Release date: 17th March 2017/Watch the trailer here
Following Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book, Disney’s latest live-action update of an animated classic is Beauty and the Beast, brought to life by director Bill Condon. Of course, as with the majority of the previous remakes, it’s arguable as to whether Beauty and the Beast really needed to receive the remake treatment – especially since it’s widely considered to be one of the best and most beloved of the Disney fairytales. Even so, if every future live-action retelling (with Mulan, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin and Dumbo all on the upcoming schedule) succeeds in being as faithful to the original and as all-round magical as Beauty and the Beast is, then perhaps it’s not such a bad thing after all.
The story of Beauty and the Beast is, truly, a tale as old as time: an enchantress casts a curse upon a selfish young prince (Dan Stevens), turning him into a monstrous beast while the rest of the castle’s inhabitants are transformed into furniture; a fate which they are doomed to for all eternity unless the Beast finds his true love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls. Enter Belle (Emma Watson): a bookish young woman who lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), in a small French town where they are regarded as outcasts by their fellow villagers – with the exception of the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans), who is determined to make Belle his wife, enamoured by her beauty. When Maurice stumbles into the cursed castle in search of shelter from a storm and is consequently held there as the Beast’s prisoner, Belle trades her own freedom in exchange for her father’s.
Above all else, the very best part of Beauty and the Beast was always the music, and that’s something that Condon’s version knows, much more so than Cinderella and The Jungle Book before it. All of the classic songs are here: from an admirable rendition of ‘Be Our Guest’, crooned by candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor, with a questionable French accent), to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the soundtrack to the iconic dance between Belle and the Beast, complete with golden ballgown and Emma Thompson’s teapot, Mrs Potts, on vocal duty. Most praiseworthy of all, however, is the inclusion of new, original songs – and best of all, they work wonderfully, transforming Beauty and the Beast from a film with the occasional song to a fully fledged musical.
A musical would be nothing without its cast, though. Watson has never proved herself to be the best actor, yet she charms right from her opening number (the introductory song, ‘Belle’) – and while her voice may need a touch more auto-tuning than those of her co-stars, she still makes for an appealing heroine alongside Stevens’ prince, who is charismatic enough throughout to be thoroughly likeable, despite being hidden beneath the CGI of his beastly persona for 99 per cent of the movie. The voice cast, too, are all ideal for their characters – McGregor and Thompson are joined by Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, but it is Ian McKellan as Cogsworth the clock and Broadway star Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe who are the real scene-stealers. Still, no actor is a better fit for their role than Luke Evans – he may not be roughly the size of a barge, but it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to the equally captivating and revolting machismo of Gaston than Evans.
Beauty and the Beast‘s main strength, however, is also its downfall. Its staunch dedication to the source material means that while it works well on nostalgia alone, a lack of new ideas raise questions about its necessity as anything other than a money-spinning tool. It’s not wholly unoriginal – in this version, Belle is as much of a kooky inventor as her father is, and several glaring plot holes from the animated tale are given some much-needed explanations, but aside from that, there’s very little that feels particularly innovative.
Yet it could be argued that innovation isn’t really the purpose of Beauty and the Beast – rather, it’s a delightful and respectful homage to the original, with enough sentimental value to win over those who love and remember the 1991 classic, while updating the story for a new generation of fans. In many ways, it’s something of a pleasant surprise; constantly captivating and funny and romantic enough to be entirely irresistible. True, it doesn’t need to exist – but it’s magical enough to be very glad that it does.