Once upon a time, in a small provincial town called London, there lived a Rifleman. This Rifleman liked to talk long windedly (or ‘ramble’ if you like) about the cultural impact of cinema, often ranting and raving madly about the over-worshipping of actors and actresses. This is not his tale. It’s not a tale at all, in fact. It’s just a rather unsubtle attempt to segue into my latest critique. The subject of this round of rambling is, as you may have imagined, the live-action remake of the timeless Disney classic Beauty And The Beast. Now given my normal attitude to reboots, I was preparing to crucify this film with large rusty nails shaped like Andúril, but I find myself somewhat waylaid by the fact that the 2017 edition of Beauty And The Beast is a pretty excellent film. Took the wind out my sails, but we’re here now, so I’d better keep paddling.
Seeing as comparisons to the original are as inevitable as the sing-along dvd release that’s about to follow this little film, let’s get cracking. I’ll start with the casting, and I’ll be honest with, Emma Watson was somebody I didn’t realise how much I’d missed until she reappears here. I’d given her flak before for her somewhat erratic and indecisive career trajectory, her performance as the rather unsubtly named Belle is very convincing. She pulls off the geeky jewel role very well, as you might expect seeing as her career up to this point was effectively built on, but her character’s assertiveness and moral strength are well portrayed without coming across as irritating. She has excellent chemistry with the other characters, which brings me with an absurd grin to Luke Evans’ absolute scene-stealing turn as the villainous Gaston. In a performance that would make Lord Flashheart shout ‘WURF’ from his grave, Evans manages the perfect balance of ludicrously arrogant and gittish and a streak of genuine sinisterness. In contrast to this, Dan Stevens’ Beast sadly leaves room for improvement. He is certainly very sympathetic, particularly as the film’s expanded plot unfolds, but he is unfortunately not nearly as terrifying as his animated counterpart.
It is this fact that brings me, sadly, to the few criticisms I have of this film, the main one being (and this is NOT an intentional pun) it’s lack of teeth. The not-so-scary beast is just one example of where the film doesn’t quite make the grade. For example the two supporting servants Cogsworth and Lumiere, who work fine as characters on their own, but the bickering and playful dialogue of the original is entirely absent, which is rather disappointing when you have two powerhouses such as Ian McKellan and Ewan McGregor providing the voices. And say what you like about Emma Thompson as Mrs. Pott’s, but her rather forced Cockney-ing rather takes almost all of the emotional weight from the most important song in the film. It’s impossible to get invested in what was previously a truly wonderful piece of music when the the refrain sounds ‘beauty aynd tha beeeeeast’. If Angela Lansbury managed it, Thompson, then don’t really have an excuse.
In a nutshell, this film is very much a modern Disney film, in that it feels a little too safe in places. The non-threatening beast, the underdeveloped supporting characters, the unnecessary dead-mother backstory arbitrarily tacked on to both the leads which adds nothing new, and the homoerotic undertones of LeFou. He was already a silly comedic character, so I find it a little worrying that Disney thought that camping him up a bit would somehow add to the humour. All that being said, however, these are very minor nitpicks that I had to try very hard to find. The writing, while not quite as sharp as the original, will still have you laughing out loud, and the film is certainly visually stunning, with the ‘Be Our Guest’ blowing it’s predecessor out of the water in terms of spectacle. So don’t take my criticisms as reason to give this film a miss, because to do so would be foolish. It’s still funny, charming, romantic and above all entertaining. Had I not seen the original for research, I think I still would have enjoyed it, which shows that the film can stand up on its own merit. Not as tall as its predecessor, perhaps, but tall nevertheless.