Film review: Beauty & the Beast – A tale as old as time!

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Whichever big wig down at Disney decided it would be a good idea to remake all of their animated classics using live-action surely is due a massive promotion. The studio’s reputation is soaring after the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm and this new way of thinking is paying off at the box office.

Last year’s The Jungle Book earned just shy of $1billion worldwide, their Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken upwards of $5billion and don’t get me started on Star Wars. Continuing the studio’s trend of remaking their animated features is Beauty & the Beast, but does this modern day reimagining of a fairly modern classic conjure up memories of 1991?

Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff including Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and tries her best to learn to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognise the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.

Photo: Walt Disney Motion Pictures

There were gasps of shock when Harry Potter actress Emma Watson was cast as Belle, but thankfully after sitting through 129 minutes of her singing and dancing, there is no reason to be concerned. She slots into the role of a Disney princess with ease, though it’s still incredibly difficult to see her as anything but the talented witch from Hogwarts.

The rest of the cast is very good with the exception of Ewan McGregor’s dreadful French accent. It can be forgiven however because the sense of nostalgia that the castle’s staff bring to the table is wonderful. Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci all lend their voices with Thompson taking over from Angela Lansbury beautifully. Her rendition of the iconic titular song brings goosebumps.

Elsewhere, Luke Evans is an excellent choice to play villainous Gaston. It’s hard to imagine anyone better to play the gluttonous womaniser and Josh Gad is sublime as his sidekick.

Dan Stevens’ transformation into Beast is one that’s a little bit harder to judge. There is no doubt he is up to the task of playing this iconic character, but the limits of current motion capture technology can sometimes render him a little playdoh like. There are fleeting moments when the illusion is shattered because of something as trivial as the way his fur moves.

Nevertheless, the rest of the special effects are absolutely top notch. The costumes and the set design all integrate perfectly with the naturally heavy use of CGI to create a film that harks back to its predecessor in every way.

Whilst not as dark as last year’s The Jungle Book, Beauty & the Beast is still a deeply disturbing film at times, made all the more so by its recreation in live-action. Young children may find it a troubling watch, a reason why the BBFC has awarded it a PG rating rather than the typical U that most other Disney features receive.

Overall, Beauty & the Beast is a faithful recreation of its 1991 predecessor and that comes with its own set of challenges. The animated version is widely regarded as one of Disney’s best films, so director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight) had massive shoes to fill. For the most part, he’s succeeded in crafting a visually stunning and poignant movie that’s only drawbacks are its length and poor motion capture. Much better than Cinderella, but not quite as ground-breaking as The Jungle Book, it’s a lovely watch for all the family.

Beauty & the Beast rating: 8/10

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