Sunday, 2nd April, 2017 (Released in the U.K March 2017).
Bill Condon’s live action adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ presents us with a vibrant, sweeping take on this much-loved tale. The special effects work wonders to bring to life that famous enchanted castle and its inhabitants. True to modern expectations, the effects and CGI are elaborate and top-notch, with clear evidence of a ‘no expense spared’ approach to this film, which was instantly anticipated as a knock-out blockbuster. Aside from those playing the central roles of Belle (Emma Watson) and The Beast (Dan Stevens), the film benefits from some great high-flying names like Emma Thomson (a wonderful Mrs Potts, even the most ardent fan of Lansbury’s Potts will be taken with Thompson’s warm cockney accent), Sir Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor, Audra Macdonald and Stanley Tucci in the supporting roles.
Emma Watson plays a very wholesome, measured Belle, and she impresses in pulling off such a towering role but lacks passion in some of the more dramatic scenes; her fear in the castle is not quite credible for me and although Belle is the antithesis of the maiden in need of saving, I think she’d still be entitled and prone to genuine fear in such a situation. There’s a great warmth in the relationship between Belle and her father, as well as eventual warmth towards the Beast, yet at times I think Watson’s portrayal confuses the unemotional with the emotionless; while I’m all for female protagonists without permanent, fixed smiles, I do think that the character of Belle has much more passion and colour to her than Watson presented. She does redeem herself later as she desperately watches the stand off between Gaston and the Beast with her heart in her hand, and she has a lovely voice, delivering Belle’s early, gently defiant songs with wonderful conviction.
Dan Stevens is an excellent Beast, brought to life with all the aggression, humanity and eventual humour that makes the Beast such a brilliant hero – it’s a fine balance that Stevens creates between being a credibly monstrous villain at the start and transforming into a charming, disarming hero as the narrative unfolds. The aesthetic of the beast is also fantastic; human enough to convey evocative emotion yet hairy enough to present ‘otherness’. Luke Evans plays Gaston with the laughable indignation of the most hyperbolic of egotists, and his partnership with Lefou (Josh Gad) is just as entertaining as their animated originals. I was pleased to see that this film didn’t dilute the darker elements of this story, namely Gaston’s dangerous jealousy, the scenes with the wolves and the Beast’s terrifying outbursts; all of which are richly portrayed in this adaptation. Evans’ performance in the latter part of the film is furious and invites complete loathing while Lefou struggles with his conscience battling his hero-worship in the background. Lovely stuff.
There aren’t too many changes to the original narrative in the animated version, in fact, there are more additions than there are changes or cuts. This film offers back-stories for both Belle and the Beast which provides further opportunity for audience investment in our romantic heroes. There are also a good few additional songs to enjoy (and a Celine Dion track worth staying behind for as the credits scroll). Belle’s character has been modernised to make her an inventor, feeding the contemporary appetite for representation of intelligent, self-sufficient women. Equally, although Watson is obviously naturally attractive, she has not been Disney-ised with make-up, presenting little ones with a pretty yet plain heroine to idolise. Brava!
The costumes and set were a little inconsistent for me; at times realistic, at times cleverly imitating an animated style and at times very pantomime-esque – with parts of the castle looking more like bubbly, painted polystyrene than anything remotely convincing. There’s a lot of impressive scenery and I won’t deny that the visuals are often stunning, but at times some of the costume and set jarrs. I also have to say that ‘that’ dress was underwhelming. Those magnificent Disney dresses can be captured on film, with the recent recent take on ‘Cinderella’ showcasing this fact, yet it’s not a masterpiece we see in this film.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable few hours with plenty of spectacular visuals, some lovely comic moments and endearing central characters (very capably assisted by a talented supporting cast). It also underscores the action with the beautiful original orchestrations, so it’s sure to pull at the heartstrings. Ohhh, that music. It’s a film well worth seeing for both staunch Disney fans like myself and anyone else looking for enchantment at the movies.