At the weekend I went to see Disney's new live-action Beauty and the Beast. After months of casting announcements, teaser trailers and 'first-look' clips, anticipation was high. But did I enjoy the final result? Yes, very much. I still prefer the original and (although it's probably made millions already and I'm very glad they did make it) the re-make was totally un-necessary. Still, there was lots to like and I wasn't disappointed.
1991's Beauty and the Beast was based on the classic fairy-tale, but like all Disney re-tellings it has its share of differences from the original. With some new ideas and more fully-fleshed out characters, Disney made the story it's own (although I'm inclined to think some of the ideas were Robin McKinley's first. The Library? Come on.) and the new film, while largely a faithful re-make, attempts to build more on the story, even adding in some tid-bits from the fairy-tale (such as Belle asking for a Rose, and her father being imprisoned by the Beast for taking one from his garden.) The thing is, Beauty and the Beast is already one of the Disney classics with the strongest script and the best developed characters. As the first Disney animated film with a credited female screenwriter, Linda Woolverton's Belle is one of the most forward thinking heroines, and, as their budding relationship is prime focus of the story, the Beast is the first Disney prince to be as well-developed as his princess. Unlike with Cinderella and The Jungle Book, there's not much call for fleshing-out characters or story. We don't really want or need change from the re-make, so what's left to do? The new film is very faithful to the original - sometimes even frame to frame, but lets talk about the little changes.
In the lead up to he film, there was a lot of talk about Belle being 'an inventor' in the place of Maurice. That bothered me a little, because I felt they were trying to make her more of a 'feminist' (when she already is a feminist character) by making her smart in a different, more-valued-because-it's-more-traditionally-masculine way. She's already an intelligent, intuitive woman in a book-smart way! Whatever I thought about it wasn't really important however, as the inventor thing felt like a side-note added at the last minute. The only evidence we saw of Belle the inventor was the washing machine - and in fact, I found myself wishing they'd made more of that scene. It could have been very dramatic and emotional, but it kind of ended up as a wasted opportunity.
They also needed to add some back-story, and so Belle and the Beast both get some sad family history involving the death of their mother. (Of course, this is Disney after all.) No spoilers, but I think Belle's back-story worked. It created a very touching relationship between Belle and her father (Kevin Kline, lovely and under-stated in his role) and culminated in a surprising and moving scene between Belle and the Beast, which I felt stepped their relationship up a notch. There wasn't really any logic to the magic book, but whatever. The Beast's backstory was less convincing, and I wonder why they bothered. It was supposed to explain why the enchantress cursed the servants too, but I would have left that line out. Not a good enough reason to curse people. Then there's the LeFou thing. In all the fuss around his sexuality, I was expecting something more than a few longing looks at Gaston and a 'moment' dancing with a man in a dress. If that's Disney's first attempt at portraying a gay character in a kids film, it's not exactly progressive. In real life, gay men are not all super flamboyant and spend their time creepily pining after their straight friends. Just look at Luke Evans, for one. (Also LeFou's redemption at the end? I can see they were trying to make him vaguely sympathetic but did he really deserve to get off scot free? He stood by while Gaston did a lot of bad things. And the way things ended with the villagers didn't convince me either.) I'm nit-picking now, but on the whole I was cool with the little tweaks the re-make made. The new songs were lovely (doesn't Dan Stephens have a nice voice?) and the prologue worked well I thought.
So, what did I love? I loved that that they made it a proper musical, with big old-fashioned production numbers. The 'mob song' was a surprise favourite and they did 'Belle' and 'Gaston' so well. And 'Be Our Guest'! They were all great, actually. Luke Evans really shone (although I was expecting that) and Ewan McGregor's accent didn't annoy me too much at all. The casting was good, on the whole, and Emma Watson, who I was particularly worried about, was great, in the end. I still don't think she's a very good actress, but she's very beautiful and there's a likeable charisma about her. She's charming, and I thought she was well-cast. Plus, she's well-practised in acting with all that CGI because of Harry Potter. Her costumes were fab and the yellow dress was gorgeous - particularly from the back when you could see the layers - and I liked the way it moved. The ballroom scene was also lovely, although it didn't quite give me the same chills that the original always does.
Overall, I would highly recommend going to see Beauty and the Beast. The original is perfect and can't be beaten, but this was a nice homage, made faithfully and with love. It was lavish and lovely to look at, the cast was good and the feel and heart of the original is well in tact. It's fun and easy watching, and I'm sure I'll go and see it at the cinema at least once more!
Have you seen it yet? What did you think?
(For other animated/live-action film comparisons see: What I'm Watching)