Disney continues the trend of adapting its back catalogue of animated classic films to a live action version. This time they tackle their first musical with the live action version of the 1991 Oscar winning classic of Beauty And The Beast.
For those that don’t know this “tale as old as time”, it goes a little something like this. Belle (Emma Watson) does not fit into the small village life she has been raised in, instead dreaming of distant worlds with her head in a book. When her father (wonderfully played by Kevin Kline) fails to return from a routine trip one day she sets off to find him. What she finds instead is a cursed castle, the staff turned into enchanted objects, and a lord turned into a beast (Dan Stevens). In exchange for her father’s freedom Belle instead sacrifices her own. Could this act lead to the breaking of the spell, or will the village’s headstrong brute, Gaston (Luke Evans), lead an ill conceived rescue attempt?
This version has managed to capture the magic of the original Disney animated classic. Oddly enough that is both its strength and its weakness. At times it feels like it is almost a carbon copy of the 1991 film, given a few character tweaks to add a little more depth. Odd considering that this version has a couple of extra musical numbers, and 40 extra minutes more of runtime. This alone should make it feel like its own ….umm….beast, but in its recreation of scenes from the animated classic, it does cleave close to that look and the feel. On occasions so close that it recreates whole sequences like it is using the ’91 film as a shooting script.
None of this is a deal breaker, and really the effect of this is going to vary from person to person. For myself, given a lot of time and distance from the ’91 version, this was a voyage of rediscovery, of finding a magical kingdom that was richly enchanting. The musical numbers are captivating, the characters appealing, and the effects believably make the transition from animated to live-action (with one major exception).
To this end Emma Watson makes a fine Disney princess, and Dan Stevens brings a lot to the vocal work of the Beast (albeit let down at times by his CG persona looking occasionally too cartoon-like). They’re just mildly overshadowed by the ensemble cast that makes up the cursed staff and the villagers. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere certainly seems to shine, especially during his show stopping number. Luke Evans attacks the role of Gaston with relish, honing that comic malevolence to a rather wicked edge. However it is Josh Gad’s LeFou that is garnering the most attention, as with a few tweaks to the character have made him openly gay. The result is something akin to the Frodo and Samwise relationship dialled up to eleven. At times it comes across a little less empowering, and more like stalking, but ultimately comes right at the end.
A solid film with a touch of magic. It may lack some of the freshness of the animated version, but is still has a spark all its own.