Since 2014’s Maleficent, the trend for live-action remakes of animated Disney classics has, for better or for worse, persevered. The latest instalment of Beauty and the Beast manages to avoid the pitfalls of previous reimaginings; with the irksome, excessive narration and unnecessary plot changes of Maleficent and Cinderella in a land far, far away from this film. There are some smaller tweaks to plot that instead merely add depth where before there was none. And fans of the original should be happy that this version carries on the charm and romance that the 1991 version achieved, if at the cost of a long running time and shaky start to the film.
Emma Watson’s acting initially comes across quite woodenly, but thankfully thaws a little about twenty minutes in, with the rest of the film feeling far more natural. Starting off exactly like the original, with an explanation of how the Beast got cursed (they never do say what his real name is in this one either), Dan Stevens joins Emma as the Beast, easily capturing the awkward loneliness of a man desperate to be loved. With realistic make-up and special effects, he’s neither too scary for young children or too human to distract from a beastial performance.
The rest of the cast is rounded out rather nicely with Sir Ian McKellan and Ewan McGregor respectively providing the voices of fan favourites Cogsworth and Lumière. As well as the superbly cast Luke Evans as the narcissistic Gaston, with his sidekick LeFou played by Josh Gad (whom children may recognise as the voice behind Olaf from Frozen).
The set and costume design borrows from the French setting of the original fairytale, the fact that every character speaks English (even cockney) is quickly called out by LeFou and Gaston’s interaction; “She [Belle] has that certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’”, “I don’t know what that means”.
Of course, surpassing even the actors, costumes and special effects are Disney’s songs. Many will recognise the familiar tunes of the 1991 movie, along with several new songs for the Beast and Belle. None can compete with ‘Be our guest’, certainly the most visually pleasing and catchy of all the songs. Emma Watson surprises with a stunning singing voice, while Josh Gad (quite arguably the most experienced singer of the cast) is rip-roaringly good leading the song ‘Gaston’.
The plot is largely the same, but there is more development to Belle and Beast’s background and relationship; mainly their love of books, discussing literature with time spent seeing them genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The curse is also more powerful, with every petal that falls the castle breaks down more and the less human its occupants become, a clever leif-motif for the Beast’s growing despair.
While 2017’s film won’t get away without comparison to the original, it still stands on its own legs as a great musical with both visually impressive set pieces and great choreography. Much longer than you would expect from a children’s film and with some misstepped performances at the start (like Watson’s), by its denouement Beauty and the Beast has completely earned your trust. In fact, this reviewer would say that it’s even worthwhile venturing to the cinema multiple times to enjoy Beauty and the Beast’s outstanding spectacle. ‘Be their guest’ !
Words by Sunny Ramgolam
Beauty in the Beast is out in UK cinemas on the 17th of March