Last night I thoroughly enjoyed watching the new Beauty and the Beast film. Casting was superb featuring a wonderful cast including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan as family favourites Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth. Although why Lumiere is the only character with a French accent in a film set in France remains a bit of a head scratcher. Luke Evans was a perfectly chauvinistic narcissist as Gaston. Alongside Josh Gad as the charmingly bubbling Le Fou, with just a hint of a conscience, they provide welcome comic relief with their sidealong comments. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens don’t disappoint or as the title characters either. Watson is the beautiful bookworm we all know and love with just another fight to prevent her character slipping into damsel in distress territory. Although Stevens spends most of his time in his CGI guise he does a brilliant job of baring the Beast’s soul through his facial expression and voice. In many ways it is Steven’s acting and the addition of his song Evermore which gives the Beast a depth of emotion unseen in the Disney original. For the Beast at least, there truly is ‘something there that wasn’t there before’.
The special effects are as convincing as they are magical plunging us into a kaleidoscope of colour and emotion. The re-imagined animated objects work well with McGregor providing enigmatic flair as Lumiere and McKellan and Thompson perfecting the voices of Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth. This combination offsets the potential nostalgia the Disney purists among us may feel for the original cartoon comrades of their childhood. The beginning prologue, longer than in the original and giving Stevens a bit more screen time, generates excitement for the opening song ‘Bonjour’ which welcomes us back to the ‘poor, provincial town’ (named Villeneuve in the film) the audience will instantly recognise. The ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence remains the sensory buffet it is in the original, it truly is a ‘culinary caberet’ of colour and music that is arguably better than the original. Many prospective viewers feared for the ‘Tale as Old as Time’ scene but the live-action replacement triumphs. Watson affirms her place in the film as Belle’s yellow dress fits her like a glove. As she twirls around the dancefloor in the arms of the now gentlemanly Beast, the familiar music and lyrics draw us in eliciting many a nostalgic tear from the audience.
The film definitely put it’s $160 million dollar to good use in sets. The locations are beautiful with Belle’s ‘little town’ a bright and bustling hub in comparision to the Beast’s sprawling and crumbling palace complete with the requisit gothic-esque interior. Perhaps at odds with the gloom of the west wing where the Beast resides is Belle’s beautiful bedroom which seems to have been lifted directly from the court of Versailles. What enhances the setting most is the characters that dwell within them. The sprawling gardens of the Beast’s palace both snow-laden and bare at the films starts become the perfect romantic spot when Belle catches the Beast reading a lovestory. Similarly the shadowy castle interior is imbued with warmth by it’s inhabitants through the casual ribbing between Lumiere and Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts motherly concerns. This is no accident, as the Beast becomes more human and his connection to Belle grows the shadows lift as the characters draw closer to their return to their Days in the Sun.
The sights and sounds of this new spin on a Disney classic won’t disappoint. Despite departures from the original, most notably two new songs (the Beast’s Evermore and Days in the Sun) and a more fleshed out backstory for Belle (including a trip to Paris), the film remains faithful to the original plot, score and scenary. For many the new adaptation is a coming home returning us to a place and time we once knew so well and reacquainting us with a colourful cast of old friends.