The hotly anticipated remake of the 1991 Disney classic Beauty and the Beast hit cinemas this weekend, and it lives up to the hype.
Emma Watson takes the lead as bibliophile Belle, who is frustrated by the limits imposed on her life as a young woman shunned by her village for her intelligence.
A tormented prince, magically transformed into a beast as a result of his selfishness and greed, imprisons her father in his castle for stealing a rose. Belle takes her father’s place. She and the Beast grow to understand each other through the help of the castle’s enchanted staff. She must look past his hideous exterior into his soul and fall in love with him to break the spell.
I’m sure Watson feels the pressure of living up to a character she – and we all – loved since childhood, but as she appears on screen singing her opening number Belle, you can feel the audience settle in the knowledge that Watson is going to deliver.
She sparks off her co-stars’ performances, notably her repulsion at egotistic suitor Gaston, depicted by Luke Evans (above). She does perhaps overplay the sincerity but exceeds hitting the emotional beats of the film as Belle’s relationship with the Beast develops.
She is perfectly matched by Dan Stevens as the Beast. He wonderfully portrays the transition of a spoiled young prince learning how to be gentle and kind through Belle’s influence. Despite the tough regime of motion capture, separate face capture, and stilts to create the character, Stevens masterfully shows us all sides of the Beast – especially a man simply scared to hope for love. His searing blue eyes constantly remind us of the human within.
It is the first time for both Watson and Stevens to sing on screen but it certainly doesn’t show – for me, their solos were among the most captivating parts of the film. The score by Alan Menken – who wrote the music for Disney hits The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas – is nothing short of astounding. New additions feature but they slot in perfectly with the legendary music we already know. I adored Dan Stevens’ song in particular, Evermore; it truly captures the agony the Beast feels at seeing his love leave him.
Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, The Fifth Estate), his vision is wonderfully executed through the intricately designed sets. They truly bring this film to life as the characters explore the castle. Condon showcases the gobsmacking production level with epic wide shots, and close-ups of intimate details like the designs on Belle’s yellow dress. For this reason alone it is wonderful to see the 3D version of Beauty and the Beast.
While I appreciated the modernised take on Belle, I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of her inventing a washing machine of all things to break the mould, and also that she helped her father break out of a cell rather than doing it herself. If Disney wanted to commit to a feminist heroine they should have done so with gusto. Nor was I sold on the final scene in the ballroom – the last shot of the film isn’t even of the Beauty and the Beast.
But that’s minutiae. For those who are worried this will spoil the original for you – it won’t. It’s a faithful retelling of the ‘tale as old as time’ with stronger backstories, a more empowered heroine, and wonderful chemistry between the leads. The transformations are brilliantly done for maximum emotional impact. There were plenty of sniffles from fans at the screening I went to.
It’s already broken box office records. This film is a magnificent and nostalgic tribute to the iconic Disney films of the past, and will take its well-deserved place among them for future generations.
Images and footage courtesy of Disney.