The live action version is now directed by Bill Condon, known for such acclaimed films as “Gods and Monsters” and “Dreamgirls”, and two blockbuster “Twilight” flicks. We already know the story as it’s a fairy tale as old as time, but still, the film works, thanks for the ingenuity and expertise of those who worked on it and make us rediscover the magic of the classic source. It’s somehow nostalgic for me to watch this as I remember I was with my wife and our two children when we saw it 26 years ago, and now, my wife is gone and our kids have children of their own.
It’s not only the superlative CGI that makes the new version work but also the additions they made to the script. Love is shown here not just between the independent-minded Belle (Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the 8 Harry Potter films) and the grumpy beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”), but also in other couples, including two interracial tandems.
The basic plot remains the same. Belle is a brainy bookworm who refuses the advances of the boorish, vain Gaston. Her dad, Maurice (Kevin Kline), forays into the enchanted castle and gets imprisoned by the Beast for plucking a rose from his garden meant for his daughter Belle, who later takes her papa’s place. The cursed objects inside the castle then try their best for Belle and the Beast to fall in love with each other to break the spell so they can all regain their human form.
The film tries to give some back story and emotional heft to both Belle and the Beast involving their mutual sad experiences about losing their respective moms as a young child. This makes the basic Stockholm syndrome hostage-falling-for-her-captor story much more touching. Condon also offers a fresh retelling of the familiar source material by magnifying the lavishness and spectacle of the musical sequences.
This is evident in the very first number with Belle going out of their house to sing her own song as an empowered heroine who yearns for a more exciting life outside of her limited provincial existence in their small town. This eventually leads to a homage to “The Sound of Music” where Belle is shown singing ala-Julie Andrews as Maria on a hilltop with wild flowers.
Inside the castle, the merriment doubles with the singing servants who became bewitched pieces of talking furniture and utensils, including Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere, Ian McKellen as the clock Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as the teapot Mrs. Potts. They all do a smashingly over-the-top version (again with the help of stunning CGI work) of “Be Our Guest” with plates and pots and pans performing a great jaw-dropping kaleidoscopic number ala-Busby Berkeley.
The iconic ballroom dance involving the leads, with Belle enchanting in her yellow gown, is truly a winning magical moment. Emma Thompson does well with the singing, but we still prefer Angela Lansbury’s original version of the title song in the animated film. Luke Evans and Josh Gad shine on their own in the hilarious show-stopping “Gaston” number inside the pub. Evans is okay, but we can’t help but recall that, when we saw this on stage in Sydney many years ago, Gaston was played by the swaggering Hugh Jackman and Wolverine is certainly much more awesome!
All in all, it’s well crafted, offers some good new songs (notably “How Does a Moment Last Forever” by Beauty and “Evermore” by the Beast), and is well served by a great competent cast. Fans of both the cartoon and stage versions will be pleased and satisfied.
The film became somewhat controversial because of a so-called “gay moment”. It involves Le Fou (Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in “Frozen” and the dog in “A Dog’s Purpose”), the sidekick of the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans, who has admitted he’s gay in real life), for whom he has unrequited love. Towards the end, there’s a big production number and Le Fou is shown dancing with a male partner. But that’s it. Much ado about nothing.