I’m tempted to bastardise Dickens for my own amusement, so here it goes: all Disney-haters hate Disney in the same way, all Disney-lovers love Disney each in their own way. We all have our favourites, we all prefer one technique over another, some languages over others. I can swallow Hakuna Matata in Norwegian, but don’t you dare show me The Little Mermaid in my native tongue. I love Sleeping Beauty for its art, Tangled for its feel-goodness, The Hunchback of Notre Dame for its score, and Hercules for James Woods alone.
The new live-action Disney classics are very difficult to review without these childhood emotions colouring everything. It is therefore much easier to simply lay all those biases out, and see the movie as it is: an adaptation, from animation to live-action. In my humble opinion, I think Beauty and the Beast (2017) improves on the original in many ways.
The narrator is telling us the story, but instead of stained glass, we are introduced to the Prince, played by Dan Stevens, in a style reminiscent of the Sun King of France, with a painted face and an affinity for dance. The castle is alive, and the magic is in the opulence. Almost immediately we feel the movie “fixing” itself, showing us the real life of the castle. The age-old debate about how the Prince can be no older than 11 years old is finally put to rest.
But, even as the film sets the tone for a deeper story than the original, we are also reassured that this will be Beauty and the Beast like we know and love. Whether or not you feel this is worth your time is up to you. I know people who simply can’t get emotionally invested in animation, so this might give them the opportunity to fall in love with this story like many did as children. As for myself, the live action versions of these stories are just a different flavor, like an old favourite dish that’s gotten a new secret ingredient.
The biggest surprise was Emma Watson. She was not my pick for Belle, but she undeniably nails it. Helped by a nice script and fantastic cast members, she conveys a fierceness the original lacked, and shows us what a strong yet traditional Disney Princess can do. Of course, the Stockholm syndrome undertones are still there, but I blame the original fairy-tale for that. It feels good to see Belle rush to the window to plan her escape instead of collapsing on the bed crying.
It’s hard to pick a favourite “new” character, since they’ve all been enhanced in delightful ways. Just like Cinderella before it, the film allows us to get to know old friends even better. Luke Evens plays Gaston as though he’s been doing it at Disney World for years. He is more twisted, which makes his desire to kill the Beast more despicable to us. To enhance this, LeFou is made more sympathetic, though I always felt bad for him for having to stand out in the cold so long.
The time-line still isn’t perfect, but with a bit of story for Belle’s father (Kevin Kline), we’re allowed to see the romance blossom at a slightly more tolerable rate. It is the Beast himself who delights me the most. Yes, the CGI is far from perfect – I was a bit disappointed in Mrs. Potts – but just the fact that he acts like he was a Prince once upon a time makes him feel a real personality.
Beauty and The Beast (2017) did the same for me as the new Jungle Book: it adds a touch here and there to fix old issues and add depth, allows for more character banter that makes it feel contemporary, looks fantastic, and still gives me that good old Disney glow afterwards. Sure, it’s not for everyone. If you think the original is perfect then you’ll not find much here. Personally, I just love seeing these worlds come alive.
Dice roll: 5