I won’t deny it; I have been waiting for a Beauty and the Beast live-action film for a while now. When Bill Condon’s new work of the same title hit the big screen mid-March, I was as excited as a kid in a candy shop; especially so because I adore the 1991 Disney’s animated musical. The Beauty and the Beast‘s plot is simple, and its heart-warming fairy-tale is recognised by millions of people – young and old – around the world, so what is there not to love, right? However, have the creators of the new live-action production been able to bring the magical atmosphere of the 1991 film into their version of Beauty and the Beast? Or is it a desecration of the cult animation?
Although the story is known to many, a brief introduction cannot be avoided. Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her overprotective father Maurice (Kevin Kline) in a small French village, where all the locals know each other. The girl is unimaginably beautiful, but her energetic way of being makes her neighbours give her the side-eye. This does not bother the village philanderer Gaston (Luke Evans), who is courting Belle to take his hand in marriage. One day, the girl’s father is captured by a mysterious Beast living in a nearby castle; the creature in fact is a wicked prince (Dan Stevens), cursed by a enchantress who left him with a magic mirror and a red rose; in addition, for the grumpy Beast to become a man again, he must learn how to love and earn love in return.
After learning that her father has been imprisoned, Belle decides to swap places with Maurice and spend the rest of her life in the Beast’s castle. Day after day, she slowly uncovers the secrets of the castle and the cursed prince. Soon, however, an unusual friendship is formed between the Beauty and the Beast, resulting in love. Of course we all know the ending to the story (insert a big smile here). But how did Bill Condon and his team do? Let me see…
The film director and his team decided not to be fully faithful to the original animated narrative; the scriptwriters – Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos – added a couple of scenes that were not in the 1991 film. We learn why the prince was so spoiled and why Maurice raised Bella on his own. And according to Bill Condon, there is also a gay moment that occurs in a pub scene, where Gaston’s – flamboyant – sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) performs a song ‘stating’ that he loves his master in a particular way. In all honesty, I haven’t noticed anything extraordinary about this scene at all; what I saw was Le Fou as a bubbly man who sincerely cares for Gaston. If a gay story was written into the script, it certainly was not conveyed well enough for me; Russia (where the film is rated 16+) and Malaysia (where they refused to screen the film a few days ago, but now, the country’s censorship board has approved a 13+ rating) have certainly overreacted regarding this matter.
But story aside, Beauty and the Beast is a product of mesmerizing technical craftsmanship; there is an excellent attention to details such as costumes and production design (the dark castle and the snowy forest call forth the creepy, but are nevertheless amazingly depicted). The film will captivate its audience with beautiful settings (CGI and non-CGI) and great acting. The stunning Emma Watson impresses with her grace, her superb voice and a statuesque appearance – she is just the perfect Belle for me! Dan Stevens as the Beast aces his performance in the early stages of Beauty and the Beast; sadly, later into the film, he is just an average creature; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be sympathetic towards him or just indifferent. Kevin Kline, as the genius inventor and the father, definitely attracts the audience with his veracious performance. Luke Evans and Josh Gad are superb in their roles; from time to time, it feels like they take over the film. We cannot forget about the talking household’s objects, including the fabulous candelabra (voiced by Ewan McGregor), an old clock (voiced by Ian McKellen), a harpsichord (voiced by Stanley Tucci), a teapot and a cup (voiced by Emma Thompson and Nathan Mack) and the overly dramatic wardrobe (voiced by Audra McDonald) – all precisely replicated from the animated musical.
With its universal message of “don’t judge people based on their appearance”, Beauty and the Beast is a visual feast. I enjoyed the film throughout and loved the musical elements in it. With only a few CGI imperfections, this live-action production has stormed the world’s cinemas and is turning into a global phenomenon – it has already grossed way more than its production cost. Without a doubt, Beauty and the Beast carries the spirit of the favourite film that we have watched numerous times before. That is why Bill Condon’s film will be tolerated by the conservative lovers of the classic animation (pointing at myself here). It is a great spectacle in 3D or 2D (if you don’t like the oversized 3D glasses); and if you are a parent, do not be afraid to take your kids to see it; it is a beautiful and touching fairytale that is worth watching.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures