Another year, another live action remake of a classic Disney animation, but this feels like the big one. The one they’ve been building towards since Tim Burton brought his vision of Alice in Wonderland to the big screen. 1991’s Beauty and the Beast is beloved the world over, has had a countless number of re-releases on both the big screen and home media since it’s release, and those who grew up with it are the perfect age now to bring their own families to see this new, updated version. So, how does it fare? Well, thankfully Disney and director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Parts 1 & 2) found the perfect approach to this remake: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While I don’t think I need to lay out the plot of Beauty and the Beast for you, it’s a tale as old as time (or so the song keeps telling me), it follows the basic story of the animated original, with a young prince (Dan Stevens) cursed to become the horrifying Beast, living alone in a gigantic with only talking furniture and crockery for company. His only hope of finding true live, and thus lifting the curse, drops on his doorstep in the form of the forward thinking Belle (Emma Watson), who swaps place with her father after he is held captive in the Beast’s castle after stealing a rose from his garden.
This new update hews very close to the original, but does take time to add some new elements that do add a bit more depth to the character, like The Beast’s daddy issues (which are admittedly rather glossed over as soon as they are introduced), and Belle’s dealings with not knowing what became of her own mother. Other than that it’s business as usual, and Condon has delivered an experience worthy of the animated classic. The movie moves along at a great pace, bolstered by some fantastic musical numbers, with the classic songs we know and love remaining largely untouched. These scenes are brought to life beautifully, big scale production numbers that will not fail to get your toe tapping (Gaston especially is one you’d want to watch over and over again). There is a rather old school feeling to the whole affair, a sort of throw back to the Disney of old, that just charms you from the opening frame. The special effects do a great job of adding to this overall sense of magic, with the Beast’s servants turned house fixtures being especially impressive. Well, for the most part. Ewan McGregor’s (almost unrecognisable adopting an over the top French accent) candle stick Lumiere and Ian McKellen’s (instantly recognisable, especially when he says fool) clock Cogsworth seem to have had the most effort put into them, endlessly expressive and fluid and they play off each other really well, despite been CG constructs. Emma Thompson’s tea pot Mrs. Potts, on the other hand, feels drab and uninteresting by comparison. And that fact that she sounds incredibly bored most of the time doesn’t help matters.
Emma Watson is well cast as Belle, embodying her good and inquisitive nature perfectly. She holds her own against her largely CG co-stars mostly, but every so often you get the feeling she’s slightly uncomfortable acting against nothing (which is surprising since she spent a good part of her career entrenched in the world of Harry Potter). Thankfully, it doesn’t derail her preference, and she has excellent chemistry with Dan Stevens, who adds some real charm and wit to the the Beast. While the Beast effect may vary in quality from time to time, he holds the character together with a good balance of imposing and charming. But as good as they spark off each other, they can’t hold a candle to the double that is Gaston and La Fou (Luke Evans and Josh Gad). Apart they are great, but together they are downright amazing, playing off each other wonderfully. The pompous Gaston is much more of a true and true bad guy this time round, and Evans balances his menace with a good helping of self importance. Gad is an absolute delight as the bumbling henchman, at times feeling like a cartoon character brought to life, massaging Gaston’s ego at every available moment. And the much bally hoed decision to make his character gay is in fact a non-issue, you will only know his sexual orientation if you heard it before hand. And if you do, it makes the charger that much funnier, fully knowing the subtext behind his almost obsession with his personal hero.
A lovingly crafted retelling of a genuine classic, Beauty and the Beast is as enchanting and delightful as the animated original. Die hard fans and new comers alike will love this.