As one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Beauty and the Beast was always going to struggle to please both Disney purists and a new generation of fans. Book-loving Belle (Emma Watson) is the odd girl in her French village, as she dreams of adventure instead of fawning after local heartthrob Gaston (Luke Evans). When her father (Kevin Kline) goes missing, Belle finds herself at a run-down castle occupied by a bad-tempered Beast (Dan Stevens), and must stay there as his prisoner in exchange for her father’s freedom. Of course, the castle is enchanted.
The live-action re-imagining of the 1991 Disney classic stays devoutly true to the original, but this works both for and against the film. While it’s relatively easy to accept the relationship between a beast and a beautiful girl in a cartoon without asking too many questions, the live version makes you much more aware of the relationship, and at times this can feel almost awkward and uncomfortable.
Scenes can feel a little abrupt in the live-action remake as they diligently mirror the cartoon scene for scene. However, if they had strayed too far from the original, fans would have revolted at the injustice of “ruining a classic”, so filmmakers were never going to win.
The acting is convincing: Stevens does a great job of playing the gruff Beast, while Watson plays the headstrong and defiant Belle with charm and ease, although at time she comes across as a little flat and bland (honestly, it’s hard to understand why Gaston is so obsessed with her).
All of the enchanted objects in the castle are back, of course: Lumiere (voiced by Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and Mrs Potts (a fabulous Emma Thompson), and as with the original, these characters are the ones who make the film.
Gaston and LeFou (Josh Gad) add comedy value, and along with Belle’s father, their droll humour and witty comments both ground the film and modernise it, bringing it sharply into 2017.
The music, one of the most-loved aspects of the original, is tremendous in the live-animated version, and the new songs are catchy and blend seamlessly with the original score.
Despite the small critiques, Beauty and the Beast ultimately manages to be both new and nostalgic, and if the goal was to bring a much-loved cartoon to life, then Disney has triumphed once again.