Disney fans have long anticipated the live action remake of the classic 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast, and they will not be disappointed. It comes at a time when stories such as Cinderella and The Lion King are being made for a new generation of audiences. Both the die-hards and newbies will appreciate the more nuanced complexities about the price of vanity at the core of the tale.
Bill Condon (Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Gods & Monsters, Dreamgirls) has assembled an all-star ensemble cast led by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens (TV’s Legion), along with Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad and Audra McDonald.
Belle is as headstrong as ever. She retains similar aesthetics, in what is surely a tribute to the animated classic, but takes on more of a rebellious, direct rejection of the advances of conceited suitor and war hero Gaston (Luke Evans). Her thirst for knowledge coupled with her determination to escape the confines of her quaint 18th century town immediately place her at odds with the expectation that she will settle down into a demure, French housewife.
“Perhaps you haven’t met the right man?” Gaston gallantly suggests, to which Belle replies “It’s a small town. I’ve met them all.”
Fawning over Gaston in Belle’s place and in explicitly homoerotic fashion is the crowd pleasing lackey LeFou (Josh Gad), who is also something of a quasi-moral compass. His role is more fleshed out in this version, with the major arc being his adoration for his idol that threatens to cloud his good judgement of the true character of Gaston.
Our Beast (Dan Stevens) is reviled and takes on a more captive persona, but when exposition reveals a childhood that is beset with loss, he becomes a fallen aristocrat who is not entirely to blame for his selfish nature. Brooding and mysterious, his savage nature is unmasked when he realises that he and Belle are worldly characters who are ahead of their time and isolated by their sense of peculiarity.
Servants of the Castle wait on us as comic relief and buffers between the romantic tension of the leads, and they are even hinted as being somewhat accountable for their own fate as walking and talking antiques. It is questionable why candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) seems to be the single character in this movie of blended British and American dialects with a circumflex French accent, but his playful agility and professional relationship with major-domo Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) allow for an effective contrast of optimism and cynicism that is akin to a Bert and Ernie dynamic.
Self-referential humour abounds. Belle attempts to talk to an inanimate hairbrush, Gaston acknowledges that no self-respecting woman would throw themselves at him, and Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) addresses the elephant in the room by confirming that no, she is not teacup Chip’s grandmother.
Stylistically, the musical cues open and close like a Broadway number at times, with almost a metaphysical curtain that signifies the end. Be Our Guest is a fun dinner-and-a-show cabaret, as if coordinated by Busby Berkeley, and the title song Beauty and the Beast has a harpsichord French Renaissance ballroom atmosphere with impressive vocals by Thompson.
Emma Watson shines in the leading role, following naturally from her previous fierce females in The Perks of Being A Wallflower and the Harry Potter series.
A flourishing tale with joy and enough jabs to satisfy.