Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson
“Be our guest!”
Beauty and the Beast is the latest in what is to be a long line of Disney live action remakes of their animated back catalogue. Everything from the heavy hitters (Lion King) to the slightly more obscure (Pete’s Dragon) is getting the treatment.
Some of these films, such as Pete’s Dragon and Alice in Wonderland, have developed their own visual identity or expanded on the story. Others, such as The Jungle Book, stick pretty closely to their source material.
Beauty and the Beast very much falls into that latter category.
Emma Watson plays Belle, the smart and adventurous daughter of the inventor Maurice, who lives a boring life in the provincial village of Villeneuve.
Belle spends her days reading books and staving off the attention of the obnoxious bully Gaston who wants her for a trophy wife.
Belle’s life is turned upside down when Maurice becomes lost in the woods, is captured by the mysterious and reclusive Beast, who eventually agrees to free Maurice in exchange for Belle. Belle learns that Beast was cursed by an enchantress and unless he finds true love by the time the time the last petal falls from a rose in his castle, he will be doomed to keep his beastly visage for the rest of his life.
So, in short, its almost exactly the same as the animated film.
Beauty and the Beast is the most uninspired adaptation in Disney’s series of live action remakes. The musical numbers are mostly the same. Beauty and the Beast, Gaston and Be Our Guest are all there. As can be seen from all the promotional material, even the costumes and set design look extremely similar to its animated predecessor. The running time is a touch longer thanks to the inclusion of a couple of new songs but the story unfolds in more or less the same way as the original. There isn’t really any new hook to any of the lead characters and even the sentient furniture in Beast’s castle (Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs Potts and Chip) are the same.
What that means is we have a film that is visually sumptuous, has a familiar and likeable cast, but Beauty and the Beast remains difficult to engage with because so often you’re simply thinking ‘oh yeah, I remember this scene from the original.’
Another qualm I have with the film is the look of the non-human characters. Disappointingly, Disney seem to have settled on a ‘realistic’ look that is rather devoid of charm. Mrs Potts literally looks like a regular tea kettle with eyes painted on. Cogsworth doesn’t have the paunch that his animated counter part has and Lumiere isn’t the lithe dinner host he used to be either. Instead they are just normal household items with faces, with none of the elasticity shown by the originals. I would prefer Disney drew some inspiration from the visual effects team that worked with Guillermo Del Toro in Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. These are terrific live action films with fantastical creatures who are much more stylized and visually engaging.
Whilst not a bad film by any stretch, I was left a little cold by how clinical Beauty and the Beast felt in its recreation of the original film. But as I have listened to and read feedback from other people who saw the film, I have come to realize that I am out of step with popular opinion on this one. As it turns out, there are millions of fans who enjoy these remakes and find them to be a pleasing trip down memory lane or a wonderful vehicle for introducing their children to an animated film that they loved from their own youth.
It might not be for me, but Disney appears to have discovered a winning formula with these remakes and tapped into the powerful sense of nostalgia many movie watchers associate with their catalogue of films.