Review: Beauty and the Beast
(PG) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor
The fairy-tale of Beauty and the Beast has been in existence since the 1700s and, since then, has been reintroduced to new generations in various forms. Literature, stage productions, televisions series and different manifestations on screen have allowed the legend of Belle and the Beast to enter each century in a new manner. The 1991 Disney animated interpretation and the subsequent stage productions have held the attention of this modern era, but the House of Mouse could not stop there. Due to the success with live productions of other animated classics, Beauty and the Beast had to be a consideration to be re-introduced to the next generation. Even though it has been 26 years since the original Disney production, director Bill Condon is faced with the challenge of interpreting a much loved classic and make it fresh for new fans of this fantasy adventure.
The heart of the story has remained consistent and the production team have not diverted from the original elements which made the animated version maintain such a strong following. Belle (Emma Watson) and her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), live in a small French village where things are predictable and safe. The daughter of the local tinkerer never feels that she fits in with the local community, though. Her head and heart come alive within the literary world and she fails to connect with the local town folk. As her father goes to sell his wares in the marketplace, he finds himself lost and eventually imprisoned in an enchanted castle that is under the rule of a terrifying beast (Dan Stevens). In an attempt to save her father from a dire life within the gloomy prison walls of the fortress, Belle takes his place. Unwittingly, she places herself into a magical world where she may be the key to breaking the curse of this gloomy fortress that, for years, has held its inhabitants captive. Will she be able to save herself, the Beast and the castle residents before the townsfolk come to destroy the life they are hoping to have together?
The biggest hill for director Condon to climb is to live up to the 1991 animated behemoth and the smash hit musical Broadway productions. This proves to be a formidable task, even with the built-in fan base, an excellent cast and a massive budget.
For the fans of the 1991 version, the look and feel remains relatively intact and should draw upon nostalgia to put hearts at ease. The village and castle settings provide a magnificent canvas for the musical to be played against and it sets the tone that closely aligns with the stage production. New characters and musical numbers are added to provide fresh elements to an exceptionally familiar narrative. The pacing is aligned with a stage production and is a bit slower than the animated version, but the enchanting elements remain at the heart of the live action. There are elements within this magical world that are darker than its predecessor and it also lacks the lightness of script and visual elements.
This long-anticipated live-action version has been able to draw on some of the world’s greatest acting talent. The cast spans from Emma Thompson to Ian McKellen and Stanley Tucci and to comment on all of the performances would take too long. Most of the cast are relegated to CGI manifestations and it is difficult to critique their performances, except that the animation is good, but does not break any new cinematic ground. Some of these roles were well chosen and others were under-utilised but, for the sake of brevity, comments will be left to the central figures.
Emma Watson carries an exceptional load as the beloved Disney heroine. She encapsulates the look and attitude of Belle, but Condon may have forgotten that this is a musical. Watson is a talented actress, but does not have exceptional singing abilities. It is unfortunate that the casting director did not look to finding a vocalist that can act, opposed to a ‘beauty’ that can sing. This was also the casting mistake with Dan Stevens, being a good actor with moderate singing abilities. Understandably, he is limited by the CGI animation that surrounds his character, but that does not diminish the need for musical skills. Thankfully, there is a highlight among the lead acting talent — the much hated, but thoroughly engaging antagonist of Gaston. Luke Evans (The Hobbit) may not be the physical embodiment of his animated alter-ego, but he does take on the bloated ego and animal magnetism of the role, and he can carry a tune.
To scale the heights of the original Disney release is a daunting task and Condon does his best, but fails to reach the summit. this would be a good film and worth considering. But it will suffer from comparison that it represents to the original film and will not be remembered as fondly as the 1991 version.