TALE as old as time, song as old as rhyme. So go the lyrics to the most famous tune from Disney’s classic 1991 animation Beauty And The Beast. The essence of that film is felt throughout this lavish, heartfelt live-action retelling of the centuries-old La Belle et la Bête brought into the Mouse House more than a quarter of a century ago.
Belle (Emma Watson) is a bookish young woman living an uneventful life in a picturesque village with her widowed inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline). She regularly bats away the advances of the heroic but insufferably vain Gaston (Luke Evans), a song never far from her lips as she dreams of more than this provincial life.
When her father goes missing while out on an expedition, Belle goes to investigate, finding her way to a mysterious castle hidden deep in the dark woods. There she meets a giant beast (Dan Stevens) who holds dominion over the castle and takes her prisoner.
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At first repulsed by the beast, she soon grows to understand his suffering under a dark spell that turned him from a handsome prince into the beast he is today. Can she be the one to break the spell and turn him back?
We all know the story and it’s no secret how it turns out. But the strength of this version, like The Jungle Book and Cinderella before it, is how it pays loving homage to the original while making it feel fresh all over again.
If the charming carriage clock ain’t broke then don’t fix it, so to speak, and so rather than massively changing things up it gives us a fresh glance at what we already know and love.
Fans of the 1991 version in its all-singing, all-dancing glory will be happy to hear that this is very much a musical once more. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight franchise) pulls out all the stops, treating the extravagant tunes as set-pieces awash with a wonderful sense of sumptuous theatricality; the accompanying costumes and sets are often breathtaking.
All the songs (and some extra added) are there, from the opening Bonjour which takes us on a trip around Belle’s quaint village, to the delightful musical invitation Be Our Guest, to the titular song which gives us the all-important ballroom dancing between our fair beauty and the misunderstood beast.
They are enchantingly performed by a cast that fit their respective characters down to a tee. Watson is a perfect Belle, bringing new notes of warmth, charm and spirit to her. Stevens acts through CGI to make sure the beast is as he should be; shocking at first and presumed monstrous before revealing his softer side. Importantly the two have real chemistry that helps to sell the fantastical romance.
There are hugely entertaining turns from a prestige supporting cast including Ewan McGregor as Lumière (sporting an adorably hammy French accent) and Ian McKellen as wise old clock Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as motherly teapot Mrs Potts and Josh Gad (AKA Olaf from Frozen) as Gaston’s enduring sidekick LeFou, Disney’s first portrayal of an openly LGBTQ character.
The film takes a little while to find its feet but once we get to the castle, its magical inhabitants and the ensuing, ever-blooming romance between the eponymous duo, it takes on an enchanting life of its own that both keeps the spirit of its origin alive while giving us plenty of reasons to embrace the update.