After many months of hype-building teaser clips and social media posts, Disney have finally released the latest instalment in their mission to re-make all their best-loved animations in the form of live action pictures: Beauty and the Beast. The original 1991 motion picture was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at that year’s Oscars, and captivated the hearts of audiences both young and old. So why remake it?
The updated version ultimately does nothing new with the plot. An arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) is turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan), and will only be returned to human form when he learns to love and is loved in return. The object of his affections is misunderstood bookworm Belle (Emma Watson), who is initially the Beast’s prisoner, but ultimately ends up falling in love with him over a shared love of reading and communicating with household items (the Beast’s servants, who were turned into objects by the enchantress’ curse).
After fighting off Gaston (Luke Evans), Belle’s meat-headed admirer, the Beast is eventually freed from the confines of his monstrous form by her kiss of true love. A somewhat reductive summary, but we all know the story anyway.
In the new adaptation, Disney have embellished the story slightly: we discover more about Belle’s background, as we learn that her mother died of the plague when Belle was a baby, leaving her with a rattle in the shape of a rose (an unsubtle but nice touch). Aside from this slight plot change, the film also introduces four new songs, the highlight of which being Evermore, a beautifully heart-wrenching song impressively performed by Dan Stevens when Belle goes back to her father.
Yet the film really adds nothing new to the classic story; many scenes are copied like-for-like from the animated original. This raises the somewhat cynical question of: ‘why bother remaking it?’ Disney’s fundamental reason for doing so is more than likely the financial gains of their previous live action re-makes, for example last year’s The Jungle Book, which made nearly $970 million (and is arguably a far better re-make in terms of exploring new depths of the original film, raising the question have Disney been lazier this time around?).
The film’s use of CGI is also decidedly shaky in parts, which is especially notable in the (nonetheless spectacular) Be Our Guest sequence. Though she is a stunning actress, Emma Watson’s interaction with said CGI is also unconvincing at times, leading to a lack of believable chemistry between Belle and the Beast. That being said, her performance is otherwise superb, as she effortlessly symbolises Disney’s move towards a new age of feistier heroines (in personal terms, Watson was an excellent choice on that front).
Her casting off of the classic yellow princess dress into the mud is a symbolic moment representing the classic ‘Disney princess’ figure being left in the past, as Disney’s heroines move with the times, although the original Belle is certainly no submissive wallflower.
Although the film undeniably belongs to Emma Watson, and will redefine her as Belle rather than Hermione Granger for a new generation of film-goers, some of the film’s other stars deserve just as much credit. Dan Stevens is a funny and complex Beast (despite aforementioned CGI issues), Ian McKellen is perfect as Cogsworth and, despite his much-ridiculed French accent, I also enjoyed Ewan McGregor’s performance as Lumiere. Luke Evans and Josh Gad, as Gaston and Le Fou respectively, also give memorable performances, injecting the right amount of humour.
Despite its failure to really add anything new to the classic story, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, mainly due to one key thing: its musical numbers. If you can get past Emma Thompson’s over-played Cockney accent, the title track is as beautifully touching as it is in the original, with the sight of Belle and the Beast waltzing around the ballroom making me just as emotional as when I watched the animated version as a little girl. Gaston is another brilliant set-piece, with a choreographed routine that would be perfectly at home in a West End theatre. This film is a reminder of why the original’s Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack was so well-deserved.
Verdict: Although this re-make adds nothing new to the original, well-loved story and does contain sometimes questionable CGI, if, like me, you are a Disney lover who still hasn’t really grown up, you will love it nonetheless. The music, beloved characters and overall charm of the film are enough to leave you smiling from ear to ear and humming Be Our Guest for days.