To celebrate the upcoming release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in cinemas March 17th, we’re bringing you a special double-dip of Disney goodness today! And what better way to celebrate all things House of Mouse than to bring you exclusive reviews for Disney’s biggest releases in both Film and Theatre? 

Earlier today, I brought you my review of Disney’s Aladdin in the West End, and now, for part two, I go back to that ‘tale as old as time’ with my exclusive review of the hugely anticipated live action reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as ‘Belle’…



Director: Bill Condon

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Release Date: Friday 17th March 2017

On the spectrum of Disney’s recent string of live action adaptations of their animated classics, Beauty and the Beast is something of a difficult one to place. 

Whereas last year’s The Jungle Book was a stunningly confident and individual foray which kept just the core DNA of its animated predecessor intact, Bill Condon’s take on the beloved ‘tale as old as time’ is a lot more slavish in its adulation. Where Book and most of its predecessors such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent (shudder) generally kept their musical lineage brushed off to the sidelines or resigned to woeful pop reimaginings over the credits, Beauty and the Beast is a fully-fledged musical experience, not only retaining all of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s classic hits from the original, but even adding some new numbers into the mix.

It isn’t difficult to see why the studio and Condon would hesitate at getting too heavy-handed with their adaptation work here - the 1991 original was the first animated film to earn a coveted Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, which was thanks in no small part of its music, and the only component of the film which went on to pick up Hollywood’s biggest plaudit. It was no surprise that Broadway and West End stage runs promptly followed, as did a slew of straight-to-video releases which were also, naturally, musicals.

So it’s difficult to imagine Disney releasing anything under the brand and it not being a musical.

Fortunately, director Bill Condon knows how to make a big, lavish musical. With his back catalogue including the likes of Dreamgirls, Condon’s flair for the genre is most apparent in the fact that Beauty and the Beast his it's stride strongest when indulging in its music.

Despite shackling his film to the original in a way some of the other recent live action retreads avoided, Condon, along with screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos do an admirable job of fleshing out character and narrative. Belle’s (Emma Watson) relationship with father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is given some welcome depth and paternal warmth, with Disney’s ongoing fascination with absent mothers - something completely glossed over in the original - given a suitably tragic yet affecting prominence here. Luke Evan’s villainous Gaston is promoted to a decorated war captain, and Dan Steven’s Beast also gets some familial baggage, and even a belting ballad of his own to lament his woes with.

It works, too, even if it means the audience are in for a slightly noisier, less restrained affair than the movie which inspired it. The new songs, mostly exploratory character pieces, are a mixed bunch, and some may struggle to suppress giggles when Beast first whirls into musical leading man mode, but in truth Stevens’ solo is by far the strongest of the new additions.

Back in familiar territory, if Condon proves he’s not overly adept at shooting action (an early chase sequence featuring Maurice and a pack of wolves misfires) then he certainly makes up for it with the big musical set pieces. ‘Gaston’, ‘Belle’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ are grand, rousing and fantastically handled musical extravaganzas, exactly what you’d hope for and expect, and welcomely rich in character detail, even if the latter does hold some of the film's ongoing faux-pas of being a little too CG-indulgent.

Occasionally, Condon overreaches; his handling of the iconic ballroom sequence is a little too rigid in its choreography (despite having an in-universe explanation) and busy in its approach - not to mention the timing of Emma Thompson’s otherwise lovely rendition of the titular song seems a little delayed and jarring. Similarly, the opening sequence, whilst understandable in its intention to better contextualise the story, needlessly overcomplicates, and the implementation of a new character, ‘Agatha’, is both obvious and heavy-handed throughout.

But these are smaller flaws in an otherwise well-handled whole. Despite being a little over reliant on inconsistent CGI and sometimes trying a little too hard to be paradoxically both different and the same, Beauty and the Beast wins over in the end with its likeable characters and winning performances.

Chief amongst these are its leading men. Dan Stevens is fantastic as the Beast, imbuing the character with a wry petulance and cynicism that not only makes him feel, ironically, more human than his animated counterpart, but also makes the formally quite stoic and simplistic character a lot of fun to watch. Similarly, Luke Evans is just perfect as Gaston - offering the chauvinistic narcissist a sociopathic streak to go alongside his self-absorption and fine singing voice. Pair him up with Josh Gad’s brilliantly charismatic, scene-stealing turn as the conflicted Le Fou (casting perfection) and you again have the essence of the animated classic being moulded into something surprisingly humorous and ultimately more dimensional, and, dare I say, memorable.

All eyes, however, are on Emma Watson as Belle, and it’s a role Watson manages to pull off. Just. Earlier moments, such as her outrage at Gaston’s advances, don’t always ring true, and the ever-creeping pang of autotune never lingers too far from her otherwise perfectly passable vocals. During the songs, it’s hard to not find yourself imagining what an Emmy Rossum or similar would do here, but Watson acquits herself well with the character emotionally, with the more tender and emotional beats of the film playing to her strengths. She’s as far from the original as the casting gets, this Beauty’s Belle almost an entirely new character, but as with the film as a whole, she will win you over by the end.

Of the supporting cast, Kevin Kline lends both gravitas and heart to a decidedly less barmpot Maurice, Ian Mckellen is wonderfully cantankerous and deadpan as Cogsworth, Audra McDonald is a booming presence in every scene she appears as singer-turned-wardrobe Madame Garderobe, and Ewan McGregor rides on an absurd French accent to create an otherwise likeable and engaging Lumiere, who is also one of the film’s strongest CG creations.

Whether Beauty and the Beast will endure as a ‘tale as old as time’ on par with the masterpiece that inspired it is debatable, as indeed is the question as to whether or not so faithful a retread was even needed. Still, it’s a winning, warm-hearted and effective revisit, with energised and rounded characters, that not only keeps its biggest ace - its music - in play, but also monopolises on it with new songs and truly splendid live action re-imaginings of its magical, musical set pieces.

Far better than expected, and, thanks to Condon’s affinity for genre, a journey well worth going on all over again; just beware of roaming autotune, clusters of over-ambition and the occasional pack of wobbly CGI wolves en route.

RATING - ★★★★

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