There’s a enchantment to Bill Condon’s reimagining of Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, stirring up that inherent nostalgia within the older members of the audience, and capturing the hearts, and imaginations of the younger crowd, unaccustomed to this particular tale. And yet still there remains an overriding sense of redundancy. Unlike The Jungle Book, for instance, that served a purpose, it was a masterclass in modern technology and justified its cinematic retelling – but this remains too faithful to the original animation, and in turn, feels like a superfluous endeavour, albeit a beguiling one. I guess as Whitney Houston once said; it’s not right, but it’s okay.
The story itself needs little introduction – Belle (Emma Watson) dreams for more than what her narrow-minded small town can provide, constantly spurning the advances of war hero, and perennial narcissist Gaston (Luke Evans), rarely seen without the doting Le Fou (Josh Gad) by his side. Belle finally finds the escape she needed, but for all the wrong reasons, when she discovers her father (Kevin Kline) is being held captive in the derelict, elusive mansion belonging to the Prince (Dan Stevens) – who is himself imprisoned in the form of a Beast, only able to be freed by true love. Belle sacrifices herself for her father, and remains at the castle – as the Prince’s staff – each under a similarly precarious spell, pray that she will be their saviour, before it’s too late.
Featuring the talents of Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere) and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) amongst many others – you can see why such an al-lstar cast signed on to this project, for it thrives in the same Disney magic that belonged to the original, as a narrative that is grounded by its pertinent take on society, triumphant in its accessibility to a broad audience. The way the Beast is outcast and feared, and the mob mentality that prevails – not to mention how essential it is having such a strong-willed, independent female lead in Belle, makes this a worthy tale, the problem is, it’s a tale that has, literally, been told before.
But the studio can be let off the hook somewhat given how strong the narrative is, and the the impact the wondrous Alan Merken score has that goes with it, as it’s hard not to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when some of our favourite scenes, lines and songs are performed, and visually, they’ve been brought to life emphatically. The sets look incredible, so vibrant and loyal to the original animation – and there’s a choreography that illuminates this piece, as with an animation, anything is possible, and there’s always the fear that actual humans might inject an element of clunkiness to proceedings, but this, at times, is like a stage play, so particular, so graceful.
In this setting it’s the big musical numbers that do stand out, and Watson’s vocals impress in that regard. Her performance less so, but thankfully given how aesthetically grandiose this tale is, and just how much there is going on, her lack of nuance is less detrimental, and less notable in this instance. We do delve into the relationship between the eponymous protagonists in more depth, however, epitomised in how the film is 45 minutes longer than the 1991 endeavour. Real people can be less forgiving, and easier to read, to truly get a sense for the paramount coming together, and the romance at the core of this narrative, we need to believe in it, and the extra time Condon has taken to portray it comes in rather handy.
That aside – well, apart from making Le Fou a far more well-rounded character (with Gad undoubtedly one of the best things about this piece) – there is little that has changed from the original. Narratively, and tonally similar, it’s a shame not to see Disney take more risks. But what this does share, and this is arguably the most important thing to get right – is that same heart. Phew.
Beauty and the Beast is released on March 17th