Genre: Musical, Romance, Family, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy.
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald.
Year Of Release: 2017
Certificate: PG (UK)
Runtime: 129 Minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Writer(s): Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Synopsis: “An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.” IMDB
Firstly, I feel that I need to jump straight in by saying that Disney’s live-action remake of the tale as old as time is simply spectacular, charming and has all the magic that we have all become accustomed to throughout the many Disney years. Visually it is amazing. The set pieces and design envelopes your imagination and effortlessly draws you in to the world in which the story is placed. The costume design is exquisite and you can see that a lot of heart and care has gone in to each character’s costume creation. CG rendering can sometimes be an issue. There is a tendency to overplay that hand and the world’s the artists create, through this medium, can sometimes feel cold, over-blown and easily detachable to the viewer. It’s hard to submit yourself fully to something that just feels (and often looks) so unnatural. However, with Beauty and the Beast, I did not find this to be the case at all. It’s blend of practical an CG settings sat well alongside each other and never once felt misplaced or forced. The whole thing looks beautiful and smooth. I have seen both positive and negative responses to the Beast’s look, but this, like most things, really comes down to each viewer’s opinion. For me, I thought he looked great and I am very pleased with the outcome of the hard work that goes into a creation such as this. Does he feel or look CG at times? Of course, it’s hard to ignore something that we know as fact. He is a computer generated, motion-capture character. It’s only in the performance of the actor portraying the character that this knowledge becomes irrelevant. If done right.
So, with that in mind, let’s get to the casting. Without a doubt, Luke Evans, as the lovable rogue Gaston, is arguably the cream of the Beauty and the Beast crop. He is perfect and I just cannot fault him in any way, shape or form. He smoulders his way through the movie, with marvellous self-loving form and commands and owns every single scene that he is in. He is about as close to an animated character coming to life as you can possibly hope to get. It’s pretty much like Gaston has just jumped from one to the other. I couldn’t imagine a casting more perfect than Evans in this role, and with his theatrical background, he sounds great too. Perhaps the best out of them all. Dan Stevens, for me, has one of the toughest roles – bringing a character to life via motion-capture. Making a CG character feel tangible must be a difficult task, but Stevens has proved himself many times to be a solid actor and he doesn’t fail this time either. Although buried beneath the Beast, he successfully manages to exude personality and a varied range of emotions that are palpable to the audience. A testament to his skilful and adaptive acting ability. Initially (throughout a small portion of the opening section of the movie, I was slightly unsure of Emma Watson. I am a long-time fan of hers and I was very pleased to hear that she had been cast in the role of Belle. And what a role to have procured. Musically speaking, she sounded great, and the vocal training quite obviously paid off, but her acting seemed a bit off to start with and come across as slightly wooden, but to her credit, that was short-lived and she seemed to find her flow quickly and turned out to be a fine choice indeed. She certainly embraced the character and made it her own.
So, let’s move on to Josh Gad as LeFou, Gaston’s faithful right-hand man. We should all be aware by now of the ridiculous controversy surrounding this character, but let me just put this plain and simple – who the hell cares? His delightful portrayal adds a fantastic new dynamic, which brings nothing less than quality light-heartedness and comedy to both the character and his relationship with Gaston. For me, it only served to improve on the character we all know and love from the animated movie. It’s subtle and well executed and undeniably endearing. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere is just fine, but I’m not going lie, I was mildly put off by his clichéd French accent and I still don’t understand why they did not cast an actual Frenchman or a least someone that could actually do a solid French accent. His casting has always slightly baffled me. That being said, It’s only really a mild niggle that I probably won’t care so much about after more viewing. He did, to be fair, do a great rendition of ‘Be Our Guest’. I’m not going to go through all of the characters, as there are many of them and they, pretty much, all do a great job. However, the other one that I’m not too sure about at this point is Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts. There’s no denying that Thompson is a tremendous actress, which she has proven time and time again, but she just sounded slightly off. Like her accent and lines were forced. To be honest, I’ve still not made up my mind fully and I’d have to watch it again to try to come to some kind of conclusion.
The songs are all pretty much amazing and bang-on- point, in regards to the original compositions and performances from the original cast and musical team. ‘Be Our Guest’ is one that certainly stands out from the crowd as being a wonderful piece of work, both visually and vocally. There are obviously new ones in there too, and let me tell you, they fit so naturally, like they have always been there. A testament to the consistently brilliant work of Alan Menken and the rest of the team. Here’s where I have another niggle, and that would be in the form of the main song (or one of), ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Firstly, I just can’t seem to get to grips with the arrangement. There’s something about both it and Emma Thompson’s performance that doesn’t sit quite right with me. Again, I would have to have another viewing or two. That’s something that I can probably get to grips with and revaluate. That being said, something that cannot be revaluated in my own head is the ballroom dance between Belle and Beast. There’s really no other way to put it other than to say it both looked and felt quite bland. There just seemed to be no flourish in a song (and moment) that most certainly deserved it. The moves seemed very static and lacklustre and it quite surprised me considering how iconic that scene is. The choreography seemed almost half-hearted and I found myself feeling quite flat and jaded right after. That’s something I’m just going to have to make peace with.
So how does it compare to the original? Well, that is quite unavoidable. Beauty and the Beast is one of the most beloved Disney animated movies of all time, and quite rightly so. It’s about as near to perfection as you can get. Obviously, comparison is inevitable. Simply put, it is extremely faithful to the original. It takes all the best moments from the animated classic and both reinvents them and brings them across, and it just works wonderfully. There are the obvious tweaks, this is not an abysmal Psycho shot-for- shot remake. It has its own life and its own charm for both old audiences and new. For those that are looking for the magic of the original and the inclusion of certain scenes, you will hopefully not be disappointed. There are also some great additions in the form of extended dialogue on scenes we know very well and a perfect amount of new backstory that gives us great insight into some of the characters that we have not been privy to before. The move also answers many questions that the animated original may have well left you with. To that end, not only does it feel like a faithful remake, but it also has the charm of originality and fresh story-telling to a story we all know well and love so much.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast is not a perfect movie, but it’s pretty damn close. With the spate of live-action Disney remakes lately, the pressure is constantly on to bring in new audiences and not alienate the old. In that respect, every single person involved both behind the camera and in front of it have made every conceivable effort to do exactly that. People new to the story will hopefully absolutely love it, and old-school fans that will undoubtedly scrutinize it should find it fresh and a remarkable extension on this fabulous romantic tale. It’s beautiful to look at, sounds amazing, is full of that unmatched Disney magic and sweeps you up and sucks you right in to its captivating story. The animated movie is a song as old as rhyme, and this live-action adaptation certainly deserves the same place in our hearts.