Beauty and the Beast Elevated in Live Action
Director: Bill Condon Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens Running Time: 129 minutes
It’s risky to revisit any story that people cherish, because going into it their expectations are sky high and their defences might be up. The reason that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child got so much hate isn’t necessarily because it’s bad, it’s because it wasn’t what fans expected. So, remaking Beauty and the Beast, a formative film for many of our childhoods, was an incredibly risky move. The bar was towering… And Disney smashed it.
Beauty and the Beast is a feat of technical brilliance. If the film were silent, it would still be worth watching. The level of detail is incredible in each setting, from the Provincial town which is perfectly equipped for ‘Bonjour’ the opening number, to the dread-inducing forest and the Beast’s ornate forgotten castle, even down to Gaston’s pub which has a ceiling mural featuring him hunting! The costumes are stunning, and rather than being a background detail they actively contribute to the story. The Beast goes from wearing a tattered raggy cape to increasingly lush suits as he falls for Belle and starts to reclaim his humanity. Even the villagers, who aren’t that important individually, are kitted out in vibrant outfits that are a pleasure to watch swish and flick during the musical numbers.
Which brings us nicely onto the musical numbers! The choreography is fabulous, and the camera swoops and dances along, complementing each piece. Massive props are in order for Tobias A. Schliessler, the Director of photography/Cinematographer, Sarah Greenwood the Head of Production Design, Katie Spencer who was responsible for Set decoration and last but not least, Jacqueline Durran, Costume Designer extraordinaire.
Dan Stevens is a really interesting casting choice, he brings with him the unsettling intensity and odd humour that he had in The Guest in which he is a near-superhuman soldier who has become a killing machine through top-secret experimental conditioning. But here, he is the main love interest? And it works?! Stevens strikes a fine balance here between ferocious and fine, taking the audience on the same confusing emotional journey that Belle finds herself on. Beauty and the Beast is a divisive tale for many, with some viewing it as a beautiful romance and another group taking issue with the Stockholm Syndrome vibes. It would be an exaggeration to say that this film doesn’t have those elements, but what it does is frame Belle as a more active character (as we’d expect from Emma Watson). In a particularly funny exchange, Mrs Potts on one side of the door laments the fact that “She must be terrified in there”, but we can see Belle tying together rags to attempt to climb out the window. Her rapport with the Beast is built gradually – they can relate to each other because they both have spent life feeling so isolated and different. The Beast even takes a heightened interest in reading after having conversations with Belle in which she talks about a book’s ability to transport you to anywhere in the world. Having come from such a sheltered, privileged background, the Beast had never really considered this.
Overall, this incarnation of Beauty and the Beast adds weight to the visuals and themes of the original, elevating the story. One thing that always bothered me in the original was that the servants got such a raw deal. Why should they be cursed because their master is so rude? And why are they so happy about it? In the 2017 version this is addressed, if briefly. When Belle says that the servants did nothing to deserve being turned into things, Mrs Potts admits that when the Beast’s mother died and his father started to cruelly twist him beyond recognition, they did nothing. It’s a small but powerful moment.
As mentioned earlier, the musical numbers are carefully woven into the narrative so you don’t experience that sense of lag that can unfortunately happen with musicals where you just feel that everyone is shouting their feelings. Here, the songs genuinely add to the plot and because they’re so well integrated with the choreography and camera work, the film would be bare without them. The film’s theme is played differently throughout, from haunting lament to triumphant thoroughfare, which will really please hardcore Beauty and the Beast fans. And the film adds verses and even 2 songs that weren’t present in the original, but we won’t spoil it.
Speaking of elevation, Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou and their shifting dynamic, are one of the best parts of this film. The growing tension as LeFou moves from adoring sidekick to enemy is a major part of the climax, providing a strong thread to ground the small town mob scenes with some real melodrama.
Go see it.(4 / 5)