DIR: Bill Condon • WRI: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos • PRO: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • ED: Virginia Katz • DES: Sarah Greenwood • MUS: Alan Menken • CAST: Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Watson
Following the success of Disney’s previous live-action reboots of animated films, such as 2016’s The Jungle Book, it’s now the turn of Beauty and the Beast to receive the live-action treatment. With established directors at the helm of these reboots in the past, including Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella in 2015, Bill Condon is in charge of giving a new cinematic lease of life to the Oscar-nominated animated picture.
The story essentially remains the same with Belle (Emma Watson) living life in a small-minded French village that considers her odd for her literacy. Belle grabs the attention of ultra-narcissist Gaston (Luke Evans) and he intends on marrying her, despite her repeatedly rebuffing his proposal efforts. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is Belle’s reclusive inventor father and he leaves to attend a market, but his journey is interrupted when a fallen tree blocks his path in the woods, leaving him and his horse to venture down an eerie cold path. There, Maurice encounters a pack of wolves that leads him upon entering a mysterious castle where he is then kept prisoner by the castle’s owner, who happens to be a beast.
Maurice’s horse returns to the village leading Belle to this castle. Belle discovers her father in a cell and meets the Beast (Dan Stevens) for the first time. She agrees to become his prisoner in exchange for her father’s freedom. Whilst in the cell, Belle engages in conversation with some of the castle’s objects, including a talking candelabra and clock. The castle is under a spell from an enchantress and the Beast must find love before the last petal of a red rose falls or he will remain a beast for eternity. Under Lumière’s (voiced by Ewan McGregor) influence, Belle is suggested as being “the one to break the spell”. Beauty and the Beast then explores the burgeoning romance between Belle and Beast, despite him being her captor.
Firstly, Bill Condon has to be commended for his exceptional direction of the early choral pieces in the first act, where we first meet Belle, as well as Gaston’s egotistical sing-song in the village pub. These sequences contain lots of movement, yet they are executed and choreographed to perfection. The visual effects are also stunning. ‘Be Our Guest’ is played out to a spectacular array of colours and it’s such a treat to the eye. There are a few new songs, accompanied with songs from the original animation, that don’t work as much as the originals. The Alan Menken and Howard Ashman originals remain a joy to hear and the original supporting cast, such as Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), are brought to life on-screen expertly through their updated CGI appearances.
These supporting characters are almost too good for Beauty and the Beast, with them stealing every scene they feature in. McKellen, a Bill Condon regular, is the perfect voice for Cogsworth, and has some of the funniest lines and moments in the film, especially in the final sequence. Ewan McGregor somewhat struggles with his clichéd French accent, but Lumière remains a great character much like the animation. Luke Evans as Gaston was the casting agent’s greatest move. He brings a subtle element of humanity to the character along with the self-flattery and narcissism. Of course, Gaston’s loyal sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), is given an energetic and much-publicised ‘gay’ re-telling by Gad.
The supporting cast are the main highlights of Beauty and the Beast, which is worrying when the film is primarily about Belle and the Beast. Watson and Stevens deliver solid performances, yet it’s the supporting characters that offer the majority of the film’s humour and memorable moments, and this is the dominant flaw of the film. The much-revered ballroom dance scene from the animated film is re-enacted to less effect here, which was disappointing considering previously well-executed sequences in the film. Its predecessor is paid homage to throughout the narrative, although new narrative plot points, such as Belle’s search for information about her mother, feel out of touch and unnecessary. It is disappointing to have the lead characters overshadowed by secondary characters, but, much like the original, there are numerous characters that will undoubtedly favour different audience members. The romantic fairytale, humour, and dazzling special effects are present for younger viewers, but there’s plenty on offer for older viewers, such as the witty dialogue.
Beauty and the Beast remains thoroughly enjoyable, despite the Stockholm-syndrome romance, and, much like La La Land, this reviewer exited another cinema screen in 2017 feeling uplifted after what was just seen. It takes a good film to create uplifted emotions and this film excels in that regard. If you pardon the pun, Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, but it’s a tale that will again capture the imaginations and hearts of viewers young and old alike.
PG See IFCO for details
Beauty and the Beast is released 17th March 2017
Beauty and the Beast – Official Website