Sacrificing herself for her father, Belle (Watson) is taken prisoner by a Beast in his enchanted castle, in which all his furniture comes to life. Under a spell, the Beast must show that he can love, and be loved in return, before the final rose petal falls, or remain a beast forever. With time quickly passing, Belle could be their only hope to return to their normal lives and break the spell, if only she can teach him how to love. The filmmakers have promised some new additions and tweaks to the original story to make it more suitable to contemporary audiences, with 35 minutes added on to its runtime in the process. Has the memory of the original been damaged with this retelling? Or has it somewhat improved the beloved animation?
Honestly, it does neither, falling somewhere in between. It plays out exactly as you expect it to, a carbon copy that lacks justification and is devoid of imagination. It's absolutely warming and feel-good, likely pleasing the intended audiences with this beautiful re-sell, but there's no denying that this is somewhat of a copy-and-paste job. Some sequences feel entirely shot-for-shot and any new additions and depth added to various backstories are evidently tweaked for inclusivity, becoming far too pronounced and garish, as if for the sake of it. That's not how it should be handled, as the 'issues' the film strives to normalise and sensitise audiences to (LGBT characters, interracial relationships etc.) stand out for being too imaginative in a film that otherwise lacks it. In equal parts, that is both brilliant and unfortunate; it certainly doesn't dampen my appreciation towards Disney for attempting to bring audiences into the 21st century, but I just wish it didn't feel so revolutionary by default. If the film had felt like a new imagining of the tale, instead of sticking so cautiously to the beloved source material, these moments of progression would be a breath of fresh air, but instead they feel planted in a film otherwise too connected to its roots. We develop on a few plot strands but nothing overly profound, although details on Belle's mother is a nice addition.
Beauty & The Beast brings together a tremendous ensemble cast, all helmed by Emma Watson in a role that feels custom made for her English class; it's a decent performance, as she handles the music, the action and the humour efficiently, even if she doesn't always seem comfortable in some of the more CGI-orientated moments. Watson's collaborative efforts with the filmmakers in their attempt to unburden the film from its problematic 'Stockholm syndrome' set-up is notable, with an attempt at making Belle a more feminist role-model but its not fully convincing and still a little icky - a fundamental character flaw that clouds the film more than anything else. Dan Stevens is pretty restricted and their relationship is not fully explored, despite their love being the central plot element of the piece. Luke Evans and Josh Gad's double act is particularly impressive, with Evans' Gaston infusing an unshakeable likability with sheer arrogance and irritability (thanks to the man himself) while Josh Gad's LeFou delivers a subtle and affirming performance as Gaston's sidekick with his wavering dedication to his partner in crime well-realised. The pair's village sequences and song 'Gaston' are some of the film's standout moments, bringing a real oomph to the film when the pace begins to falter. A game voice cast succeed to varying degrees, with Emma Thompson the absolute highlight, perfectly affording her a moment to shine during her heartbreaking reprisal of the theme song, which we are treated to on two occasions. In fact, many of the musical sequences are among the strongest - Be Our Guest, my personal favourite, is the only returning classic to underwhelm.
Where Beauty & The Beast really excels in is its sumptuous, lavish beauty, with its rumoured $160 million budget splashed onto screen in all its exuberance and extravagance. Production elements are stunningly-designed and brought to life, with a impressive level of detail paid to each; the costumes are lush and exciting, props and decorations are dazzling, most of the sets are exquisite and, for the majority, the CGI is strong. Vibrant and bustling village-set sequences, including that enjoyable 'Belle' opening and the climatic 'Kill the beast!' moment, contrast with the more dull and drab castle exterior sequences, which is unsurprisingly where the film loses a lot of its spark - including a relative lull during the middle act. Alan Menken's score is pretty enchanting, with the new musical additions working effectively on the whole (except that bizarre Evermore addition which feels tonally awkward). Director Bill Condon helps accentuate some of the magic, with some really nice touches, demonstrated no more so than during the ballroom scene and, ironically, the final ballroom scene, with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler finding further beauty in his vision. We've got some terrific usage of 3D, amplifying the visual spectacle, with the ballroom scene even more impressive; it's not overly remarkable but does help in highlighting the magic.
Beauty & The Beast has a lot to like but there's little to love; while it fails to distinguish itself from the beloved original, it never really tries to break out from its shadow either. It is the definition of playing it safe, escaping to the middle ground of fantasy musical live-action and Disney's own sub-genre. You cannot help but will the film to try something new or something different. Its charm is undeniable and ignites a nostalgia within you that will greatly influence how much you enjoy this remake - and it is a remake, rather than a re-imagining, as that suggests imagination was actually involved - of the tale as old as time. While I am not naive enough to believe that Hollywood is designed for any other reason that making as much money as possible, this is the first time during one of Disney's live-action re-imaginings where I've caught myself, mid-movie, questioning their justification in reviving this particular property, with nothing new to say in the final product. It's really fine, delightful and splendid at times and it will absolutely win round audiences, but the final outcome is unshakeably perfunctory and lacks the imagination that made the original so enjoyable in my eyes.
Summary: Beauty & The Beast is decent enough, with stunning production elements, joyful musical numbers and a game cast - but there is little new offered to this tale as old as time, making the final outcome largely perfunctory and unimaginative.
Highlight: Emma Thompson's version of 'Beauty & The Beast'. I want to shake the person's hand who came up with the idea.