Beauty and the Beast had an ambitious task ahead of it; remaking such an influential film is always risky, especially when formatting it for a modern, live action setting. Yes, the remake owes most of its success to the 1991 animated classic, but the small changes made not only give more context to the story, but make it all the more enjoyable. Director Bill Condon creates a visual spectacle that’s stunning to look at, and populated by an incredible cast of performers.
Belle (Emma Watson) is a young girl, respected for her beauty but scorned for his quiet, intelligent nature. Growing weary of the endless pursuits of the arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans), Belle sets out in search of her father (Kevin Kline), who’s been lost in the woods. But when she finds her father, Belle is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens), a former prince cursed for his nature who traps Belle in a mysterious castle who’s inhabitants have been cursed to live as objects.
Condon keeps the set pieces simple, focusing on the musical numbers, which are interwoven at keep points, but don’t become distracting from the story. The brilliance here is in the details; Condon adds bits of depth to the side characters, adding backstory and explanation that make the film more rich. Beautiful cinematography and production design are key here, and the wondrous nature of the story is sold by the detail of its craftsmanship.
Of course, the film is made best by its characters, and there couldn’t have been a better Belle than Emma Watson; Watson plays Belle as the character that captured the hearts of so many, showing her to be fair and kind, yet wise and tactful. Her chemistry with Dan Stevens’ Beast is particularly impressive, and even with the fantastic CGI in place, Stevens does the critical job of bringing heart to a monster.
As with the original, the film’s side characters make up much of the entertainment, with an expanded role of Belle’s father given to Kevin Kline, who gives much of the heart and emotion to the film. Luke Evans and Josh Gad bring brilliant comic elements to the role of Gaston and Lefou, with Evans giving more depth to the arrogance and pride of Gaston, and Gad giving a much more expanded role to Lefou, who’s love and obsession with Gaston gives the film one of its most resonant emotional storylines.
The entire ensemble, from Ewan McGregor who gives a fantastic rendition of “Be Our Guest”, to new additions like Stanley Tucci’s piano, all have time to shine. The film does its best to answer the questions left by the original, while still staying true to the reasons for its initial success. It’s a fun, funny, and indeed magical film that’s both entreatingly update, yet classically simple. Grade: B+