Cut to present day and Disney has taken their beloved classic and given it the live action treatment. As I am unashamedly a Disney fan, just hearing the announcement was enough to make me giggle like a giddy little kid.
Now, as anyone with a childhood will know, Beauty and the Beast is about an intelligent, and spirited young woman named Belle (Emma Watson) who wants more from her life than the provincial village can offer her, and is constantly having to beat down the advances of the local town hunk, Gaston (Luke Evans). After a fateful trip leaves her father (Kevin Kline) trapped by a mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens) in his enchanted castle, Belle offers to take her father’s place in exchange for his freedom. But little does she know that she holds the fate of all the castle’s denizens in her hands, as they all wait to see if she could ever learn to love a Beast.
As you can see, the plot of the film doesn’t veer much from the original cartoon, which is to be expected. As it is, this is almost a shot for shot remake, with a few embellishments to flesh out some of the characters and a smattering of new songs thrown in as well. And for the most part it works. Seeing all the locales from the animated film brought to life in vivid 3-dimensional colour is quite a treat, and the additions to the back stories of the protagonists actually does go a long way in adding more depth to their motivations than that of their 2 dimensional counterparts.
The characters themselves are played by a very talented cast. Watson as Belle is as independent (if not more) as the original, and this time also brings more smarts to the table. Not only is she an avid reader but also a tinkerer in her own right, much like her father. Her spunky, “no-body puts Belle in a corner” attitude is exactly what you would imagine Belle to be.
Dan Stevens as the Beast is also great in the role. Like his predecessor, his gruff mannerisms belie his soft nature, his facial expressions captured wonderfully by his CG persona. It’s hard to tell what part of the facial performance was Stevens and how much was the animators but nevertheless it all comes together to create a believable and sympathetic portrayal. You’ll be hard put not to empathise with the Beast, especially during the latter parts of the film. (Though, just like the cartoon, the prince looks better in beast form.)
But the real highlights are Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou. The duo were over the top and cartoony in their original incarnations, and they are much the same now. The two were a joy to watch on screen, their interactions with each other eliciting lots of laughs, and just stealing the show with their rendition of Gaston. Both Evans and Gad are talented singers and they take on the song with gusto, living up to the original song in every way.
Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) and Mrs Potts (Emma Thomson) are all back as CG creations and while the voice talent is great, there’s something about their character designs that never felt as welcoming as the originals. It may be a matter of personal taste though.
The live action film gets a lot of things right, but somehow it doesn’t break new ground like the original did. While Emma Watson is fine as a singer, her songs didn’t quite have the dynamism or energy when compared to Paige O’Hara‘s original vocals. A bit of a bump in an otherwise solid performance.
Some of the additional story beats that were added to the film didn’t quite work and felt like they padded the runtime for the movie unnecessarily. Case in point, there was a sequence and a song added in the prologue that really wasn’t needed. The prologue in the animated film worked just fine, and I don’t know why they wanted to change it. In fact, I felt the same way about all the new songs in the movie. It may be a case that they don’t have the same nostalgia filter around them as the old songs, but I wasn’t overly impressed by them.
But that being said, the music score by Alan Menken is as beautiful and as haunting as ever. From the moment you hear the opening notes of the main prologue I got Goosebumps, and I can’t even begin to express the chills I got when the strings started to play for “Beauty and the Beast”. Some of the songs may lack the oomph of the originals, but when the ones that do land pack a punch.
For all the pomp and circumstance the live action film had, it never quite exceeded what the original brought. It’s safe to say that the animated feature will always be the superior of the two efforts, but that doesn’t mean that the live action version is not worth watching. Seeing your favourite characters brought to life is worth the price of admission, and hopefully introduces a whole new generation to a Tale as Old as Time.
I give Beauty and the Beast a 7.5 out of 10.
(There is no end credit scene btw.)