“Tale as old as time”
It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.
Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis.
For though some effort has been made to make this Belle a more modern girl (it is her rather than her father who is the inventor in the family), Watson’s interpretation lacks the vibrancy to make her character really sing. And not being a singer by any stretch, she’s not able to sufficiently build on the characterisation through the music – ‘Belle’ is an altogether pleasant number but it could do with being more vivacious, especially when the green-screen hits and a blankness appears in Watson’s eyes.
Dan Stevens’ Beast isn’t allowed to be sufficiently violent or ugly to be a real antagonist but even if he really is beautiful on the inside, there’s no way to spin their relationship – which begins as captor/captive – in a convincingly positive light. He sounds lovely in ‘Evermore’ though. It’s all part of the problem of trying to make what was an animated world of imagination and possibility into something needlessly photo-realistic.
Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the pendulum clock (Ian McKellen), and Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) are all amusingly done but in their CGI rendering, draw attention to their artificiality rather than their magic, which seems to me to miss the point. They do get a lovely moment in one of Alan Menken’s new songs – ‘Days in the Sun’ – and musically as a whole, the film does sound great.
And in the only two performances that seem to be having any fun, Luke Evans and Josh Gad stand out as Gaston and his manservant Le Fou (such hoohah about a blink-and-miss-it ‘gay’ moment). Maybe that’s the key, just to disengage the brain and try to have fun with this. Though why you’d want to when you can just as easily pop on the animated flick is beyond me. And try as she might, Emma Thompson is no Angela Lansbury. (Listen to the soundtrack instead).