SINGAPORE: When a tale is as old as time and as beloved as this one, it’s a given that any sort of remake 26 years later would be painfully burdened by comparisons and expectations.
So why would anyone in their right creative mind, remake Disney’s Beauty and the Beast into a live action movie-musical for this millennium?
After all, how does one improve on a 1991 near-perfect classic that was the first animated feature nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? It was the only animated feature with that accolade for 18 years until the Academy expanded the number of category nominees, paving the way for Disney Pixar’s UP and Toy Story 3 to join the ranks in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
It is also the zenith of Disney Animation’s golden era, along with late 1980s, early-1990s gems like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King. This game-changing animation quartet, as this reviewer will personally attest to, universally brought up, and brought together, a generation of kids with clever revisionist takes on a centuries-old stories.
So why? Well, this jaded adult will disdainfully point towards money and merchandise as the obvious answer. But after having my inner pre-teen emerge to sing out loud those unforgettable tunes during director’s Bill Condon’s very respectful and lavish love letter to the 1991 classic, I have to say that this Beauty and her Beast manages to hit most of the notes of the original. However cynically this may have been conceived as nostalgia for profit, it works.
Admittedly, it’s an uneven, sentimental ride. Its enchanting and magical in well-choreographed sequences like the faithful shot for shot re-creations of the always infectious opening number “Belle (Little Town)” as well as the famous ballroom waltz scene - all of which fans will lap up because it’s exactly the way we remember them. But in the same breath, it also feels somewhat over-glossed and strangely under-exuberant in other moments, like the crowd-favourite Be Our Guest which was all Vegas show in its blizzard of dancing crockery, cutlery and cuisine but lacking the heart and beat of the original.
One wonders if the filmmakers’ resolute aim to razzle and dazzle, together with the abundant access to technologically advanced CGI might have resulted in some over-indulgent secondary story arcs, the sporadic loss of whimsical playfulness and the occasional strange sense of empty.
Thankfully, in steps the perfect A-list supporting cast to pick up both energy and pace in those times of need. Ewan McGregor is erm, lumimous as candelabra Lumiere, driving the film with a hilariously outrageous French accent and silly smirk alongside the appropriately fuddy-duddy Ian McKellen as Cogsworth; the endearing Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts; the amusing Stanley Tucci as new character harpsichord Maestro Cadenza; Tony award winner Audra McDonald as operatic wardrobe Garderobe and the always dependable Kevin Kline as Belle’s father.
Emma Watson, though lacking the pipes of Broadway trained original Paige O’ Hara to take on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s dramatically sumptuous songs, does all that she can to deliver a brave and bookish Belle for pre-teens everywhere with a balance of wonder, vulnerability and courage.
The main men are the film’s scene-stealers. Luke Evan’s over-the-top swaggering frat boy Gaston is spot-on while Dan Steven’s thoughtful and tortured but incredibly engaging Beast is a great update. He lends his melted-chocolate voice to the role as well as the melancholic new song Evermore, manipulating his face and expressions to perfectly work some fantastic CGI creature animation.
Though it wasn’t the immaculately fresh take on an old piece of cinematic treasure everyone was hoping for, this version has managed a fair share of spot-on tweaks for our modern times, controversies notwithstanding. The nod towards inclusivity and equality like the racial diversity in characters, their interracial relationships, a minor character being presented as gay for the first time in Disney history, and even Belle now wearing boots instead of ballet flats - are all nice 21st-century touches.
Is the film a little too long? Yes. Were there moments that felt a little emptier than the original? Is this updated Beauty and The Beast, for all its flaws and controversies worth a watch? Yes, if only to meet your old cinematic friends, sing tunes as old as song and come away with a nostalgic smile on your face.
Genevieve Loh's rating: 3.5 /5