A classic tale re-imagined, with village girl Belle finding herself imprisoned by a beast looking for love, while a popular and handsome prince has aims on taking her hand in marriage and willing to do anything to get it.
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Sir Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald
Run Time: 129 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
Disney’s mission to remake all of their classic tales as live-action projects continues, with last year’s The Jungle Book already in the books, and upcoming films on the slate including The Lion King and Dumbo, the House of Mouse appear to be putting all of their eggs into the live-action basket. And while they would have been encouraged by the massive success of The Jungle Book, you would excuse some cautiousness on the part of those involved when it came to giving Beauty and the Beast another go. The 1991 animated masterpiece is rightly revered worldwide, and the Disney fanbase is known for its strong opinions, so it’s hard not to feel sympathy for director Bill Condon given the pressure awaiting him.
That pressure, if there were any to start with, does not appear to have fazed him, however. Smartly sticking to the original tale, Condon delivers an enchanting tale that offers plenty of laughs, some dark moments and ultimately the ending that, while we all know is coming, will still have all viewers leave with a smile on their faces.
Despite the supremely-talented supporting cast (we’ll get to those shortly) this film is of course all about the titular characters; Belle and the Beast. Given the increased focus on the positioning and power of female characters, and indeed the character in this story of Belle herself, it seems almost perfect that Emma Watson – one of the more prominent celebrity women’s activists – be in the role. Watson herself has previously told of her view that Belle is not the typical Disney Princess, given than she does not seek out the riches and success, and this is shown in the character in this movie. So much so that you have to wonder if Watson’s casting shaped this version of Belle. It is hard to think of any other actress that would be more suited to the role, with her innocence and presence perfectly accentuating the character. Her vocals are on point, and her overall performance is astounding; the progress she has taken as an actor since the early Harry Potter days is startling.
Alongside her, Dan Stevens has a very different role, and not just in the obvious way. Seen in his human form at the beginning and end, he spends the majority providing the (amplified) voice and human features for the CGI Beast. At times the effects leave a little to be desired, the effects gurus have done a good job of keeping as many of Stevens’ natural looks in the Beast’s design as possible. This is also a slightly different take on the character, in many ways this feels like an awkward teenager trying to impress the girl more than a monster and his prisoner. It’s somewhat endearing and rather humanises the character. Together they more than hold up their ends as the main stars in the movie. The chemistry between two feels natural and makes for pleasant viewing.
Elsewhere, there is an astounding cast of supporting actors. Luke Evans’ Gaston is perfectly arrogant and smarmy, and the way he very quickly changes in one particular scene from egotistical to murderous at seemingly the flick of a switch is masterful. His cohort LeFou, played rather boorishly by Josh Gad, is the film’s low point; he feels out of place here, and ends up grabbing your attention though not in a good way. A mention also to Kevin Kline, who is wonderful as Belle’s father Maurice. The rest of the main support comes in the form of providing vocals for the anthropomorphic characters; Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald as husband and wife Cadenza and Garderobe, and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts. As superb as Watson and Stevens are as the two leads, it is these characters that oftentimes steal the show. McKellen, in particular, shines as the cowardly Cogsworth.
It is genuinely a joy to watch a clock and a candlestick exchange barbs while also arranging a full dinner for Belle and her captor. The film’s absolute standout highlight is the Be Our Guest sequence, a completely stunning work of effects and music, and I challenge you not to watch this with your foot tapping and a smile on your face. The planning and execution is genius, and now becomes the benchmark for that future Disney films will aspire to when creating a set piece to astound.
Yes, it is not perfect. But it is also everything that you could imagine in a live-action Beauty and the Beast; enchanting, magical and simply fun. It runs pretty long, clocking in at over two hours, some 45 minutes longer than the animated version, but the pacing works well and the addition of some new songs feels natural. It is unashamedly romantic as well, and will please adults and kids. Yes, some Disney fans may not like the live-action future that the studio have planned for their classic tales, but if The Jungle Book and this is anything to go by, the tales – and us – are in safe hands.