When Disney imagineers come together to bounce ideas of which the House of Mouse should tackle next, you’d think said ideas had become sloppy. Pixar’s quota of imagination tends to vacuum most of the innovation and Disney are left merely rebooting their classic animations for the sake of live action. And whilst most can argue that it’s lazy and the ideas, or lack of, have run stale for profit’s sake, those whose knees buckle from the possibility of their favourite animated classics being reinvigorated revel in how in fact Disney follow this process.
Beauty and the Beast follows the likes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book as Belle (Emma Watson), a small town village girl, follows the footsteps of her missing father Maurice (Kevin Kline), unwittingly traipsing into the cursed domain of a Prince. Altered to look like a hideous beast for his selfishness, he and all those within are magically transformed into household objects (voiced by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson). If the Beast (Dan Stevens) is to find someone to love and to be loved in return before the last petal falls, the spell will be broken. In the meantime, the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans) battles to win the affections of Belle.
Director Bill Condon has taken the challenge of revitalising something which in a sense didn’t need revitalising at all. And as much as that’s an argument most tend to go with, the fact is it’s here, and it really couldn’t look more astoundingly beautiful. Alan Menken joins back to the original Beauty-verse, where the likes of Tale As Old As Time have become household names to initialise a sense of complete nostalgia when it comes to injecting an animated classic into the realm of real-life. In doing so, this creates a perplexing warmth, as the likes of Belle and Something There are joined by the likes of its star talent and the grossly envisioned world to which Condon has brought forth.
The narrative never particularly strays from the original storyline aside from a handful of minute quirks which add depth into both Belle and Beast’s background story, both of whom appear to have rather dark pasts. But without revelling too much on the dark, Condon’s decision to maintain solely to a story which focuses on the blossoming love of its Beauty and its Beast is one that harbours as much Disney magic, love and warmth as humanely possible. The sparks are there, even amongst the blundering, towering facade of the Beast, or Dan Steven’s prosthetic, computer-generated body.
Watson’s anti-Princess, to which she proclaims as Madame Garderobe wishes to “dress you like a Princess!”, touches on light feminism as she’s seen attempting to teach young girls within the restrained town of Villeneuve and then again as she’s taken aspects from Maurice’s original story to cater to her own. It’s admirable and it’s light, but it does the job. She slides into the Disney role from Harry Potter‘s Hermione with genuine ease; she’s as likeable as they come, a role model for young women who knows a thing or two about green screen acting — in this sense an array of walking, talking candelabras, clocks and teapots. Dan Stevens’ unexpected voice bellows on the screen like an up-and-coming operatic, Luke Evans’ dastardly handsome Gaston is campy fun and the voice talents of McKellen, McGregor, Thompson, Tucci and McDonald brim with genuine joy.
It’s ultimately Condon’s fine decision to maintain a musical aspect in this that elevates it to something so much more. There are a handful of new additions, one which adds a poignancy to the hopefulness of the castle’s animated objects. But other than that, Menken has produced a familiar score which fits the grandeur of the modernised big screen. And as it goes hand-in-hand with some of the most impressively tangible sound stages and set designs I have ever seen – the screen almost literally comes alive. The castle and its grounds are swarmed with eloquent detail of winding staircase structures to that ballroom dance scene, it’s a dazzling and magnificent testament to those imagineers that have created such a setting that oozes majesty and awe.
There’s nothing brazenly different about Beauty and the Beast that we haven’t seen before. But if something isn’t broken, why fix it? Condon has brought to life one of the most beloved animated classics of all time and given it some of the finest makeovers Disney could have ever imagined. It’s a breathtaking and gorgeously rendered Disney epic with enough classic magic to have audiences smiling from beginning to end.
Dir: Bill Condon
Scr: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci
Prd: David Hoberman
Music: Alan Menken
DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler
Runtime: 129 minutes
Beauty and the Beast is out in cinemas now.