beauty and the beast

review by oisín walsh

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Remakes are inevitably going to be immediately weighed against the original production. It has been 26 years since the original release of Beauty and The Beast in 1991, so now at the time of the live-action remake will the fans that grew up with the original be rewarded with a faithful adaptation?

Quite simply: yes. Beauty and The Beast directed by Bill Condon, is full of charming characters, pretty visuals, and impressive musical numbers. The film’s premise is essentially the same as the animated version. Belle (Emma Watson) is a well-read, clever woman who is not fond of living in her dull provincial French town until she happens upon an enchanted castle where the servants are household objects and the master of the castle is a Beast (Dan Stevens).

The characters have changed in a number of ways. Belle is still independent and intelligent but she is now a more active character (she tries to escape the Beast’s imprisonment). She is fully aware there is a curse on the Beast, and his servants and offers to help them break it; she is no longer blind to the situation. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is no longer a foolish man who needs to be supervised by his daughter but merely an eccentric artist/inventor who loves his daughter and wishes to keep her safe. The character who has possibly changed the most from the original is LeFou (Josh Gad), who is now Disney’s first openly gay character. He is no longer a mindless minion of Gaston (Luke Evans), but rather a faithful, if misguided companion who tries to restrain Gaston’s violent temper; Gaston now needs him as much as he needs Gaston. Gaston himself succeeds at being both a comedic character so vain it’s laughable and also a fearsome villain, who bullies, intimidates and frightens the villagers to take control.

The most striking new character in Beauty and The Beast is the castle itself. It bears almost no resemblance to the animated version but it is all the better for it. Every inch of its design is a glory to behold and this is clearly seen as Beast sings “Evermore” towards the end of the film. He scales up and around the castle’s towers to get a better view of the horizon and we get to explore the castle’s majesty on his way up. It’s a moment where the visuals and music are truly stunning and creates an original feeling not based off the source material.

Most important for a musical film however is of course the musical numbers, particularly when the majority of the audience are highly familiar with the songs. Fortunately, Condon succeeds in retaining the quality of the numbers from the original and mixes them up just enough to ensure that they don’t feel like a stale rehash from the 1991 film. “Be Our Guest” is a rollercoaster of intoxicating visuals and is delivered fabulously by Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Emma Thompson’s soft voice is perfectly suited for Mrs Potts and for singing “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Gaston” will produce more than a few chuckles in the audience. There are also a number of new songs introduced to the film which add freshness to the music of the film such as “Evermore” and “Days in the Sun”.

Along with original musical numbers, this remake also introduces some new elements to the narrative, such as Belle’s desire to know about her mother (who was absent from her childhood) and The Beast’s relationship with his own parents. One could claim that these elements are tacked on purely for sake of making the film different to its source material but that would be denying the benefit of these new features. In including them, Condon creates deeper and more interesting characters and also allows fans of the original to discover something new about the characters they already know so well.

Beauty and The Beast is possibly as good as a remake can be, being faithful and unique in even measure and it gives me hope for the quality of Walt Disney’s future remakes such as Mulan and The Lion King which will be released in the coming years. Beauty and the Beast is a warm and fun treat that everyone can enjoy.