There’s no doubting that Beauty and the Beast has a big dose of that Disney magic.
It’s a film drenched in tradition, if anything a touch too slavish to its inspiration, the 1991 animated favourite of the same name. Which, as was the case with 2015’s Cinderella remake, begs the question: “Why bother”? But again, as we saw with Cinderella, it’s difficult to avoid getting swept along in the majesty of it all, even if you do know the story like the back of your hand. There is a reason why the original film has endured over the years, after all – it’s timeless…they even have a song to remind us as much!
It opens rather beautifully, the camera tracking back from the famous Disney logo to reveal that it is, in fact, a spectacular fairytale castle, home to an obnoxious Prince (Dan Stevens). When the Prince turns away a desperate old beggar, she reveals herself as an enchantress, transforming the Prince into an unsightly monster and his servants into a variety of household wares. His once grand home falls into a perpetual winter and is wiped from the memories of all that had stepped foot in it. The Prince becomes the Beast, cursed to a life of solitude – unless, that is, he can discover true love.
Enter Belle (Emma Watson), a beautiful bookworm considered an oddity by the residents of her backward thinking French provincial town. Watson is a fine fit for the strong-willed, smart and self-determined character. These are all traits that she’s shown previously in the Potter series, though she does a decent job of expelling thoughts of Hermione, in spite of the similarities that the two characters share. It’s when she reaches the many musical numbers that she finds herself stretched the most. Her voice is passable, but certainly not as strong as Paige O’Hara’s, the 1991 version’s Belle. It’s a criticism that can largely be leveled across the board, the songs just aren’t as good the second time around (with the delightfully rambunctious “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” being the only exceptions); even Beast’s new solo number “Evermore” is lacking punch.
When Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) goes missing, she ventures out in an effort to rescue him, and find him she does, held prisoner by the Beast in his crumbling castle. And so our love story begins. Under the gentle guidance of the castle’s staff, who now take the form of talking china teapots and cups, clocks, wardrobes and a candelabra played by Ewan McGregor (apparently the only person with a (sort of) French accent in France), the Beast warms to Belle and vice versa. Meanwhile, Belle’s would-be suitor, the mega-douche that is Gaston (the fantastically pompous Luke Evans) and his trusted sidekick Le Fou (the also excellent Josh Gad) are hot on her heels on their own rescue mission. Gaston, pig-headed and arrogant to the umpteenth degree is an absolute scene stealer, providing some welcome comic relief away from the main crux of the story.
As a backdrop for blossoming love, the Beast’s castle could hardly be more gorgeous, standing as a testament to the quality of the production design throughout. As Belle and the Beast’s relationship grows, the thick dust and decay of their surroundings starts to lift, revealing the beauty of what lies beneath. See what they did there? It becomes a near-constant stream of awe-inspiring visuals. So it’s a shame that the Beast himself is slightly less impressive. His costume gives him a real physicality, yet his facial animation ranges from solid to distracting, never quite reaching any level of consistency.
As close as the film gets to hitting the peaks of the 1991 movie, it’s never quite there. The most glaring example is in the iconic ballroom scene. The first attempt was a spellbinding amalgamation of hand drawn and digital animation. Here at the second time of asking, it’s perfectly lovely, but it’s also missing the vibrancy and colour of the sequence that it imitates. It’s magical, yes, but just not to the same degree as its predecessor.
Rating (out of 5):