It really is a tale as old as time when Disney decides to remake an animated classic. It is Beauty and the Beast after all, the OG Disney film that made us all aspire to be well-read and as kindhearted as Belle. This time around, we are placed in the good hands of Bill Condon who brings a modern flair to the story; the film is elegantly crafted, humming with the tunes of old and filled with flights of nostalgia that pays homage to the animated original.
We all know how the story goes: set in the provincial French countryside, Belle (Emma Watson) is the town’s bookworm who lives with her doting father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). After her father is imprisoned by the Beast (Dan Stevens), Belle takes his place and so begins her journey as she befriends the talking household furniture and seeks to help break the curse upon them. And so the romance blossoms.
This hybrid of live-action and digital brings forth a refreshing classicism, resonating with familiarities we grew to love in the original. While the romance was somewhat awkward at times because of the heavy use of visual effects, it didn’t withdraw from the beauty of the Beast’s palace from snow-capped landscapes, dazzling ballroom dancing and of course, a library fit for a bookworm. It served well in the animation of the household appliances, who were all brilliant in their performances.
Mrs Potts was delightful as ever (Emma Thompson) alongside her bubbly son, Chip (Nathan Mack). Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) worked together perfectly like clockwork, their banter so natural and nostalgic. Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was sultry and lovely, and a new addition to the family was Madame de Gardeobe’s (Andra McDonald) husband, the harpsichord Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). They shared the stage wonderfully with the more human characters, sometimes mistaken as real and not digitally created.
The visual effects were extravagant, soaring above our expectations with only a few mishaps. A few scenes – the chase through the woods, the fight on crumbling castle fixtures – leave you feeling a bit cold as you realise it’s all digital coding. However, for the majority of the film we are happily enchanted and fooled, particularly during the famous “Be Our Guest” number which was dazzling and an example of digital cinematic craft.
I’m just going to be straightforward and say that I adored Emma Watson as Belle. She is demure, a natural beauty and warmed the heart of the Beast and audience without much effort. Dan Stevens performed well in balancing the rage and tenderness of the Beast, and his charm was never dulled despite being completely hairy throughout majority of the film. Luke Evans played a brilliant Gaston, the perfect mixture of narcissism and ruthlessness. A special mention must go to Josh Gad as LeFou, who was the comical relief the film needed.
By being Gaston’s voice of reason, he was hilarious in the right moments.
Bringing back Alan Menken, who composed most of the original 1991 soundtrack, it’s not surprise that this soundtrack was flawless. As the music swelled and danced, it matched the film in grace and contemporary craft. Menken’s addition of new songs, particularly the Beast’s number titled “Evermore”, serve in proving the film’s originality, taking it another step away from being compared to the 1991 film.
Without completely butchering the song, there may be something that wasn’t there before in this live action remake. Yes, I’m referring to LeFou’s homosexuality that has created a stir. The moment in which they refer to is fleeting and somewhat hilarious. Aside from swinging the other way, he is no different to the sidekick we endured in the original film.
In the tradition of Disney films, the audience is guided through the suspenseful yet predictable events. However the plot itself – a captive woman and a beast-like man – are somewhat problematic. This, alongside the darker themes of the story have been smoothly rewritten by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spilitotopoulos, instead focusing on Belle’s capability on saving herself and the Beast, on her heroism and independence.
Now, the question is why are we comparing this to the original? While it stands as a classic film, it shouldn’t be overshadowed by it. Those who hold a candle for the original will be wonderfully surprised as the film’s flair and musical experience is breathtaking. The film stands on its own as Beauty and the Beast. It’s enchanting and visually elegant, gliding into your heart with songs from the past and makes you remember why you loved Disney films in the first place.