Remaking any beloved film, especially one loaded with as much deserved nostalgia and reverence as 1991’s animated triumph Beauty and the Beast comes loaded with an impossible weight of Solomonic dilemmas.
Do you slavishly recreate it for a new generation, a resolutely pointless exercise given there is very little to be creatively gained from the undertaking? Do you branch in wildly unexpected ways, in the process bringing something fresh to the table but risk alienating your sentimentally-inclined audience?
Or do you, as director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) has done in impressively superlative fashion, take what has been done before and leave it largely intact but add gilding and accouterments that add a whole new lustre to a tale, as the song so poignantly reminds us, as old as time.
The live action version of Beauty and the Beast, part of a seemingly endless cinematic gold rush by Disney to turn its animated classics into CGI-enhanced, relatively real world counterparts, shines in its new incarnation, reverently doffing its hat to its predecessor while donning a whole new pleasing garb of its own.
The story, of course, needs no further embellishment, with the story of a provincial French girl Belle (Emma Watson, in a luminously pitch perfect role she was born to play) who falls in love with an outwardly gruff but heart-of-gold Beast (Dan Stevens) on his cursed estate far out in the countryside, where he has consigned by an enchantress to learn some valuable life lessons.
Lessons such as valuing inner not outer beauty, something that still eludes a great many people today, the joy of expanding rather than contracting your world through the inertia of life, and the sheer exultant enriching power of books, learning and an open mind to change lives.
Beauty and the Beast has a lot of lessons to teach, lessons it should be added that are woven seamlessly and without clunky reverberation into a brisk but well-rounded narrative, and it does with an exuberant passion and musical chutzpah that never once loses sight of its affecting emotional core.
That it does so is impressive with the film taking the songs of the original animated score, adding in three new numbers by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, and investing them with an immersive, overwhelmingly wonderful musical sensibility that hearkens back to the grand old musicals of Hollywood’s golden years.
Thus it is that “Be Our Guest”, always a showstopper thanks to its mischievous, garrulous sense of fun, becomes an Esther Williams-inspired extravaganza with Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson in fine form) rising from the dining table surrounding by vibrantly-coloured plates and dishes of all kind.
Or Belle’s lamenting of the sameness of her days in the small French village she calls home with her winningly idiosyncratic widower father Maurice (Kevin Kline), “Belle”, invested with classic musical joie de vivre with a giddily upbeat melody counterpointing the small-minded exclusionary nature of her fellow villagers.
On and on with grandly epic scenes, lush with colour, feeling and richness contrasting perfectly with the quieter more sombre or reflective moments later on in the film where the full import of Belle’s new life and what it means for both and her and the princess become apparent.
Take for instance that searing moment when the Beast, awoken to his true, caring nature, and with only one red petal left on the rose before he and his household workers made interior decorations such as Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen) and Lumière (Ewan McGregor), laments in “Evermore” the ability of true love to both uplift and cast down, almost simultaneously.
Having released Belle to go back to the village to see to her father who is in a dire predicament thanks to the arrogantly overbearing Gaston (Luke Evans), who is convinced Belle’s heart is his, the Beast is all too aware that by offering up his heart to another that he has irrevocably sealed his fate in one of two critical ways.
It’s deeply affecting and Condon’s deft touch ensures that this moving scene stands head and shoulders next to its more flamboyant, counterparts (talking of flamboyant, Josh Gad’s turn as Le Fou, is a scene-stealer every time).
Beauty and the Beast, in its 21st century guise as a rollicking musical possessed of visual spectacle and emotional resonance, is a wondrous delight.
It proves time and again, beyond a shadow of a doubt. through its all too short running time, that it is possible to take a tale as old as time and grant it new life and soul in ways that the keepers of the original telling could likely never have imagined.
The film is testament to the endless ability of the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the woman who wrote the best known version of the tale, to be retold and reimagined in fresh, imaginative ways and never loses an ounce of its impact.
Sporting a profoundly talented cast of actors who never put a foot wrong and bring each of their characters to life even when they are credenzas, wardrobes and teacups, or indeed the Beast and his provincial prisoner/love interest, and a vibrantly feminist sensibility that means Belle is never the damsel in distress, Beauty and the Beast is a lush, boldly cinematic live action remake that harnesses everything good about its animated predecessor while adding in a slew of impressive new touches that together create something truly, breathtakingly immersive, captivating and beguiling that will no doubt well and truly stand the test of time.