Beauty and the Beast is a re-make in the truest sense of the word, to the point that the film can’t seem to escape slavishly following the 1991 Disney animated classic which was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. The minor changes director Bill Condon makes to the narrative and characters can’t outweigh the fact the film is hesitant to transcend the limits and expectations of its genre. It remains as it always was, a Disney musical romantic fantasy, but fails to distinguish itself as a film in its own right.
The classic tale has been caught up in the latest frenzy of reimagining childhood stories as live action pieces, palatable for a modern day audience. The latest victims namely Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016) and soon to be Dumbo. There was enormous hype surrounding the film; promoting an all-star cast and playing on childhood memories, the film also made the bold promise of ranking alongside the original.
Living in a small provincial village in France, the beautiful bookworm, Belle, (Emma Watson) longs to find adventure, escape mundane village life and fend off the conceited and egotistical Gaston (Luke Evans) who seeks to woo her into marriage. She lives with her doting and humble father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) who finds himself imprisoned for stealing a rose from the castle garden of the Beast (Dan Stevens), an arrogant Prince cursed to resemble a hideous monster. Belle valiantly offers to take his place and become the Beast’s prisoner. So begins Belle’s story of courage and triumph as she ‘tames the beast’ and teaches him to love, breaking the curse placed upon the castle and its inhabitants in a love conquers all tale.
By stunning the audience with feathered and beaded costumes, detailed Baroque sets, CGI and motion capture technology, the film hopes to distract the viewer from the fact it doesn’t develop any further than the surface changes. It plays the placebo effect; it gives the illusion of change but at its core, Condon’s piece is a repackaged version of a classic with the highlights of an all-star cast. The addition of a handful of news songs and backstory of Belle’s mother can only temporarily mask the lack of originality that could have cast the film into the new age of edgy modern re-makes. Condon plays up the ‘Disney factor’ verging on overwhelming, especially in ‘Be our Guest’, there are only certain doses of dancing spoons and flying plates one can handle. Overly focused on the desire to appease by recreating every detail, often shot for shot, the production is wary about placing a foot out of step for fear of being howled down by die-hard fanatics if so much as a candlestick is out of place.
The film excels with well cast and executed performances, especially from Emma Watson. She dazzles in the role of Belle, carrying the role with a naturalism rather than falling into the trap of becoming the overzealous and eager princess that has become synonymous with Disney animations. It carries all the feminist sass you would expect of a modern retelling; Belle is an inventor and creates a primitive version of the washing machine and often helps village children to read. The on-screen pairing of Luke Evans and Josh Gad is comical and uplifting while the versatility of Dan Stevens makes for one of the most endearing Beasts yet.
Like all good Disney films its enchantment lies in the way it relives a favourite childhood story in detail and colour, with the added bonus of stunning visual effects. It hones in on the usual comforting moral lessons like ‘good defeats evil’ and ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’, but it might have been nice if Condon hadn’t taken the phrase ‘tale as old as time’ quite so literally.
Score: 7.5 / 10