by Keith Hill
Rated PG. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Bill Condon.
The tale as old as time has joined the list of Disney classics getting a fresh upgrade in the latest live-action remake of Beauty & the Beast.
Condon’s remake follows very closely in the footsteps of Disney’s original 1991 animated version, itself based on the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. The bookish, but beautiful, Belle (Watson) is taken prisoner in a castle by hideous Beast (Stevens) in exchange for the freedom of her father, Maurice (Kline).
The castle’s servants, all anthropomorphic household objects, hatch a plan to get Belle to fall in love with the Beast, in order to break the curse that covers them all, and restore their humanity.
Meanwhile, the village narcissist Gaston (Evans), sets out with his bumbling sidekick LeFou (Gad) to kill the Beast and convince Belle to marry him.
Watson, with her prominent advocacy for women’s rights, seems the perfect fit for the independent and intelligent Belle, surely the feminist Disney princess if ever there was one. Stevens does a fantastic job underneath a layer of prosthesis and motion-capture special effects, to play the transformation of the Beast from raging and melancholy to charming. The supporting cast are all excellent – Evans and Gad in particular. There are wonderful moments of banter between characters that add some extra charm.
While the film is for the most part faithful to the original, Condon’s version explores the back stories of both Belle and the Beast, providing glimpses into the death’s of their respective mothers to give a deeper foundation for the understanding affection between them.
The original score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken also gets a facelift, with Tim Rice joining Menken to write three new songs for the Broadway adaptation of the original which have been incorporated into the remake. In addition, some of the original lyrics that were unused in the original animated version have been worked into the film. The new songs depart from the sing-along feel of the original, making the film feel more ‘musical theatre’ than ‘children’s movie’.
Unfortunately, none of the musical numbers seems to match the charm of the originals. Emma Thompson has a hard act to follow with Angela Lansbury’s performance of the film’s theme song, and her faux-Yorkshire accent is more distracting than endearing. The lyrics of the chorus numbers like ‘Gaston’ are at times indecipherable if you’re not fully up-to-speed with the original version. And the choreography of scenes like the film’s opening ‘Belle’ doesn’t translate well from animation to live-action.
The film’s conclusion is never in doubt, with Belle and the Beast eventually falling for one another, and their true love restoring the Beast and his servants back to their true humanity.
The story resonates with another classic – the story of a man who refused to love, and so lost his humanity under the curse of God. When Adam disobeys God’s command in the Garden of Eden, all humanity comes under the curse of death.
Like the fairy tale, this curse could only be broken by true love. But the love of a girl for a Beast wouldn’t be enough. To break this curse, God would have to send his own Son to take on our humanity and our curse, so that we could be transformed back into the true humanity in the image of God that we see in Jesus Christ. The sacrificial love of God for his creation truly is a tale as old as time.
The Verdict: Though Condon’s remake stays close to the original, the maturing of the content and the transfer to live action strips the film of much of the charm of the animated classic. 3/5
Beauty and the Beast releases in Australian cinemas on March 23rd, and in the USA on March 17th.