I‘ll admit that I went into Beauty and the Beast with some trepidation. I’ve never been a die-hard Disney follower (more a Pixar fan, myself), and so I didn’t have the unbreakable connection to the original 1991 film that inspired this remake. Opening with a definitively Disney song and pacey ballroom waltz, the film doesn’t spare any sense of glitz and glamour.
I won’t go through every beat of the plot, because, like the iconic song, it’s a tale as old as time. What I will say is that it takes a surprisingly long time to get going. Introducing us to Belle (Emma Watson), we follow her life in her small French village until it’s almost unbearable, by which point the actual conflict involving her father (Kevin Kline) and the titular Beast (Dan Stevens) comes into play. Perhaps it’s because I was mentally comparing this film to last year’s great The Jungle Book adaptation, but I really couldn’t become invested in what was going on. That was until a seemingly nonspecific moment, where everything just kind of…clicked.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when it was, but once the story got into full swing I couldn’t help but become wrapped up in it all. Maybe it was the awe-inspiring theatricality of ‘Be Our Guest’, or the pleasantly nuanced characterisation of Beast; whatever happened, the film hugely benefited from it. And honestly? I think the focus on something other than Belle contributed heavily.
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Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Emma Watson is an awful actress. Like most, I thought she was great as Hermione, but we haven’t seen her in much since then to validate her as a leading lady. From the opening scenes, her version of Belle comes across as confrontational and curt – not exactly the qualities you’d expect of a supposed princess. Even Luke Evans’ version of Gaston seemed comparatively levelheaded, and he’s a character that’s meant to be intentionally very arrogant. Speaking of Gaston: I’d be mistaken if I didn’t say that LeFou (Josh Gad) – his air headed yes-man – was absolutely hilarious. There’s several moments of levity littered throughout Beauty and the Beast, and Gaston’s companion was responsible for the majority of them. I wasn’t a huge fan of him in Frozen, but Josh Gad has definitely won me over with this.
As I briefly mentioned, Beast’s conflicted motivations were handled really nicely with this remake. There’s the risk of a story like this relying heavily on flashbacks to add depth, but they were used sparingly enough to where it didn’t feel obnoxious. The castle in which he resides is also beautifully crafted to where its crumbling decor seems to hide a sense of the beauty that’s long since passed.
In fact, most of the film is a visual delight; whether it’s Beast’s tattered clothing blowing in the wind, or the colourful sing-a-longs that punctuate the movie. It’s not quite as breathtaking as the fully-CGI world of The Jungle Book, but it ain’t half bad.
Honestly, there isn’t a huge deal more to talk about when it comes to Beauty and the Beast, because it already has a confirmed audience. If you’re not an avid follower of the Mouse House, you might go either way, but I managed to become fully enthralled in the world that director Bill Condon has visualised. Give it a chance, and you might just do the same.