Film Review: Beauty And The Beast (USA, 2017) has breathtaking moments of grandiose cinematic bliss

A story that originated in 1740 now considered one of the most beloved and beautiful of fairytales that has been remade/rebooted/retold a countless number of times, Beauty And The Beast is considered a tale as old as time. Of late Disney has been having a bit of a renaissance if you will, remaking number of their classics into “live action” (with a little help from CGI) films, from Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book to Pete’s Dragon. Their latest release endeavours to reach young new audiences as well as reviving the old with a hint of nostalgia.

Everybody should know the basic gist of the story, but the short version involves a young arrogant French prince who becomes cursed to look like a beast, and the only way to lift that curse is for a young woman to fall in love with the true man hidden inside. Director Bill Condon opts for keeping this almost note for note the same as the animated classic, though with a couple of added new musical numbers, as well as upping the visual spectacular factor. With the cast consisting of Dan Stevens as the Beast/Prince, Emma Watson as Belle, Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Sir Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza. The cast lineup is practically littered with A-listers, so already you can be guaranteed of solid performances all round.

Emma Watson wonderfully encapsulates a spirited, intelligent Belle. A young lady who is too unique to fit in amongst the rest of her small conformist village. Here we see her teaching other young girls to read and helping her father with his work. Whilst Dan Stevens gets to rumble and growl as Beast he also has moments playing the lonely tortured soul. Both their acting performances are really wonderful, especially Stevens, who you barely recognise under all that CGI magic but still manage to empathise with. And just the slightest hint of modernising or tweaking both of these characters has added depth to them individually and as a pairing.

However when these two accomplished lead actors are then shoehorned into singing is where you notice it’s a little bit too polished, flat or auto-tuned. Leading up to and even after its US release there had been some controversy over the casting of the leads, particularly of Watson in the role of Belle. Both of these actors haven’t had previous musical theatre experience, so to place such a burden on their shoulders is both a surprising decision and a little unfair. Why the choice wasn’t made to cast musical theatre actors in the leads, or to even consider dubbing in singers is a perplexing one.

But where the leads are a little weaker, is where an opportunity arises for our supporting cast to shine, and shine brightly they do. Having stars like Evans, Gad, Thompson and McGregor in the cast adds to the musical theatre muscle that is a little lacking with our leads. All of whom have starred in musicals and manage to carry their individual numbers with ease.

Obviously this being a musical and keeping that at its core, all of our favourite songs are here, “Beauty And The Beast”, “Be Our Guest”, “Gaston” and “Something There” however original composer Alan Menken has teamed up with Tim Rice to add in a couple of new songs too. “How Does A Moment Last Forever”, performed separately by both Kevin Kline and Emma Watson, “Evermore” performed by Dan Stevens as a lament over Belle’s departure, and also “Days In The Sun” sung by the household ensemble that appears to have replaced “Human Again”. These songs are not quite as attention-grabbing or uplifting as the classics, but they certainly add a little more emotional gravitas to the soundtrack.

The other noticeable change is that screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have fleshed out our supporting characters to have a little more dimension. Gaston is a war hero, who is so narcissistic he even says “It’s hero time!” when he charges into battle, even if that battle is trying to win over Belle. Whilst his buddy LeFou is not quite as dumb and physically slapstick as his originally animated counterpart. Coming replete with backwards compliments for his friend, gay sexuality and a redemptive arc. Whilst all of the household staff as animated inanimate household objects are fun, the banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth is particularly witty because picturing McGregor and McKellen mucking about is too endearing. And seriously, somebody needs to address the true hero of the story, Philippe the horse, who does several trips back and forth between Villeneuve and the enchanted castle.

Where this film excels though is in bringing the fairytale into photoreal three dimensional life and transporting you right into the heart of the enchanted castle, giving it a wondrous sense of magic. The cinematography by Tobias A Schliessler (Lone Survivor, Dreamgirls) and the visual effects are astounding. And they are helped along by the use of many physical sets that Condon insisted were used rather than opting for too much CGI. Resulting in a visually sumptuous film where it feels like they have spared no expense. The ballroom dance sequence in particular is a breathtaking moment of pure grandiose cinematic bliss, whilst the “Be Our Guest” number is like watching a dinner party on an LSD trip.

Fans of the animated classic need not have feared, Disney have once again injected their magic into the live action remake of Beauty And The Beast. With solid acting and above average singing performances from the entire cast. But where the true attraction lies is in how visually sumptuous and pretty this movie is. There’s no denying that this movie is all beauty and no beast.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 129 minutes

Beauty And The Beast is screening in Australian cinemas from 23 March 2017 through Disney Pictures Australia