Directed by William Bill Condon (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – 1 & 2, Chicago, Dreamgirls), Disney’s latest, Beauty and the Beast is a live action revisit to the original 1991 musical fantasy, the first animated film to be nominated for the Oscar’s Best Picture in 1992. That award went to Silence of the Lambs so no arguments there. The film however, was hailed as a classic and much appreciated by critics and audiences alike.
You’d imagine a revisit, quarter of a century later, would be applauded and ridiculed at the same time, as is the case with most classic remakes especially ones that evoke nostalgia and childhood memories.
So our present version, Beauty and the Beast comes with shoes to fill in. And large ones at that.
The film does stick to its Disney roots and is a majestic world of grandeur and enchanting visuals complete with beautifully staged musical performances and talking objects.
No really, the visual experience is a wonderful treat for the eyes, and you’re not going to want to blink through some scenes.
For anyone who’s not old enough to have seen the first one, or too old to remember it, the film sticks to it’s familiar premise of a bright young woman’s (Emma Watson) journey in the imprisoned castle of the Beast (Dan Stevens), and her interactions and eventual fondness for him and its inhabitants.
The film ends with the Beast’s triumph over villain, Gaston (Luke Evans) and his eventual reclamation of his princely appearance.
In what is now popular folklore, Emma Watson auditioned for the role in last year’s Oscar laden La La Land but gave it up because she was shooting for this one.
“I had to be there to do that and, as I was saying before, you can’t half-arse a project like this – you’re in or you’re out. And I was like, ‘I’ve kinda got to be all in’, and so this was really where my heart was and I knew I had to fully commit and make sure that I did this.”
That role eventually went to Emma Stone and won her an Oscar. Watson put in some serious work behind the scenes riding, singing and dancing for three months to play Belle. And it shows.
She is entirely watchable as the smart and non-conformist Belle. You wouldn’t think she was anyone else and she does justice to playing the part of a Disney Princess. But part of playing a Disney Princess also meant her character is restricted to a certain template.
One that Disney has worked over the years to build into their image. And so this does curb her repertoire of acting skills. This isn’t really a criticism of her talents but an acknowledgment of her accomplished depiction of Belle’s portrayal. Make no mistake, this is her film.
Dan Stevens plays the Beast, and has an opening scene where he hasn’t metamorphosed into the beast as yet. Other than that he is confined to the Beast by way of his voice and eyes.
And does well to handle the different emotions of the Beast with the little but effective tools at his disposal.
The CGI does help his appearance, and draws attention to the physical contrast between Belle and him, a seemingly disparate couple. They are later drawn to each other by their shared interest of reading, possibly subtle messaging by Disney. Approved.
Luke Evans plays Gaston, the external charming antidote to the Beast, who supposedly hideous, looks quite human.
Although handsome on the outside, Gaston harbours evil intentions secretly, and this is where he loses to the Beast. Vying for Belle’s attention, Luke delivers a persuasive rendition of a Disney Villain. And is a worthy adversary to the Beast.
Other characters in the film are mostly restricted to animated objects and voice overs. And do their jobs well contributing to the breadth of Disney’s live action brilliance.
The purists may wonder and question if this revisit evoked the warmth of their childhood or even necessitated a rerun. But Disney does execute well on what it set out to do with familiar characters and a recognizable story.
While the film may win some awards for its visual experience, it doesn’t pretend to be a brilliant landmark in storytelling. And probably lacks some of its original soul.
Chug along with the kids, but the film does appeal to the child within a mature audience as well.
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