Disney’s live-action remake of the tale as old as time has finally arrived on DVD in the UK! Let’s find out if it’s a beauty or a beast…
There’s no arguing with the success of Disney’s remake of their 1992 animated classic: the movie broke all kinds of box office records and is currently still standing as the highest-grossing film of the year. Yes, this film would have made a castle-full of cash even if it hadn’t been good, but the real success of Beauty and the Beast is that it makes the most out of what could have been a heartless exercise in recycling a (not even very) old favourite.
What director Bill Condon rightly realised is that the 1992 original is as near a perfect animated film as you will find, so he clearly did his best to translate the movie as wholly as possible into live-action, augmenting and embellishing bits here and there when necessary. So many shots and lines of dialogue from the original are present and correct here and, paired with Alan Menken’s timeless music, you will be instantly be pulled back into childhood from the moment the Disney castle appears.
Still, there would truly be no point in making the exact same film again, so BATB decides to spend its extra runtime by fleshing out the characters and answering any lingering questions or plot holes from the original movie. There is a real effort to get to the heart of what makes each character tick – including adding in new backstories for Belle and Prince Adam and even switching the allegiance of one character. Some of the alterations don’t need to be there – there’s a villainous subplot involving Gaston which I think messes up his wonderful escalating character arc in the first film – but mostly they did a good job mixing the old and the new.
So how do the cast fare bringing these fleshed-out cartoon characters to life? Firstly, the credits list is an embarrassment of riches with so many talented actors on board. You can’t replace Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers for me, but Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen make for a fun Lumiere and Cogsworth, though they never capture the rivalry of the original characters. Luke Evans is a perfect Gaston, meanwhile, as he feels like he has walked straight out of the old movie. This is Emma Watson and Dan Stevens’ film, though, and they are brilliantly cast as the unlikely lovers. Watson really sells what must have been difficult to shoot, cosying up to a guy in a silly MoCap suit, and Stevens imbues the Beast with humour and heart through his modulated voice alone.
Unlike The Jungle Book, which seemed embarrassed by its songs, Beauty embraces its Disney-ness and is a full-on musical. All in all, the singing is very impressive, with Watson and Stevens (even under his booming Beast voice) holding their own. I will still listen to the originals over these ‘covers’, but these are good renditions of all the old favourites nonetheless. Menken even composed some new songs for the film. Some of them are a mixed bag, but ‘Evermore’ is an amazing number, easily as good as any song from the original.
All in all, do I prefer this movie to the 1992 edition? Absolutely not, I’m afraid. But, by virtue of recreating the original as perfectly as possible, with a few great additions sprinkled in, this Beauty and the Beast is still a wonderful film that captures that timeless Disney magic that the best films of the House of Mouse have. Now let’s just hope The Lion King remake goes as well as this one…