31 March- 13 April 2017, DCA
Having directed Maleficent, The Jungle Book and Cinderella with relative success in recent years, Bill Condon is well practiced at the adaptation of popular literature. Now, with a star-studded cast and a lavish budget, he turns his attention to a Disney fan-favourite, Beauty and the Beast. Though the story of the Beauty and the Beast is an adaptation of the tale popularized by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Bill Condon’s version aims primarily to reconstitute the magic of the Disney classic released in 1991, which was itself heavily indebted to the cinematography of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête (1946).
Beauty and The Beast tells the story of Belle (Emma Watson), a young, bright and independent woman who continually rejects the advances of Gaston (Luke Evans), a handsome but arrogant and narrow-minded villager. While dreaming about something more than a provincial life, as she sings it herself, her father goes suddenly missing. Belle decides to rescue him and soon discovers a mysterious and snowy castle. She finds her father, imprisoned in a cell, captured by a terrifying beast (Dan Stevens) who has punished the old man for having stolen a rose from his gardens. Belle comes to an agreement with the Beast: her father’s freedom in exchange of hers. Now prisoner, Belle gets accustomed to her new life in captivity and befriends the servants of the castle, victims of a strange curse. Among them, Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the mantel clock (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson) and her son Chip the teacup (Nathan Mack).
Bill Condon plays it safe in offering a very faithful adaptation of the Disney classic; scenes, costumes, songs and characters are identical. Alan Menken, who composed the score of the animated movie, makes a return in the music credits. For this live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, Menken brings the enchanting score up to date with songs such as “Something There”, “Belle” and “Be our Guest”. He also creates new songs for the occasion, but manages to sustain continuity with the original material.
The choice of actors always remains the tricky part, especially when real-life actors must compete with beloved animated characters. With Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the leading roles, Beauty and the Beast offers a convincing cast. Other familiar faces such as Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson also star in the film and contribute to its familial appeal. Emma Watson is a very spirited, charming and sympathetic Belle, whereas Luke Evans makes a very good — dumb and narcissistic— Gaston. And despite his awful French accent, Ewan McGregor as Lumière turns out to be a strong asset to the movie. However, this version of Beauty and the Beast suffers the same defect as its predecessor. The prince has no charisma at all, to the point where we might regret he does not stay a beast forever, as he is more interesting and likeable this way!
The movie recently made world headlines for the character of LeFou (Josh Gad), Gaston’s eccentric and long-suffering sidekick, who is apparently homosexual. This caused the movie to be banned in some countries. Is Disney embracing diversity? Though LeFou’s homosexuality remains implicit for the most part, Disney seems very keen on defending its “gay” character. Although the audience may find this a bit anachronistic, it is also worth noting that Bill Condon made some efforts to offer a multiracial background, as seen in the opening scene, and that Disney never had the pretension to offer a historical reconstitution.
Beauty and the Beast is entertaining and family-friendly. We appreciate Emma Watson’s performance and thank her for making of Belle a very inspiring Disney character. We should also mention the efficiency of special effects and the subtle re-orchestration of beloved songs that made the original movie successful. We cry as much as we laugh. This remake is a great success and shows that Disney can still enchant us with timeless stories.