Genre: Fantasy, Musical Director: Bill Condon Starring: Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Luke Evans
Beauty and the Beast is regarded as one of Disney’s best films ever made, and for good reason. It tells a good story, with great characters and memorable songs. It’s a timeless tale that one can watch again again. Which does leave me with one question regarding this 2017 live action version.
Why does this film exist? Its not that I think it’s bad in any way, far from it. Its just that there doesn’t seem to be a particular need or desire among millions for a new version of Beauty and the Beast. I thought the same last year with a live adaption of The Jungle Book. (another film that I liked) There seems to be some sort of demand for live action adaptions of older Disney films that seems unexpected. Not that this is a bad thing; so long as they’re good they cause no harm.
And this version of Beauty and the Beast is good, if only for the fact that it is an effective recreation of the original classic. Beyond that, there’s not all that much else to it.
You probably already know the story of Beauty and the Beast but just to refresh; Belle (Emma Watson) is a young woman living in a small provincial village where she enjoys spending her time reading (which obviously none of the other townsfolk are into all that much) and dreaming of a life beyond her own reality. One day, trying to find her father (Kevin Kline) she happens upon an abandoned castle where she encounters and is trapped by a Beast. (Dan Stevens) The Beast and his servants have been cursed by an enchantress until he can prove that he can fall in love and be loved in return before his time runs out. The servants believe that Belle, being the one, can break this spell. Also having to deal with arrogant town hero Gaston (Luke Evans) and his ‘partner’ LeFou (Josh Gad) this is essentially, a tale as old as time.
I may not have needed to write that summary in the first place since most people will likely have watched it or parts of it at some points in their life. To those people who go and watch this, I can only say that nothing particularly different occurs in this film. There are no alternate scenes, no exaggerated changes of dialogue, if you’ve seen Beauty and the Beast, you’ve seen this film.
Not that this is in any way a bad thing, if it isn’t broke, don’t break it after all. And there are some small differences in the live action version. There is some expansion on the other characters; like Lumiere, Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza, Belle’s back story when she was born. Of particular note was LeFou; a character who previously was little more than Gaston’s lackey, but is given more of a spotlight, even showing hidden affection at certain points. These small details do help to breathe more life into a world that was already very much alive, and are appreciated.
And since it is the original film scene by scene, it was especially important to get very particular aspects right. Imagery for this film is excellent, capturing the fairy tale tone of the original, especially balancing out the bright and sunny scenes in the village with the darker and snowier moments around the Beast’s castle.
Similarly, the costuming for the film was spot on, with Belle especially standing out with her own outfits. And while we’re on that subject, Emma Watson as Belle works very well; her singing was excellent, (or at the least a great imitation of the original, take your pick) and she gets so much of the original character right.
Other characters work very well too, with side characters getting some details expanded upon. Gaston was another stand out here; Luke Evans does a good job of showing that self-assured arrogance that shone through with the original character, even showing some instability at certain points. Sadly there are some other characters, beyond those that I mentioned that look as if they’ll play an important part and don’t seem to go anywhere; Belle’s librarian friend and a strange woman who shows up in certain scenes but shows up as a Deus Ex Machina near the end. Its a strange point to pick up on, but I can’t help but wonder whether there was meant to be more.
Like in the original, the Beast was a good character, when he remained the Beast. I’m going to assume you know the end but just in case: (SPOILER ALERT!!) The Beast turns back into a handsome prince at the end, but I just didn’t feel as much for his character as I did when he was the Beast. I don’t think I can attribute this to Dan Stevens, since he does such a good job of voicing the Beast. Perhaps this is simply a flaw that will always be part of the story.
Lastly there are the songs. Beauty and the Beast contains some of my favourite songs in any Disney film, with songs like the titular piece, Be Our Guest and Something There. All these songs are there, along with some additional ones I think, which is always a good thing. My problem is that they’re a little different from the original songs. For example, there are pauses between certain lyrics, a slowdown of tempo at different parts, and generally not quite feeling the same as they were the first time I heard them. I don’t know if this is a bad thing either; it would be odd if there weren’t some changes after all. But last year’s Jungle Book didn’t change it’s songs so dramatically that it felt odd hearing them. Maybe others will feel differently about this, but I’m not sure I like this transition.
Overall, however, none of this will take away from the experience of watching Beauty and the Beast again. What criticisms I have can be interpreted as nitpicks to a story which is among Disney’s best. So long as you don’t expect any major changes in the story, you’re going to enjoy this one.
Though for the record, I think 2016’s The Jungle Book is better.