Disney’s insistence to remake all their classics has been interesting to say the least, their initial design to make darken everything did not go down well but then they changed things up with Cinderella and The Jungle Book and kept them closer to the charm of the original movies which went down a lot better. With their remake of Beauty & The Beast, Disney have moved into dangerous territory, with the animated version one of their studio highlights and beloved by millions they risked upsetting a lot of people if they didn’t get it right. Well I can safely say that while it has nothing on the original, Disney have managed a solid update to their classic story that can stand as its own counterpart to the original without taking away from it.
You all know the story so I won’t get too involved with it, Belle (Emma Watson) lives in a small French village with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and is seen as being too odd and open-minded for her own good while constantly fighting off the advances of the egotistical Gaston (Luke Evans). When Maurice goes missing Belle finds him locked in the castle of a hideous Beast (Dan Stevens) and agrees to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner, despite her imprisonment the castle’s many inanimate objects make her feel welcome believing that she could be the one to fall in love with the Beast and free them from the spell.
It’s the classic story with a new coat of paint; it still works as subversion of Disney’s classic ‘love at first sight’ trope and about never judging a book by its cover. There are some additional plot elements, the spell now has the castle servants becoming more inanimate with every falling petal, we learn what happened to Belle’s mother and there are hints about Beast’s father, none of it essentially but it adds to the overall world building and the characters.
The characters themselves were fine but there was a few elements missing from the animation, all the servants felt like they’d been designed a little too realistically, their faces built in as part of their design which took away from the charm of the original, Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) in particularly came off quite bad, just something about her being a pair of eyes and a mouth on the side of a tea pot didn’t feel quite right. Whether this effected the characters or not I can’t say but there was something off, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) is still as lustful and rebellious as ever but he didn’t feel as fun, as showboaty, conversely Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) comes off as more of an old fart than the stuffy know-it-all he was in original, plus as much as I liked McGregor and McKellen I feel like Lumiere and Cogsworth needed to be closer in age to make their friendship work. On the plus side I did like how Lumiere and Plummets’ (Gugu Mbatha Raw) relationship was expended upon, making them more like lovers as opposed to occasionally bumping uglies.
Thompson holds nothing on Angela Lansbury, you want stern but motherly you don’t beat Murder, She Wrote, but that being said she managed quite well as a more relaxed Mrs Potts, she was definitely more towards letting things slide when need be but strict when called for. The Wardrobe gets a bigger role this time around, as well as an actual name with Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), an opera singer struggling with narcolepsy and depression from being separated from her pianist husband Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) an original character for the film. Both weren’t hugely important but their addition gave the film a little extra in the story department to root for in the end.
Funnily enough I thought most of the human characters did their counterparts justice, Kline took crazy old Maurice and turned him into a cautious but loving father figure who was protective of Belle following the loss of his wife in a pretty damn difficult moment but still recognised the brilliance of his daughter. Josh Gad was a lot of fun as Le Fou, capturing the humour of the character but adding in a little something extra, whether it was the addition of a spine or the hinted at infatuation he had with Gaston or something else, regardless he felt a perfect fit for the character.
Evans might not be the size of a barge but he makes Gaston his own creation, rather than the town’s egomaniac hero, Evans has Gaston comes across more like a hero in his own mind. Having returned from the war and looking to settle down he sets his sights on Belle because she’s the most beautiful girl in town and therefore the only one deserving of him, it’s very much like the original but Evans occasionally makes Gaston come off like a ponce to serve as a reminder that he’s’ not all he thinks he is. There’s a lot more manipulation going on with Evans version, his tales and heroics feel like his own self-made propaganda and he’s playing to the town’s small-minded views to get his own way, it’s close enough to the original character to be familiar but different enough to stand out and Evans nearly steals the film on a couple occasions.
The Beast is just as soft-spoken as the original but instead of a man who’s forgotten his humanity, Stevens plays him as a man who’s held onto what he can through reading, making a more intelligent Beast who connects with Belle on an intellectual level but also one who’s been unable to recognise the beauty of literature until she arrived. I’m not going to say he’s better but I like the direction he took the character in, there’s more emotional vulnerability with this Beast, particularly during his big song moment that better portrays the heartbreak Beast goes through when losing Belle.
Granted the original did it with just a roar so the argument is there but the song is such a great moment I think both work just fine.
Of course with the Beast comes the Beauty, Hermione as Belle felt like perfect casting when she was announced, she’s comes under some criticism since the film’s released but I can’t think of anyone better than Hermione to play the role of arguably Disney’s best princess. Let’s get it out of the way, Watson doesn’t have the strongest voice in the cast and since she’s the lead it stands out all the more, it’s unfortunate but it didn’t take away from her performance for me. Like Evans and Stevens, Watson takes what made Belle great and adds little pieces to her, Belle’s still the always reading, always thinking woman that scares people with her ideas but what Watson’s able to add is a little bit more aggression, Belle’s put upon constantly and it obviously does get to her. On the other side of things she’s also a little more cautious towards her relationship with Beast, at one point asking if she can truly be happy if she isn’t free, it’s a small line but one that carries weight towards the removal of any Stockholm syndrome argument. Honestly the only genuine complaint I’ve seen about Watson is that she lacks the expressiveness of the original and I put that down to the original Belle being an animation and needing to be more expressive due to lack of body language.
The film’s directed by Bill Condon, a man I only know for directing the last two Twilight films but he’s also done Dreamgirls which is apparently quite good. To his credit the film looks great, darker than the original but in keeping with the film’s theme of the Beast’s closed-off and animalistic nature, the film even makes a point of showing the Beast’s castle stuck in a permanent winter while the rest of the world is in the middle of July. The production design is great, as much as I don’t like the character designs I can’t deny that the film’s eye for detail on the locations and settings don’t hit nearly all the right notes (more on that later) and where Condon can he lavishes up the screen with some excitement, the Be Our Guest segment is an explosion of colour and culinary delights, does it go too far? Perhaps but it’s fun to watch.
Speaking of which let’s get to what people really care about, the songs. And all the old favourites are here, the opening Belle is still a great Broadway style opening to introduce Belle and her place in this small town, Be Our Guest as mentioned is just as lavish as ever though I still feel McGregor lacked the charm of the original Lumiere but he manages just fine. Something There nice little number to showcase the developing friendship between Belle and Beast and the two Gaston songs easily stand out as great reimagining of the originals, Gaston is still a lot of fun but extended to include more boasting (as well as some bribery by Le Fou) and The Mob Song is a call to arms with Gaston leading the townsfolk to battle against the Beast but with, what I felt, a more sinister undertone to highlight Gaston playing on the town’s fear.
There’s two new songs, the first one; Days In The Sun, basically covered what Human Again did in the original but with a less celebratory tone and came off lesser as a result. The other one though, Evermore, was a great surprise, led by Steven’s with a surprisingly strong voice, the lament Beast had over letting Belle go at the expense of his own heartbreak was a powerful moment and easily one of the film’s highlights, was not expecting that one.
Sadly though, the film falls flat on its title track, to be clear that’s not on Emma Thompson, she has a great delivery of Beauty & The Beast and does Lansbury proud, the problem comes from the visuals, the dance just wasn’t right, it was too toned down, too focussed, the original was this grand sweeping track that filled this massive ballroom, utilising technology to fly the camera around and have this massive feeling that you were watching a tale as old as time. By comparison this version spun the camera a couple of times and had a few wide shots in a much smaller room but it did not even come close to the legacy making moment of the original which is a shame because that’s THE moment, that’s the Disney scene and they just couldn’t match it.
Like I said at the start, Beauty & The Beast held nothing on the original but it was a solid update, the story’s the same but some little additions help with world building, some of the better supporting characters lacked the charm they had first time around but Evans, Stevens and Watson did their counterparts justice while still making the characters their own and Condon’s direction has a couple of missteps but on the whole capture the spirit of the original. It was always an impossible task to live up to one of Disney’s most beloved classics but I think they managed alright, I can’t say they could’ve done any better cause then you’d just have the original film but as its own beast it works.
3 out 5 hairpieces