Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan MacGregor, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci with Emma Thompson and Ian McKellan
Plot: A young girl, Belle (Watson), lives in a remote village, where she cannot connect with anyone. In a daring dash to save her father (Kline), she comes face to face with an almighty beast (Stevens).
There is a beautiful moment in Beauty and the Beast where Belle and the Beast are having soup together. Throughout the film, soup eating has been a metaphor for how different the pair of them are. Belle drinks from her spoon, her manners passed down on her by living in civilisation. The Beast, hands too large to use such cutlery and used to living in isolation, simply laps from the bowl like a dog. In this one scene, the pair of them, starting to get used to each other’s company, sit together and eat the soup by drinking from the side of the dish. It hammers home the message of compromise, the key ingredient in bringing together two different personalities in, not just romance as is the key plot point here, but in any form of relationship. It is a wonderfully small but delightful moment buried away in Bill Condon’s two hour musical blockbuster. With a film on as massive a scale as Beauty and the Beast, it is very refreshing to see that these little moments are given just as much attention as the larger scenes. They are the breath of life that gives Condon’s picture its punch: anything serious performed by Kevin Kline, a side joke from Cogsworth, Belle inventing the washing machine…
But that isn’t to say that this is a movie strung together by its lesser moments. When Condon wants to give us grand, he does so with alarming success. Beauty and the Beast could have played it dramatic, as other Disney re-imaginings have done (Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman), but Condon is prepared to go full musical with the whole affair. The first song, ‘Belle’ sets in stone how this film will play out with Emma Watson, weaving her way through a crowd, delivering a full throttle musical number. Buy into the songs and you will have so much more fun with this movie. Condon’s eye for detail comes into its own here, his sweeping camera movements capturing a whole village of bustling singers and not one of them looking out of place. His best scenes are when Beauty and the Beast is bursting with life. ‘Gaston’ will go down as one of the better songs in this movie, simply because it captures the vitality and simple fun that this movie is meant to embody. Luke Evans, who, let’s be honest, steals the show with his outrageously amusing performance of Gaston, throws everything into the song, working with a room full of hard-working extras and keen direction. There are so many angles to enjoy the scene from that the cynical viewer just sits there, waiting for a flat beat, Condon to mess something up. He does not. It’s not just extra management where Condon is strongest. His eye for the magical castle where Beast resides is breath-taking to behold. Getting this right, as well as the furniture that comes to life, is one of Condon’s biggest jobs with directing this movie. It is so engrained in the audience’s hearts that it needs to be done to the letter to avoid risking the wraith of the fans. Thankfully the castle is a place to behold, lavish marble and priceless ornaments left to turn to dust due to old age and abandonment. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the house staff (cursed to turn into furniture for those forgetting the original’s plot), as they see their first guest in ages and bring the palace back to life. “Be My Guest” performed with enthusiastic gusto from Ewan MacGregor’s French candlestick (there’s one for the IMDB), captures this beautifully, a musical number that will leave your feet tapping ages after leaving the cinema. Condon captures the slower moments too. Beauty and the Beast dancing together in an empty ballroom is everything the die-hard fans could hope it would be, a wonderfully touching moment that helps solidify the tricky-to-handle love story at the heart of this Disney classic.
So, as a result, Beauty and the Beast is definitely polished and promising for any movie-goer. The issue is whether you can get on board with the story of Beauty and the Beast in the first place. While it easily handles some of the more magical Disney trademarks, the central story must have caused a few nervous and sleepless nights from the writing team. When Belle’s dotty father is imprisoned by a feral Beast in an abandoned castle, Belle trades places with him, subjecting herself to eternal confinement in the Beast’s castle. What she doesn’t know is that the Beast was once a prince, cursed for his ignorant cruelty, and his beastly image will only be lifted if he can both fall in love and make said person fall in love with him too. Therefore, as both the original and this musical remake progresses, there is a nervously outdated story about a young girl arguably being subjected to Stockholm Syndrome. The movie does its best with the tricky material, giving Belle enough clout to be a Disney heroine with some bite and Dan Steven’s Beast does show enough genuine endearing traits to make him loveable in the second act. However, when the movie plays so close to the original text, always rushing to the next grand musical number, it doesn’t give itself enough time to quite give Emma Watson anything else to do but be that love interest. However, that was always going to be the curse of this movie and while the feminist’s axes are likely to fall heartlessly into this picture over the course of the next fortnight, it must be said that it does offer a pleasantly emotional romance story with ample comedy support from a chipped mug, an over-enthusiastic villain’s sidekick and a piano stool.
Final Verdict: Beauty and the Beast is an all-singing, all-dancing remake. As long as you loved the original story, you will appreciate the magic on display here.