Beauty and the Beast – The safe play that celebrates a classic

One of the most discussed about films of 2017, there’s very little to say going into Beauty and the Beast that hasn’t already. From the record breaking teaser trailer to questions over auto-tuning beloved songs, anticipation for Disney’s latest live action venture has seen every dial on the expectation scale. Given how beautiful handled and well received the original animation was over two decades ago, it’s easy to see why so many have been excited for this while cautious too many changes will ruin the classic story. After all, “if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it”.

Some may see it as harsh, there’s no denying this movie will be compared to the original animated epic. Like every reboot or sequel, what came before it will be firmly in the minds of audiences around the world; wondering what exactly has Disney done to make this different from the original. This will not be the only comparison in quality for BatB, however. Much like 2015’s Cinderella (the Mouse’s last project bringing the princess genre to the live action scene), Beauty is a true and proper retelling of the classic tale. A surprising favourite of mine, Ken Branagh’s remake of the shoe-forgetful heroine became my top movie of the year (even beating The Force Awakens) thanks to not only the respect given towards original Disney film, but how they used the extended runtime to add some much needed depth to each and every character. Cinderella was the first time I saw one of these live action remakes as a genuine improvement over the animation – proof that they can be something special.

So the question on everybody’s lips are actually questions: Can this Beauty and the Beast recreate the magic that made the original so special, and does it have the depth that made Cinders an instant classic?

Running just over two hours, the live action adaptation is roughly 45 minutes longer than the original. The majority of this added time can be found in new scenes that have been written, shedding some light into the backstory of several characters. While these scenes are all enjoyable and much more an extension rather a rewriting, that is all they feel; an extension. Perhaps it was just me (especially as one scene seems to be attracting rave reviews from fans and critics) but this new content didn’t feel organic to me.

This stems from my major complication with the film; the editing. Dealing with such an iconic movie like BatB – which has more standout scenes, characters and songs than perhaps any Disney classic – it’s understandable, maybe even forgivable, that novice director Bill Condon was out of his depths. Even when watching for the first time, it became very clear when a scene begins and ends. On several occasions scenes end with a sharp cut to blank with silence before taking us to the next chapter. I can see what Condon was trying here, this is clearly a call to his musical roots and the director’s attempt to bring in a film equivalent to the curtain call. Given Beauty’s successful stay on Broadway, translating the atmosphere of the stage to the big screen seems like a good idea… in theory. Taking what Beauty and the Beast is, a film adaptation, the stage show influence just doesn’t translate well enough and feels more sloppy than ingenious. The majority of movie going audience will not be avid fans of the hit musical, with many even knowing such a thing exists. Ultimately, this leads to iconic moments and songs feeling very isolated from one another, as one scene abruptly ends, another abruptly begins to take us to the next fan favourite; there’s no fluidity.

When Beauty and the Beast hits it right however, boy does. Almost every recreated scene from the original is executed beautifully, bringing live action believeability and grandness where needed yet keeping the magic and fantastical moments fun and visually joyful. No doubt this is down a huge part to the incredible set design and production that has went into this movie. From the snow-filled, haunted-like and decrepit castle exterior to the bustling provincial little town, each and every scene is unmistakably apt and a joy to explore with the characters. This really feels like a true, real life version of the animated story because of the beautiful architecture, design and dedication put into making the movie look right. Last year I made the early prediction for The Jungle Book to walk away with the best visual Academy Award, this time around I’m throwing my hat in early again and rooting for Beauty and the Beast to snap up as many production design awards as it can.

Composing of a very star filled cast with more awards and silverware than the enchanted castle itself, there’s always the concern of a substance drought in movies like this where egos can get in the way of performances. This cannot be further from the truth for BatB with every character given the justice they deserve all while receiving a unique twist, added quirks or just some much needed depth. Sometimes too many cooks don’t spoil the broth, but instead prepare a feast worthy of a song and dance over.

My standout performances are definitely Luke Evans’ and Ewan McGregor’s portrayals as Gaston and Lumiére respectfully. With such a highly animated and over the top character like the confident, ruthless Gaston, it would have been very easily for the title’s villain to fall too far into comedy and become the joke of the piece. Instead, Evans has took the classic character and, cliche as it sounds, made it his own. As should be, he dominates every scene he appears in. Menacing and manipulative – with added explanations to support it – this Gaston is much more grounded in the real world yet possesses the charm we know and love and dare I say, eclipses that of the original. Our new Gaston is only supported by the hilarious Josh Gad, bringing his fantastic timing and animation to LeFou who finally gets a slightly large presence.

As for McGregor, the sheer fact I have heard so many people express their surprise when reading his name in the credits speaks volumes. Another performance that steals each and every scene, Lumiére is the likable host with the most we all remember and bounces of McKellen’s Cogsworth just as you’d hope. I had a lot of reservations regarding our candelabra and clock friends’ designs leading up to this live action, indeed it was my biggest compliant from all the trailers and marketing. Having now graced their company for the entire feature, I’ve been completely won over. The same goes for all of the furniture characters I must say, whose designs I have also grown to be rather fond of and – with thanks to the stunning visual work done at Disney – keeps everything believable and creative no matter how sublime.

Although not my first choice for the title protagonist, Emma Watson certainly brought a good performance to the bookish Belle and over time I grew to accept. She may not still have been my ideal casting but her inclusion by no means brings down the high performance standards. Dan Steven’s Beast however was fantastic from start to finish. Like that of the supporting cast, the Downton actor brought a unique feel of familiarity with some excellent delivery throughout. This is in no small part down to the superb digital work in creating the Beast, which never once felt too cartoonish or verged into the realm of silliness. The subtly in the animation of the cursed prince’s expressions are something I feel will truly be appreciated in repeat viewings.

All of this and I haven’t even gotten into a core element of the movie yet; the music. For the most part this is a soundtrack you are going to want to download and remember. Withs the like of Gad, Evans, McGregor and Thompson bringing some very memorable moments to the classics, you’ll be replaying these versions just as often as the originals for sure. This is where Condon’s musical forte really shines through as he brings the grand, atmospheric spectacle feeling normally reserved to the stage and film standouts like Les Misérables. On several occasions the true, lively spirit of those original songs were captured perfectly, beautifully celebrating why we love them so much. Even the new original songs are very enjoyable, with one in particular growing much on me with each re-listen.

When the future comes and the last petal falls, Beauty and the Beast will no doubt be seen as a classic of the live action Disney library. While it may not have captured that perfect magic Cinderella managed to, and will never bypass the iconic levels of the original, it is an excellent retelling of the tale as old as time that comes mighty close to its blue dress cousin. Fans of the ’91 animation (lets face it, who isn’t?) is certainly going to appreciate the attention to detail that has went into persevering the heart that made you fall in love all those years ago. As debuts to big budget blockbusters go, this is one Bill Condon can certainly be satisfied with; if not hopefully a learning curve to improved techniques.

Now, if Disney can get this team working on a live action The Hunchback of Notre Dame