Bill Condon (‘Dreamgirls’) directs the live-action remake of a beloved Disney classic: Beauty and the Beast. The film stars Emma Watson (‘The Harry Potter series’), Dan Stevens (‘The Guest’), Luke Evans (‘Dracula Untold’), Josh Gad (‘Frozen’) and Kevin Kline (‘Wild Wild West’) in human form; with Ewan McGregor (‘Trainspotting’), Ian McKellen (‘The Lord of the Rings series’), Emma Thompson (‘Sense and Sensibility’) and Stanley Tucci (‘The Hunger Games series’) voicing the castle staff.
A tale as old as time. Belle (Watson) likes to read and feels like she does not belong in her small provincial French town. She lives with her inventor father, Maurice (Kline), who we do not call “crazy” any more, and is romantically pursued by a meat head hunter named Gaston (Evans), who is aided by sidekick LeFou (Gad).
When Maurice does not return home one day, Belle impulsively sets out to find him – only to discover he has been imprisoned in the tower of a long-forgotten castle, which is inhabited by the ferocious Beast (Stevens) and a lot of talking furniture. They have all been cursed to appear this way as pre-Beast prince was rude to a witch one time.
Belle takes her father’s place in gaol, but is soon freed by candlestick Lumiere (McGregor) and clock Cogsworth (McKellen). If her and the Beast fall in love it will break the curse and return them all to human form. The pair are guided and chided by Lumiere, Cogsworth and teapot Mrs. Potts. toward a romantic relationship; but, word of the Beast has reached the village and Gaston is intent on killing him and claiming Belle.
The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous throughout, and while they remain faithful to the original, they have also been embellished so as not to look like cosplay – such as Belle’s distinctive yellow ball gown. And Emma Watson’s Belle has also been embellished. Perhaps even smarter than before, she is now also tough and single-minded; impetuous and never sitting idly by – even imprisoned in the castle she is always working on an escape, until the dining room and Lumiere sings her “Be Our Guest”.
McGregor’s has serviceable pipes, as we have already heard in ‘Moulin Rouge’, and his Lumiere is very funny, but his ‘Allo ‘Allo accent is even funnier. And, yes, he does still fancy the feather duster, but she is now a swan instead of a busty French maid. McKellen’s Cogsworth does the job nicely too, but it is when he briefly returns to human form that he excels – reuniting with his wife and then chanting “Turn me back into a clock, Turn me back into a clock” behind her back!
Unfortunately, Emma Thompson straight up murders her predecessor Angela Lansbury’s role though. Her Mrs. Potts is insipid and annoying with none of Lansbury’s warmth and depth, and her performance of the title song has no power or heart. But the look of all of the CG bric-a-brac house staff is good – even if their new “real-ness” means that seeing the toddler teacup and saucer flying through the air will make you supremely anxious.
The Beast looks and sound dreadful though. The CG face simply is not up to scratch and the “beast voice” is too vocoded and too harsh. Watson puts in a lot of work to make their relationship seem less like Stockholm Syndrome, but the Beast’s starting point is so rough that no matter how many books he gives her this reimagining of Belle would still be smart enough to leave best alone.
And talking of books, another addition made to justify the live-action remake is a magic book. For serious. A magic book that will take you anywhere in time and place if you squeeze your eyes together hard enough. This is painted as some kind of ironic punishment meted out by the witch, but is actually the best thing ever. Except when you use it to watch your mother die, and then never again. The remake is really concerned with Belle and Beast’s parents for some reason, when this screen time would have been better spent smoothing the too sudden switcheroo in their affections to each other.
Some new distinctly forgettable warbly rubbish songs have also been added to the soundtrack and each is worse than the last. This is either to fill runtime, or again some misguided attempt to prove that the film should exist and does provide value for money.
Yet the classic numbers soar, with “Be Our Guest”, and Belle and Gaston’s songs showing Condon’s expertise at big musical set pieces; whether involving all the CG cutlery and crockery, or the human actors. The problem with Gaston’s song – and another Gaston-centric track – “Kill the Beast” – is that the lyrics are often lost in the mix, so it sounds like: “No one… something, Gaston; no one something, Gaston; no one something and something and someTHING, Gaston”. This is a massive shame as Luke Evans and Josh Gad’s Gaston and LeFou are great throughout. Evans is big and bold, a very loveable arsehole; while Gad is sweet and funny – with his character’s much hyped homosexuality very welcome.
So, it’s hit and miss really. A good Belle and a bad Beast. Great old songs, and rubbish new ones. A fantastic Gaston and a ghastly Mrs. Potts. Brilliant sets and costumes and silly magic books. If you are a Disney or Emma Watson fan you will find plenty to still enjoy – else, stick the cartoon on instead.
Beauty and the Beast is released in the UK on the 17th of March.