Offering a respectfully safe rendition of the well-known fairy tale supported by outstanding CGI work and a careful cast selection but less innovation, Beauty and the Beast is (only) a satisfactory mark in the Disney books.
Let’s pretend you have no idea what the plot consists of for a bit. Belle is a bookworm stuck in the town where a lot of people don’t understand her curiosity and intelligence. She spends her days reading and rejecting her egotistic suitor, Gaston. One day, coming back from a market and escaping a wolfpack, her father discovers a lost castle in a snowstorm – and becomes a prisoner for Beast, who tries to punish the man for picking a rose for his daughter. Belle offers herself to replace her parent and starts to plan an escape, but with the help of welcoming houseware characters and a debt of saved life owed to the enchanted monster, she soon starts to enjoy her stay.
It’s always difficult when you take something as cherished as the original Disney fairy tale and try to remake it; it’s something inevitably engraved in people’s memories. The new version doesn’t ruin childhoods or anything, not at all; in fact, it’s a faithful reboot of the story, with bits and bobs added to the plot. But for the most of the time, the new ideas feel as if they were inserted just for the sake of it: now we know what happened to Belle’s mum, discover slightly illogical reasons behind servants loving their master so much, and understand that some folk in town have serious magical powers. But that isn’t something that aids the story beyond its purpose. It also reuses a whole lot of the original sequences: it will be satisfying for those who didn’t expect a refresh and want to enjoy the charm of the 1991 rendition, but it still struggles to introduce anything we haven’t seen before. Sometimes it even feels like the story loses its energy and becomes a little bit too long.
The characters are more diverse; the much-needed upgrade has been done. That’s a massive yes, but it’s still surprising that some treat this inclusivity as extraordinary rather than something that should be a norm by now – however, the radical (and completely out of place) reactions of some before they even saw the film explain that. Regardless, it’s a step forward for Disney. The girl-power note in Belle is also a little stronger – but it plays it safe not to aggravate the die-hard fans of the movie. She is now a creative mind, but only for a short moment before the villagers destroy her useful invention because of their prejudice; later, when it comes to picking a simple lock, she doesn’t stay the original gangster either.
What about the cast? Emma Watson does well enough as Belle – but as much as she has really strong moments such as the opening scene, the dismissal of Gaston’s courtship or the joyful moment of receiving the whole library to herself, she can also be a bit lifeless at times (the Paris sequence, for instance). Beast is also a little more human: Dan Stevens creates a believable transformation from angry and unlikeable to sensitive and loving, getting a chance to sing, too. Luke Evans makes an antagonist that we hate for all the right reasons: he channels the egocentrism and villainy masterfully. Josh Gad is also a lovingly entertaining sidekick, and the duo can really cause a dramatic stir in audience’s hearts – we’re clenching our fists and shaking our heads.
The visual effects also make a couple of sequences stand out. Particularly Be Our Guest number is a pleasure for the eye, with a truly infectious energy that brings out the panache of this original: it feels like a revue straight out of musical theatre. It’s grand and colourful, a piece of spectacular CGI work, and that allows it to be truly enjoyable. The Beast himself is also much more gothic and gruesome, which only helps to highlight that the true beauty lies within. The costume work is also phenomenal, bringing out every tiny bit of the baroque lushness to the surface.
Neither painfully bad or groundbreakingly good, new Beauty and the Beast doesn’t fail to retell the story for the younger generation, but it doesn’t always fully deliver on the promises that the pre-release hype has built. That makes the film a charming tribute to the original, but also a pretty average flick as a stand-alone attempt.
Author’s note: Honestly, if I was Belle, I’d go to Paris, live my life and patent my washing machine instead of trying to talk to those who don’t appreciate my efforts in enlightening their children. There’s more to life than this provincial town, hun. Except I don’t live anytime around the end of the eighteenth century.