So I watched Beauty and The Beast…
When I first heard about this film’s intended production and later watched subsequent trailers, I was filled with apprehension instead of excitement. “Live-action adaptationi” is just Hollywood jargon for “remake” and remakes are dangerous things. Unexpectedly, however, this film manages to do something that most remakes fail hopelessly at – it brings the story into modern times for a new generation whilst still paying homage to the original and pleasing the previous generation.
Okay, basic plot: Belle (Emma Watson) is a strong-willed young maiden living in a small-minded village in France. She spends her time reading and learning instead of looking for a husband like all the other girls in the village. When Belle’s father – Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes missing, Belle rushes to find him. When she does, she discovers that he’s been held prisoner in a castle by a terrifying Beast (Dan Stevens). Belle agrees to take her father’s place and soon discovers that the castle is full of magic and wonder. This wonder captures Belle’s heart as does the Beast who’s holding her captive.
The first ten or so minutes of this movie had me worried. There’s something inexplicably ‘fake’ about it. The sets look like forgeries, the songs fall flat and you’re constantly aware that what you’re watching isn’t real. The sporadic lack of French accents further heightens this. Certain characters have them but others don’t and it’s never made clear why. The kaleidoscope of conflicting accents – from Watson’s English to Kline’s American – detach you from the story and constantly cause you to suspend your disbelief. I know what you’re going to say: “the original also had a diverse mixing pot of accents and, therefore, I can’t penalise this live-action adaptation.” Unfortunately, remaking a film into live-action brings a whole new set of standards that it will be judged by.
Thankfully though, things improve dramatically as the film hits its stride and delves into its central plot. The sets suddenly feel more concrete and corporal as does the acting (and singing) of Watson. The film takes a firm stance when it comes to the musical aspect of its story while I loved. Where previous live-action adaptations such as Cinderella and Maleficient shed their musical roots for more dramatic storytelling and The Jungle Book shyly acknowledged the musical element to its story; Beauty and the Beast proudly displays its heritage as a Disney musical. One of my favourite things about the original Beauty and the Beast was its rich and entertaining soundtrack. Songs like ‘Gaston’, ‘Something There’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and of course (my all-time favourite) the wondrous ‘Be Our Guest’ are songs that I’ll rewatch the original just to hear.
Now these original songs all feature in this film and this is where the film really delivers on the nostalgia. They’re performed in varying degrees of similarity to their original versions. It’s not a case of simple ‘cut and paste’, the songs are molded and transformed to suit this particular movie’s style. This allows them to both be nostalgic while also fresh and original. This film’s rendition of ‘Be Our Guest’ was superb. It had the grandiose and extravagant flair of the original but managed to deliver it in new and innovative way; both paying homage to the classic and creating a distinct. melodic anthem.
This film is about forty-five minutes longer than the original and while a small portion of this most likely went to the extended credits due to this film’s fantastic CGI, the extended runtime allows for expansion of the story. There are new subplots and extended scenes which help bring this timeless classic into the present. The relationship between Beast and Belle is solidified and explored like never before and their love feels built on sturdier foundation than the tongue-in-cheek joke about Stockholm Syndrome from the original. The added runtime also always for new, original songs. There’s about only one or two new songs but they are brilliant and provide the knockout punch that solidifies this film’s story.
Emma Watson is a star on the rise and I’m really rooting for her to make the transition from child-star to Hollywood leading lady. What I loved about the performance in this film is the balance and understanding she brought to the role. She needed to have depth but not be gritty; be light-hearted but not comical. Watson manages to find the sweet spot perfectly and gives a competent performance. When it comes to live-action princesses, I think Lily James’ Cinderella is still the best I’ve seen. Watson just doesn’t have the magic to her portrayal that James did but she does well. Dan Stevens who is the Beast to Watson’s Beauty was far more engaging and entertaining, I felt. With no disrespect to Stevens, I far preferred him as the grouchy, hairy Beast than his human form. In truth though, I felt the same about the original. I wish the prince had stayed a Beast.
The supporting cast in this film is amazing. There’s true Hollywood royalty in the wings and each put in solid performances. Ewan McGregor as the undeniable charismatic Lumière is the standout. His French accent was a little bit over-the-top but I felt it suited the extravagance and charm of the character perfectly. Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts was also a delight and I highly enjoyed her singing. Luke Evans and Josh Gad – who star as Gaston and LeFou respectively – were also excellent. I actually wish the two had had more screentime but the story didn’t allow for such. Though whenever they are on screen it’s an absolute riot. Their rendition of ‘Gaston’ was second to none. They breathed life into the song wonderfully. My only real complaint about certain members of the supporting cast was how fake their ornamental versions looked. With the exception of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Plumette, all the ornamental characters appeared poorly animated and lacking definition.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a perfect example of how to remake a classic. It delivers on the nostalgia but also has enough original elements to make it feel fresh and standout as a fine piece of film. Watson does enough to justify her place in the lead but it’s the characters around her that truly sparkle. It’s worth watching and then some 8/10