The biggest question surrounding Disney’s live-action remake of its own 1991 classic animation, as is the case with all the other films of this kind to have been released in the last few years, is ‘what’s the point?’. From a cynic’s perspective, without some new added element or different take on a story we’ve all seen before, surely the only other reason to repackage it and tell it again is to make money. As far as Beauty and the Beast is concerned, it sits somewhere between the two; making attempts to expand on the original source material, but not doing quite enough to wholly justify the film’s existence.
The balance of the old and new is one that’s difficult to get right and which, so far, only Jon Favreau has managed to achieve with his retelling of last year’s The Jungle Book. Here, the screenplay from Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos fails to achieve the same thing due to the limitations of the source material.
Rather than make things political or look at events from a different perspective, the additional forty-minutes or so of story focuses largely on the relationship between Belle and her father, as well as her ongoing search to find out how her mother died years before.
And so there’s a new musical number which is all about the relationships between parents and children, a scene set in Paris in which Belle returns home, and even a reference to the plague – all of which feel unnecessary and out of place when put into context of the rest of the film.
That said, even though the extra padding only serves to drag the film down, when the adaptation plays out in what is virtually the exact same way as the 1991 animation, it’s pretty difficult to not get swept up in.
I suppose it all comes back down to the whole “tale as old as time” thing, which is to say that there’s so many generations, mine included, that hold such great fondness and love for the original story that, in truth, it doesn’t really need to do anything new to make it successful.
Fortunately, Bill Condon is a more than capable director who, at the very least, manages to retain that original magic. The visuals are bright and colourful, the costumes and set-design feel of the Disney cartoon, and, most impressive of all, the cast are so good that it feels like those original animated characters have been brought to life.
Luke Evans’ Gaston steals the show by a clear mile, perfectly capturing the hulking physicality of the character on top of the egotistical dimwittedness that makes him so memorable. In fact, he and Josh Gad’s LeFou, a relationship that has caused a lot of needless controversy over its homosexual undercurrent, is so entertaining to watch that it deserves a whole film in and of itself.
You also have a perfectly cast bunch of actors that provide pitch perfect voice work for Lumière, Cogsworth and the other servants-turned-antiques, who, again, capture the tone of the original film with ease. Emma Watson, on the other hand, struggles with what is the most difficult role of the film, doing well with the performance itself but relying largely on auto-tune to get her through the musical numbers.
At times, this Beauty and the Beast does feel like listening to the greatest hits record of your favourite band. You listen to it for the hits, but there’s always those extra new songs which are never quite as good as what you payed your money for.
Its attempts to at least try something different are admirable, but it is ultimately all of the original elements that make this worthwhile. Whilst that would usually be a bad thing, it has been brought to life so well that I think families with young children, some of who may have their first cinematic experience with this, will think it really special. And so, regardless of the film’s few problems, that’s a lovely thing.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com