Disney continues its run of live-action adaptations of its classic animated back catalogue with a lavish take on the 1991 Academy-Award nominated Beauty and the Beast. Following previous titles including Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book, Disney have cracked the formula to critical and commercial success.
Clinging closely to the animation, its characters and songs are familiar. The story remains the same, in which two bookworms fall in love with the aid of assorted household items. However, there’s a new prologue where Dan Stevens appears in his human form as the vain Prince surrounded by admirers at a ball, before an enchantress zaps him with an unfair curse. From then on, Stevens appears in full Beast mode. The CGI used to bring the Beast to life is appealing and Stevens’ performance remains constantly strong as he storms around his exquisitely designed castle. As much as the Beasts’ bellows echo around the lonely house, his wounded soul gradually comes to the surface.
As for Beauty, Emma Watson’s natural strength and sweetness are a perfect fit for Belle. She’s given more independence – at one point she even states “I’m not a princess!” playing on the innocence of the cartoon character. She’s also given a little more back-story, adding to the foundation of her connection with the Beast. Watson meets the demanding vocal requirements and shines from the first moment we see her on screen during her version of ‘Belle’, a song about her dreaming for more from her life than the small-minded locals in her town.
Luke Evans Gaston is once against the arrogant scene stealer while Josh Gad adds extra layers to his right hand man Le Fou. The supporting voice cast are an absolute hoot. From Ewan McGregor’s lothario candlestick Lumiere (His version of ‘Be Our Guest’ is the most fun you’ll have) to Ian McKellen’s old fashioned clock Cogsworth and Emma Thompson’s cockney teapot Mrs Potts.
With a smart reworking of the same plot and a handful of new songs, this delightful recreation is 45 minutes longer than its predecessor. But time flies by effortlessly as the films’ sumptuous settings and catchy tunes are utterly engrossing. The tale may be as old as time and you have seen it before, but its spirit and energy is irresistible.