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Disney's Beauty And The Beast

Opening Date
16 Mar 2017
PG Some Intense Sequences
129 mins
English with Chinese subtitles
Fantasy, Romance
Bill Condon
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated classic which refashions the classic characters from the tale as old as time for a contemporary audience, staying true to the original music while updating the score with several new songs.
By Freddy  15 Mar 2017
The live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a faithful adaptation which improves on the original in a few ways, if you are willing to look past nostalgia.
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Remaking audience favourites in Hollywood has always been a risky business. Stick too closely and risk being redundant (such as the 1998 shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’) or spice things up and risk alienating hardcore fans (remember the outrage about having an all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ last year?). Disney is not new in this field, of course, having adapted their classic animated films ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (into ‘Maleficent’), ‘Cinderella’, and ‘The Jungle Book’ into live-action. Finding the balance between reinterpretation and faithfulness is never easy, though.

Nothing beats the magic of seeing the story unfold for the very first time. This new ‘Beauty and the Beast’ will be endlessly compared to the 1991 original classic. Yes, the one that was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture. It is easy to look at the past in rose-tinted glasses, though. So a few hours after watching the shiny new 2017 version, I decided to rewatch Disney’s animated original. While the plot mostly stays the same, many little changes were made that I felt improved on the original.

One noticeable change is the duration. About 30 minutes have been added to the film, which is mostly put to good use. If the blossoming romance between Belle and the Beast felt quite abrupt in the animated version, here it feels more organic as they have more time to interact. Unfortunately, some of this additional time is used to add a subplot about Belle’s mother, which feels dispensable as it is inconsequential to the plot. New characters such as Maestro Cadenza and Agathe are

The characterisation is clearly improved and more defined. If the animated Belle is too prim and polite to reject Gaston’s advances, Emma Watson’s Belle stands her ground and makes it clear that she would never marry him. She is a stronger and more proactive character who, after being locked up in her room, fashions a rope to escape the castle instead of just weeping. There is a clearer sense that Belle chose to stay, and hence it does not scream Stockholm syndrome as much as the original.

The Beast gets a personality update, too. The animated Beast mostly resembles an immature boy throwing temper tantrums, which is not very likeable. Dan Steven’s Beast (a.k.a. Prince Adam) shows a more bitter, contemplative side. He is no longer illiterate. In fact, he scoffs at Belle’s liking towards ‘Romeo and Juliet’ when there are so many other books to read, whereas most men in Belle’s provincial town believe girls should not read. Such small changes make the sparks between the two leads more believable.
Emma Watson suits this new version of Belle, but it is hard not to see the resemblance to Hermione. Her acting is decent enough, although her singing sounds very autotuned. I do not find it very distracting, but some might find it problematic as she sings the most in the show. Dan Stevens sings decently for his only solo and ‘Something There’, but acting is where the Beast suffers as the CGI creature does not look fluid and expressive enough. In comparison, the furniture seems more lively and engaging.

The show-stealer is Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and his sidekick, LeFou. This live-action Gaston is irredeemably evil, but Evan’s villainy is highly entertaining. LeFou’s relationship with Gaston is a little more complex here as well, which gives LeFou some character development in this version.

The visual style is generally good, as showcased in the many trailers and clips we have seen online. The gothic style of the castle is shown in more detail and it seems more grand than ever. ‘Be Our Guest’ remains one of the visual spectacles of the film. Technology has definitely come a long way since 1991. It is a pity that the ballroom looks a lot smaller than it did in the original, though.

The songs are generally fine as they do not differ much from the original. However, sometimes there is a sense that they sound like semi-professional Youtube covers. Pitting Emma Watson against Paige O’Hara or Emma Thompson against the legendary Angela Lansbury might be unfair, of course. But then again, Audra McDonald and Ewan McGregor do not disappoint. The new tunes are unmemorable, safe for Celine Dion’s song in the credits.  

Overall, the live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a faithful adaptation which improves on the original in a few ways, if you are willing to look past nostalgia. It makes clear attempts to add depth into the characters and relationships in a fresh but organic way while upgrading the visual to a mixture of live-action and CGI. Nevertheless, the singing capabilities of some actors and the unmemorable new songs make this film less fantastic than it could have been. Disney clearly leans to the side of faithfulness rather than interpretation, which makes comparisons inevitable and begs the reason for this film to be made. It is definitely still a film worth watching as long as you manage your expectations before entering the theatre.
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Trailers / Videos
Music Video
Featurette: 'Belle'

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