By Caleb Fox
In recent years, Disney realized that they could make a lot of money by adapting their animated classics as live action features and cash in on fan’s nostalgia and love. The fact that these adaptations have actually been very good has made that practice all the more welcomed, and it continues with director Bill Condon’s remake of Beauty and the Beast.
The film stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as the titular couple, and the pair slip into their roles perfectly. Watson, who has said that she adored the movie as a child and jumped at the chance to play Belle, clearly enjoys playing the character, bringing kindness and warmth to the screen. Stevens balances the cold exterior and intimidating presence of the Beast with a caring and emotional core to great effect, and the pair have excellent onscreen chemistry which makes their eventual romance feel genuine and real.
The supporting cast is similarly excellent, especially the voice actors playing the castle’s transformed servants. The vocal cast, featuring the likes of Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, and Stanley Tucci, fill the not so inanimate objects with life and personality. The cast is also helped by the fact that all of the characters look as if they’ve stepped straight of the original 1991 animated version and into the real world—from the detailed sets to the vibrant costumes, that original aesthetic carries throughout the film.
Of course, the movie has more in common with the original than just the visuals. Unlike previous Disney remakes like Maleficent, which reimagined the story of Sleeping Beauty from the antagonist’s point of view, or The Jungle Book, which expanded the original’s story and reworked the climax to great effect, Beauty and the Beast is almost exactly the same, beat for beat. Scenes that are added to fill the expanded running time (the new film is about 45 minutes longer than its predecessor) don’t introduce any major changes to the narrative, but rather serve to draw out the plot and give the romance between the main characters more time to develop. The movie benefits from such additions, and overall the story feels even more fully realized than the original. However, it’s fair to say that the film plays it safer than other recent live action Disney remakes, and viewers looking for a new take or fresh update of the animated classic won’t find it here.
Leading up to the film’s release, there was some controversy over the revelation that Josh Gad’s character LeFou, the right-hand man to Luke Evans’ misogynistic antagonist Gaston, would be depicted as a gay man. But media attention about Russian censorship and bigoted theatre owners in Alabama refusing to screen the movie over-hyped the issue. Lefou is simply portrayed as having an unrequited crush on Gaston, and at the end of the film, his character receives a moment of closure. Again, it’s a very subtle change that merely builds upon the relationship between the characters from the original.
The movie also adds several new songs to the film, including “Evermore,” a standout solo for the Beast. These new numbers, as well as all the ones from the original, are a delight to watch. The cast all have excellent voices, the singing is superb, and the musical scenes are colourful, fluid, and full of passion – choreographed and staged expertly. Fans will no doubt have a hard time not singing and dancing along in the theatre. And the excellent camera work and effects carry through the entire film, not just the musical numbers. The moments of action are tense and thrilling despite audience members knowing how they are going to play out. Even the simple scenes of Belle in her village or wandering around the Beast’s castle are enjoyable to watch.
When all is said and done, Beauty and the Beast is a piece of cinema that you’ll probably like exactly as much as you expect to. Those who love the original will love this film, viewers who don’t care for the animated version won’t find anything in this remake to change their minds. Regardless, the film is a real beauty, extremely well made, and sure to leave Disney fans of all ages happy.
(Featured image: Beauty and the Beast, Walt Disney Pictures)