In some ways, The Ben Condon live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is a carbon copy of the original 1991, but in some ways it’s not. It is like they were lovingly pruning a rose but updating it. Some of the scenes and their progress are ever just the same, and are a love letter to the original. But some things are changed ever more and things are added as a surprise. Some new songs and scenes add characterisation or comment on different things, such as Mrs Potts age in comparison to Chip or just show us how the villagers find the castle. Yet there is something to be said for some changes taking away from the film. For example, certain cut lyrics aren’t as welcome. But its a good mix.
You’re Strong; a good quality
There’s no doubt that Belle has always been one of the braver, stronger ‘Disney Princesses’. Yet Emma Watson‘s rendition is even more so, as Lumiere points out. Not only does she sacrifice herself for her dad, but she approaches the castle, stick in hand and ready to rumble. The more modern dress from the film allows more free movement as the hem is brought up on one side with pants underneath. Belle is given more character in an added scene where she is scolded for teaching some of the town girls to read.
She is even feistier with the beast, attempting to escape out the window and there is even more back and forth banter between them, which gives more of a sense of a developing relationship. Watson delivers a good loyalty to O’Hara, even down to ways of standing, but she adds a little something in her emotional delivery and strength.
The majority of the classic songs are done well in this film. For all my complaining about Ewan McGregor‘s accent, and a bit about his Lumiére design, he did quite well with his part of ‘Be Our Guest’. Wide shots make the ensemble pieces feel fuller, in particular ‘Belle’. There are quite a lot of characters in play in this song as it is, but I feel the live-action adds even more, or at least puts them all in shot at once. I live for this types of pieces in musicals, so i wasn’t disappointed that this felt almost like ‘Who Will Buy’ from Oliver!. Various songs added lyrics, some more welcome than others, but more on that later.
Although I’m not generally taken with new songs in Disney, most of the three or so new ones felt right. The songs given to Dan Stevens as Beast (and his young self) in particular add depth to the character. Beast isn’t very well-rounded in the animation, so the music and indeed slight changes to the plot give better understanding of why he is so cruel to the aged lady at the very beginning. Stevens handles these complexities of expression quite well considering his CGI limitations. Scenes are also added to give more background to why Belle and her father moved to the ‘provincial town’ and this gives some common themes for the new-found friends.
Nobody like Gaston
Love or loath what his character would be like as a real life guy, most people love Gaston. He has the best songs and brings the most laughs. Although his namesake song is butchered here (and almost ruins everything), Luke Evans is a vision as this character people love to hate. He’s made even more disgusting in this adaptation, sinking to the lowest levels of betrayal, leaving Maurice for the wolves and openly admitting to shooting animals “from behind”. Yet as he develops in dismal behaviour there’s something in the way in which Le Fou seems to have more power over his mood swings, even if he is not successful in stopping Gaston. Le Fou is somewhat better in general, aside from the much publicised hints at his sexuality and Josh Gad plays his naivety and campness beautifully.
Adding Just enough to Not Be Offensive
Being a staunch traditionalist, i went into this film with slight trepidation. Part of me argued with any changes, but I really enjoyed the film and even appreciated some of the added stuff. I particularly like that the bookshop/library differentiation was made clearer; that’s just how nit picky I am. Having never read the original french fairy tale it’s hard to tell if any of the additions are true to the story, but in many ways it’s a well needed refresher. This movie gave the audience even more about what I loved about the original.
There is so much dress envy, added kicks to heart, and a more drawn out ending. It’s particularly nice that the castle staff were given just a little more to do, otherwise it would be a waste of powerhouses like Ian McKellan and Emma Thompson, although the latter comes off a bit mechanical. It’s one of those stories that knowing the ending doesn’t stop the tears, and it’s safe to say I was no more an adult seeing this in the cinema.