In recent years Disney has been adapting their classic animated properties into live action films to great success: Cinderella and The Jungle Book being commercial and critical successes. Yet adapting Beauty And The Beast is arguably the biggest risk – making a live-action of the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film.
In Rococo era France – a crude and cold-hearted prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) because of his selfish ways, turning him into a hideous beast, and warned he must find true love before a rose she gives him loses all its petals.
In the village of Villeneuve Belle (Emma Watson) is a beautiful and bookish young woman, who is seen as weird by everyone else because of her intelligence. Belle also longs to see the world but she chooses to become The Beast’s hostage, to save her father (Kevin Kline), who crosses him.
Time for an embarrassing confession: I have never seen the original animated film, so this review should be seen in the context as someone who comes into the story with fresh eyes. With that in mind, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the live-action of Beauty And The Beast as a delightful musical for the whole family.
Over the years, Disney has been refining its live-action adaptations of their animated classics: Alice In Wonderland was underwhelming – trying to cash in on the 3D boom, Maleficent, a disappointing reimaging of Sleeping Beauty, and 2015’s Cinderella was a shallow experience. The Jungle Book was a success because it mostly ignored the animated original.
To someone who has never seen the original Beauty And The Beast, I could tell it was a Disney princess film brought to life. The prologue is a classic set-up that many Disney films perform before leading to a delightful song where Belle is introduced along with most of the villagers. Friends of mine have told me that the live-action version is a loyal adaptation of the animated film.
As a musical, Beauty And The Beast has the right amount of song-and-dance numbers, having enough enjoyable moments to tap your toes to.
This version of Beauty And The Beast was directed by Bill Condon – an experienced director who has made films like Gods And Monsters, Dreamgirls and the final Twilight films – and his team did make a wonderful looking film – having excellent choreography during many of its songs like ‘Belle’ and ‘Gaston’ and beautiful sets and costumes.
Beauty And The Beast must have taken lessons from The Jungle Book regarding its special effects by going for a photorealistic look – at least when showing The Beast’s servants who were cursed to become household objects. They were wonderfully realised and detailed. However, other effects like the green screens were not up the same standard.
Beauty And The Beast attracted an incredible cast with Emma Watson taking on the famous role. There are similarities to ‘Hermione Granger’: both characters are smart and headstrong, although Belle is nowhere near as condescending. As Belle, Watson was a lovely presence and she had a gentle singing voice.
Belle also shows some similarities to a recent Disney princess: Moana. Both are determined, intelligent young women who are long to escape their village existences and see the wider world.
In recent years Dan Stevens has become a prolific actor – appearing in projects like Downton Abbey, The Guest and Legion. He has shown to be an incredibly versatile actor and even through the heavy makeup and voice manipulation he portrays the variety of emotions the Beast has; from his volatile anger to his more tender moments of self-doubt.
Despite their different backgrounds, Belle and The Beast are kindred spirits: both lost their mothers, raised solely by their fathers and being like them. Belle’s father raised her to be kind and intelligential whilst The Beast is well read but cold. Either character could have ended up like the other if circumstances were different.
Whilst Watson and Stevens were excellent together the true standout performer was Luke Evans as Gaston – the handsome war veteran who all the women of the village swoon over but like a child wants what he can’t have: Belle. He is wonderfully arrogant and self-centred, culminating in his own song: he is a villain you will love to hate.
Beauty And The Beast was met with controversy in socially conservative countries – because Josh Gad’s character LeFou was revealed to be gay. Yet his sexuality is so underplayed that if Condon hadn’t made his statement it would have been no more than subtext. Gad still impressed as LeFou – having a snarky delivery and provided some of the biggest laughs.
The film also attracted a big name cast for The Beast’s servants, including Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson. McGregor and McKellen had fun banter with their chalk and cheese relationship and how best to interact with their master. It would be interesting to see what French audiences would make of McGregor’s exaggerated French accent.
The 2017 version of Beauty And The Beast is a great fantasy musical that children and parents could easily enjoy. Even for someone who has not seen the animated original it still makes for a great Disney experience.