Beauty and the Beast – Film Review by Fran Winston
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
In cinemas March 17th
There is always a buzz and excitement around a Disney movie. They don’t do openings – they do events. However even by their standards this has been hugely anticipated. Perhaps only the Star Wars movies (which also fall under their banner) have been more anticipated in recent years.
This live action remake of the 1991 animated classic could easily have been a case of style over substance. After all they’ve cast fashion icon and Harry Potter alum Emma Watson in the lead role of Belle and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as the eponymous Beast. Thankfully while it is indeed stylish and stunning it retains all the heart of the animation.
If you’re not familiar with the story, a handsome but selfish prince is cursed to live as a hideous beast until he can find someone to love who loves him in return. Just to complicate things his fate is being timed by a withering rose and when the last petal falls he will be condemned to his fate forever. Mind you he’s not alone – all his servants also fell under the spell and were transformed into household objects such as Lumière (McGregor) who was transformed into a candelabra and Mrs Potts (Thompson) who is now a teapot alongside her son Chip who was turned into a cup. They look after Beast as time ticks away and hope grows ever fainter. That is until an artist called Maurice (Kline) finds himself lost and arrives at the palace. Imprisoned by Beast he is rescued when his daughter Belle sacrifices herself and agrees to remain in there in his place. Realising that this could be the answer to their prayers the entire household band together to try and get the unlikely pair to bond.
So far so fairytale and like all stories of this sort it is indeed magical. Disney have done an amazing job capturing the world of the animated movie. All the household objects are wonderfully imagined and at no point appear to be CGI – you will be totally enchanted by them. Obviously a huge part of this is down to the amazing actors who are lending them their voices but it is also a testament to the talents of the animators.
In terms of the live action actors Watson does indeed make a beguiling Belle having that girl next door rosebud like beauty coupled with an inner steeliness. And she is also a fine actress. Her singing voice may not quite be on a par with that of Paige O’Hara who voiced Belle in the original. Or even with that of Amy Adams who was a revelation playing a Disney princess trapped in the real world in Enchanted. However she holds a tune and between that and the magic they can perform in the recording studio, it works. Just don’t expect any epic high notes a la Let It Go from Frozen.
Stevens spends much of the movie hidden behind the Beast’s furry façade and I have to say that this was where I warmed to him most. He manages to convey a huge amount through just his voice and I actually felt he looked a bit uncomfortable in the couple of scenes where he is acting without his hirsute security blanket.
Kline is wonderful as Maurice and Luke Wilson as baddie Gaston is a swaggering vain delight. It’s actually hard to be repelled by him as he is so charismatic (online fans put that far less politely – I can’t even allude to what they felt towards him here).
The cinematography is amazing as are the sets and locations. Since they are bringing an animation to life everything is larger than life and even if you watched this with no sound you would be stunned by how lovely it looks.
And of course there are the songs. The original score is there and may have new singers but the music is just as wonderful and timeless as ever. A real highlight is Be Our Guest where the animators really get to go to town turning every item in the castle into a chorus dancer and creating a kaleidoscope of colour and wonder.
Obviously this is a family film but it is OK to go and see it just on your own. You don’t need to bring children with you to appreciate this especially if the original still holds a special place in your heart as it does for so many people. I’m not surprised that this is pretty close to flawless (although there are some continuity and costume errors that I won’t point out) given the budget and backing that it had. But budget and backing cannot create heart and emotion where there is none and this has it in spades. Extremely enjoyable and moving this really is a tale as old as time that still resonates today.