person. We also get to find out why Belle’s mother is not around and we get a glimpse of why Beast’s servants have stayed loyal to him all these years.
The way the characters are presented in the film is particularly great; their likeness to its animated twin is just close enough without losing every sense of originality. Every character’s traits seem to be amplified in this version – for example: when Gaston is funny, he is funnier, and when he is evil, he is more evil. Belle is also portrayed as stronger and more practical. She is an inventor, she is outspoken and she can stand up for herself. This is only amplified by small details such as how she wears trousers under her dress so that she can hitch up her skirt while walking or riding her horse. The triumph of the characters however comes down to the casting, which in my opinion could not have been better.
At first I had my doubts about Emma Watson playing the iconic Disney Princess as I could not get her performances as Hermione Granger out of my head, and initially I was worried that this would effect my viewing of this film. I am pleased to say that she did an excellent job of bringing Belle to life, as did Dan Stevens for Beast. The supporting cast were also excellent: Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts had such great chemistry it would be difficult not to feel joy when their characters were on screen. The stand out however was Luke Evans as Gaston, as he managed to perfectly embody everything that Gaston is, from the delivery of his lines and facial expressions to his interaction with Josh Gadd as La Fou, he really did justice to this classic Disney Villain.
As with any Disney film the music is spectacular; it includes all the songs from the original plus a few new numbers that hold their weight against the classics. Disney legend Alan Menken leads the way once again when it comes the the score and musical numbers, and he does a fantastic job once again. They have managed to breathe new life into the songs that people know so well without changing them so much they’re off-putting or easily rejected. Ewan McGregor’s rendition of “Be Our Guest” is one to particularly look forward to. The new songs also fit into the story nicely. “Evermore”, performed by Dan Stevens, is my personal favourite. Not only is this a rare occasion where we get a solo song from a Disney Prince, but it also adds a new level of emotion to Beast as a character. It is without a doubt that from the opening note of the iconic score in the prologue, the music adds to the overall nostalgia that brings back fond memories of the animated classic.
The overall visual presentation of the film is absolutely stunning, and while the majority of the visuals rely heavily on CGI effects, the animating team must be commending on their outstanding attention to detail. This is particularly evident in the reimagining of the cursed furniture in the castle, in particular Lumiere and Cogsworth, as their design is incredibly intricate and beautiful, and the human features are not as obvious as their animated counterparts, an element of the animation I feel works to enhance rather than diminish the impact of their characters. The castle itself is also noteworthy in how it is incredibly ornate, creating a magical surrounding fitting for the story and the expectations of many a fan of whom would have carried the same levels of intrigue as I had. The one scene that stood out in the animated original was the famous Ballroom dance scene and therefore this version had a lot to live up to. In my opinion, it exceeded all expectations. From Belle’s infamous yellow gown and the beautiful dancing to “Tale as Old as Time”, this version gave us a scene that was just as stunning as the original.
Perhaps the largest criticism that can be levelled at the film is that it will likely divide audiences. I found the dialogue to be a little forced and unnatural in places, and while Emma Watson was by no means a bad singer, she certainly wasn’t as a strong as the rest of the cast in this regard. Perhaps most importantly, the amplifying of cartoon characters for live-action could be met with criticism, though I would argue that it serves the story well and it shouldn’t be expected that a Disney animation remake should be the place for serious and subtle performances.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. It was visually pleasing and full of nostalgia for any Disney fan, but above all fun. Watching it in the cinema reignited my love for the songs, the story and for the original animated film. It is a great example of how Disney consistently manage to muster their now somewhat trademarked emotion and magic and makes me excited for the other live-action remakes that Disney have lined up. If they are as magical as Beauty and the Beast, we shall not be disappointed.