Disney has turned the classic animated feature Beauty and the Beast into a memorable live action adaptation, adding three new songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice in the process. Emma Watson is a fine choice as The Beauty, while Dan Stevens (TV’s Downton Abbey) is the fully digital character The Beast, created through performance and facial capture technology. Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and based on the 1991 feature, the screenplay is by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War).
The story is one with which many will be familiar. Once upon a time there was a dashing young Prince who lived in a magnificent castle. He hosted extravagant parties attended by beautiful debutantes from around the world and was pampered by a staff of servants who tended to his every whim, but the Prince had become insolent and self-absorbed. When an old beggar woman appears at the castle seeking shelter from the storm and offers him a single rose in return, he callously turns her away, unaware that she is, in fact, a beautiful enchantress. To punish him for his cruelty, she places a curse on the castle, transforming him into a beast and all its inhabitants into household objects. To reverse the spell, he must learn to love another and be worthy of their love in return before the last petal of a red rose falls. Otherwise, he will remain a beast and his staff their inanimate forms, imprisoned in the castle for all eternity.
Some years later in the small town of Villeneuve, Belle – a bright and spirited young woman – goes about her daily chores, pondering the monotony of her provincial life. Fiercely independent and preferring to keep to herself, Belle lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), a reclusive artist, and is an avid reader who dreams of adventure and romance. She rejects the relentless advances of the arrogant and boorish rogue, Gaston (Luke Evans), who holds court in a country inn with his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) and has every eligible woman in town wrapped around his finger. When Maurice sets off for the market and is a attacked by wolves, becoming lost in the woods, he stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, now darkened and iced over, where he takes refuge. But the Beast is enraged to find him trespassing and takes him prisoner. Belle learns of her father’s disappearance and sets off in search of him, coming face to face with the Beast,?with whom she pleads for his release, eventually trading her own freedom for her father’s.
The classic tale – and its empowering message that true beauty comes from within – dates back to 18th century France and the first published version of the fairy tale, “La Belle et la Bête,” by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture and won two Oscars (Best Original Score and Best Song), three Golden Globes and four Grammy Awards. The film was also the first Disney animated feature to become a stage musical production.
Whether it was really necessary to add humans to what was a terrific animation remains a moot point. I dare say the studio could probably see dollar figures and thought, “what have we got to lose?” The answer to that question is “plenty” because they could have made a hash of it, but they haven’t. This live action musical adaptation has dark and light, elements of good humour (notably from the household items) and an emotional story at its core.
The Beast’s representation starts out as mighty scary, Gaston is simply a boorish oaf and Maurice is a bit all over the show. Beauty Emma Watson remains the guiding light and the film music is endearing. The column centimetres that have been devoted to extolling the virtues of the first openly gay Disney character (Gad’s LeFou) are all but undone by the character’s lack of backbone. There is one lavish set piece that harks back to the musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is busy and lavish and magnificently choreographed. The time and effort invested in it have certainly been worth it.
Also featuring Ewan McGregor (as Lumière), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth) and Emma Thompson (Mrs Potts), Beauty and the Beast opens up the story to a new generation, but the original remains my favourite. Rated PG, it scores a 7 out of 10.
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Release Date: 23 March 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television