Beauty And The Beast was a landmark film when Disney released it in 1991. Besides being a huge box-office success, the animated adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale also became the first animated feature to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (back when the category only had five nominees, and the Best Animated Feature award didn’t exist).
It didn’t win that Oscar, but it did win for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. It was also part of a purple patch for the studio’s films, which included The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
So, when the studio made the announcement that it would be making a live-action remake of this, one of THE most beloved of Disney’s animated fairy tales, it was met with a certain amount of apprehension. Emma Watson as Belle was a decent enough choice, but Luke Evans as Gaston? Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as the Beast? What were they thinking?
Happily, if you loved the original film, then there’ll be plenty to love about this movie. If you really haven’t heard the tale of Beauty and the Beast, then here’s the gist of it: beautiful Belle (Emma Watson) lives in a small provincial town in France, where her bookworm-ish ways are considered odd, but does not deter the brash, arrogant, expectorating expert Gaston (Luke Evans) from actively seeking her hand in marriage. However, Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) runs afoul of the cursed Beast (Dan Stevens), and she takes his place as prisoner in the castle.
It turns out that the Beast was an arrogant prince cursed to take on a hideous form by an enchantress, and to remain that way unless he can get someone to fall in love with him.
The castle’s other inhabitants – which include Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the mantel clock (Ian McKellen), Mrs Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson) and her teacup son Chip (Nathan Mack) – think Belle is The One (no, not you, Neo) and work actively to make that happen.
Dan Stevens as The Beast in a live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic Beauty And The Beast. Photo: Disney
If you loved the original, chances are you’ll love this as well. Yes, seeing real-life actors playing these beloved characters takes a bit of getting used to at first, but once you’ve gotten over it, the film is just as magical as you remember it to be. Watson gives Belle a steely determination that makes her more than just another damsel in distress, while Stevens evokes a good balance of fear and sympathy in the Beast.
While they are little more than animated inanimate objects, the rest of the the castle’s inhabitants are also equally memorable, especially McGregor’s Lumiere.
Composer Alan Menken wrote four new songs for the remake, but the iconic songs from the original remain as wonderful as ever, including the opening number Belle, the chest-thumping Gaston, the raucous Be Our Guest and, of course, the magical title track (it’s hard not to get a little teary with nostalgia when the song comes on during THAT ballroom scene).
Disney’s live-action remakes of its classic animated films have been hit-or-miss so far – The Jungle Book was a resounding success, Maleficent and Alice In Wonderland were decent, but who really remembers Cinderella? With Beauty And The Beast, the original animation was already perfect, so any attempt to “remake” it would only end up being compared unfavourably to it.
Sure, this version turns out to be more of an extended version of the original rather than an actual remake, but this isn’t exactly a bad thing. Beauty And The Beast may be a tale as old as time, but at least the live-action version stays as true as it can be.
* Beauty And The Beast
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson