Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay), Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay)
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
In what is something of a new golden generation for Disney comes another remake of a classic. This time it’s Beauty and the Beast getting the live action treatment, hot on the heels of Maleficent, Cinderella and the Jungle Book. It follows pretty much the same arc as the 1991 original, but with a few choice, and mostly excellent it has to be said, additions being made to sort out some continuity issues and flesh out the story a little more.
As in the original we’re introduced to the selfish, self-absorbed, young prince as he hosts a magnificent ball. Everything is going swimmingly until an uninvited beggar and old woman gatecrashes it; offering a single rose in return for shelter from the raging storm outside. The prince, of course, laughs in her face and scorns her twice, before the beggar transfigures into her true form as a beautiful enchantress. She transforms the young aristocrat into a hideous beast, all who live within the castle into household objects, erases the castle’s existence from the minds of the villagers and then hands him an enchanted rose, before telling him that he will remain in that form forever unless he learns to love another and earn their true love in return before the final petal falls.
It’s at this point, many years later, that Belle (Emma Watson) enters stage right as she sings the song ‘Belle’ and makes her way around the quaint, little village of Villeneuve. It’s a catchy, little sequence that perfectly encapsulates the films spirit early on and nicely sets up her backstory, as she pines for something “more than this provincial life”. It also introduces Gaston (Luke Evans) and his ever admiring, side-kick, LeFou (Josh Gad) towards the end as the former spies from afar. There’s then a brief, touching moment between Belle and her artist father Maurice (Kevin Kline) in his workshop, before Gaston does what he’s clearly been doing for months beforehand and gushes over the vexed Belle, asking for her hand-in-marriage, oblivious to her complete disinterest in him and remarking that he finds her “dignity”, as LeFou humorously puts it when asked, “outrageously attractive”.
Maurice then heads away on a trip to the market with his beloved horse, Philippe, promising to return with a rose for Belle, who later pines again for a more exciting life away from the village that decries her for being ‘strange’. Maurice, as in the original, encounters some difficulties during a fierce storm and soon finds himself lost and at the doorstep of a mysterious castle. Finding it apparently abandoned, though full of strange goings on, he attempts to leave after encountering Chip, a talking cup, only to be taken prisoner after picking a rose, which draws the ire of the onlooking beast (Dan Stevens). Philippe, terrified, flees back to the village, which of course alerts Belle, who immediately sets out to rescue her father. Upon arriving, she quickly discovers him and despite sincere protests takes his place in the cell, which apparently “will never be opened again”.
Lumiere (Ewan McGregor); the former butler and now a candelabra, makes a mockery of that notion shortly afterwards by freeing and introducing himself to a shocked Belle. The rest of the former house staff are then introduced; Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), the major-domo, now a mantel clock; Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack); Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), the court composer, now a harpsichord; Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), an opera singer, now a wardrobe and finally the maid; Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), now a feather duster.
They take her to a suite in the east wing then try to arrange a dinner with the Beast, which fails, Belle then goes to dinner herself and the famous ‘Be Our Guest’ gets a remake, complete with surprisingly decent vocals from McGregor. Afterwards, ignoring warnings to the contrary, Belle makes her way to the west wing, stumbling upon the rose, which draws a furious reaction from the Beast, causing her to flee in panic. Immediately after leaving the castle grounds, she encounters the pack of wolves seen earlier, barely surviving thanks to the intervention of the Beast. Hurt during his heroics, he’s helped back to the castle by a grateful Belle, which proves to be the catalyst for friendship between the two. Their relationship begins to develop, especially after Belle is introduced to the library, discovers her captors hidden, gentler side and similarities in their natures.
Meanwhile, Maurice has already returned to Villeneuve, pleaded for help in saving his daughter, been left for dead by a disbelieving Gaston, who initially set out to help him and is then deemed insane by the village after being saved by an old woman after LeFou refuses to betray his friend. The latter is witnessed by Belle via a magical mirror, just after the pair shared THAT romantic dance together in the massive ball room and she’s given leave to help her father by the Beast, who by this point is now completely smitten. Her departure causes the servants to give up all hope of becoming humans again, with only a few petals remaining and her departure only results in both her and Maurice being locked up, after Gaston riles the villagers into action and leads an assault on the castle. A chaotic battle ensues between the servants and the villagers, whilst the Beast, initially too depressed to fight back, eventually succeeds in downing his assailant upon seeing Belle return. True love appears to have been reciprocated too late, however, but the enchantress, who’s hung around to make sure her work was done, returns to save the day and restore everything back to its former glory, granting life back to the servants and the now transformed prince.
There’s an extremely strong cast in this film, made up mostly with established British actors and actresses. Emma Watson delivers a sterling, assured performance as Belle, looking pretty stunning and showcasing impressive vocal talent. Dan Stevens opposite her as the Beast is also very decent, but Luke Evans undoubtedly stole the show as the vain, villainous Gaston. The chemistry between him and Josh Gad was perfect and their scenes together were hilarious. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen played off each other nicely, with their bickering providing some nice comedic moments and both were the standouts of the transformed servants. That’s not to say the others weren’t good too, they absolutely were.
Visually, the film was absolutely beautiful with some eye popping set designs and costumes. There was some lovely, wide shots in the early part of the film, where Belle was overlooking the village below and the CGI was almost flawlessly done. The servants, especially Lumiere and Cogsworth looked incredible. I say almost flawless, because I did notice a small incident when Gaston ripped off a piece of masonry during his fight at the end, which didn’t look quite right, and Mrs. Potts facial features seemed quite poorly done, which was a little distracting at times. Still, it was very, very good for the most part.
Musically, I absolutely loved this film, I really did. The score was perfectly arranged and just a delight on the ears, so kudos to Alan Menken. From lovely little woodwind parts to beautifully soaring violins. The songs were fantastic and perfectly matched the tone of each scene. My personal favourite was ‘Be Our Guest’, but “Something There’ was a close second, whilst ‘Gaston’, ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever’ and ‘Belle’ were enjoyable and standouts too. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ didn’t quite do it for me in this version, something about Emma Thompson’s singing just didn’t click with me, but musically it was tremendous.
It has to be said, I throughly enjoyed this film. Major kudos to Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, the two screenwriters, who I imagine are responsible for the various alterations from the original. They were really well thought out and either sorted some niggly, continuity issues with the original or added more emotional depth to the two main protagonists. One example of this, is the adding of a backstory for both Belle and the Beast’s mother’s, which gave them an immediate emotional connection. The film is littered with little changes for the better like this. Disney seem to be nailing it with just about every release and this is no different. As a 28 year old, who watched the original as a young boy, I would have no qualms recommending this film to just about anyone.