The animated version of this film came out a quarter of a century ago, and I recall seeing it (how many times? Ten, twenty? A hundred?) with my daughter when it subsequently came out on video cassette. That cassette tape is still around the house, well worn and sitting in a box somewhere. I asked my daughter about seeing this new live action version with me, as a wee trip down memory lane, but the response wasn’t too enthusiastic. She’s moved on!
So I trundled along to see this by myself, and I have to say it did stir some memories, quite warm and fuzzy ones, of a small chapter in the parenting of a young child. I mention all this because I suspect those memories have coloured my view of this film, and I mean in a positive way. I thought it was, for the most part, very well delivered to screen. The sets and costumes are superb, there’s a great cast assembled here (Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Luke Evans, and more) and the script is both romantic and deftly comic when it needs to be. I had a few misgivings along the way, but let’s stick with the positive for the moment.
The film makers had to make a good call in casting Belle, and Emma Watson is bang on. She has an openness about the way she plays the role I found appealing – she’s smart, and courageous, and I don’t know if that was her actually singing the songs, but if it was, she can hold a tune.
Luke Evans plays the pompous and egotistical Gaston with a lot of flair and fun, and Josh Gad almost steals the show as his gay sidekick LeFou. Yes, he’s gay and this apparently raised a few eyebrows amongst some, but the character works well in the film and his sexuality makes the relationship between Gaston and LeFou more interesting, and humorous.
The songs are pretty much as I remember them from all those years ago. There are some well staged set pieces, with the drunken celebration of Gaston’s macho credentials in the inn one of the highlights.
Any grumbles? Well I haven’t mentioned the Beast yet, as played by Dan Stevens. I was slightly disappointed in the CGI rendition of his character. It’s a fine balance to get the right mix of a Beast that can be both fierce and scary, but also kind and caring. I think they ventured too much on the nice side. And he was a little too handsome.
The story doesn’t exactly follow the animated version, and there are a few departures here and there. That didn’t bother me at all, but I noticed a few songs I didn’t recall from the animated version, such as a lament from the Beast near the end. These new songs felt a little like padding to me, but again, this may be just me hankering for the original material.
A final question to ponder is whether it was a good call to make a film like this at all, given its predecessor was so well loved. Well audiences have voted with their feet. At the time of writing this, the film had grossed more than $750 million worldwide, and may well be heading towards the $1billion mark. It’s old fashioned, romantic and nostalgic, but very well produced. Go take a trip down memory lane.