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New look to tale as old as time

The West Australian
Dan Stevens as The Beast and Emma Watson as Belle.
Camera IconDan Stevens as The Beast and Emma Watson as Belle. Credit: AP

MOVIE

Beauty and the Beast

Emma Watson, Dan Stewart

Director Bill Condon

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Reviewer Ray Chan

When Disney made a live action version of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, little did the studio realise the floodgates it would be opening.

Since then, three more of its animated movies have made the transition – Malificent, Cinderella and Jungle Book – and the cinematic progression of these creations from one to the next has been clear to witness, as the waters were tested with original stories at first, to gradually incorporating various elements and music from the classic cartoons.

With Beauty and the Beast, it seems the evolution has reached its final stage, with the movie basically a complete and faithful live action remake of its 1991 Oscar-nominated animated namesake.

From Belle (Emma Watson)’s energetic walk through the village to Gaston’s amusing narcissistic ode, from the show-stopping dinner table theatrics to the moving ballads of love, all the musical sequences audiences have associated and loved with the feature are included, and performed with grandiose, gusto and grace.

The film is also embellished with some extra insight into various characters, in particular Belle’s father, played by Kevin Kline, whose character is fleshed out with an interesting backstory that adds some drama to the fairy tale. Josh Gad endears himself to the audience as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, who, as everyone has no doubt heard by now, has been cast as an openly gay character.

But it’s a progressive change that doesn’t hurt the overall narrative, serving instead to reflect modern society, as much so as the couple of mixed-race relationships shown among some of the major supporting players, which were also absent from the original. Disney has always promoted tolerance and love, and it is ironic that in conveying this message, the studio has suffered criticism from viewers who hang on steadfastly to outdated conservative beliefs.

If you know the score by heart, you’ll no doubt sing along heartily as cast go through the entire songbook (although Watson’s voice sounds a little weak at times). As a bonus, award-winning composer Alan Menken has been brought back to create some new songs for the movie, and they’re every bit as haunting and charming as the ones he wrote in 1991. Menken’s penmanship harkens back to the days when melody was king in the Disney studios, unlike some of the pieces commissioned for the later Disney offerings.

As for the beast himself, Dan Stevens plays him with aplomb, his emotions flitting between rage, fear, remorse and sincerity. The CGI effects portray him convincingly as the hirsute, bovine creature that becomes the eventual recipient of Belle’s love, but they are most convincing in bringing to life the huge number of inanimate objects in the story.

This movie illuminates rather than tarnishes the legacy, but one wonders how much more wondrous it could have been had it been made in this form initially, thereby avoiding inevitable comparisons between the two adaptations. It’s a lovely musical in its own right, one which rejuvenates and refreshes a tale as old as time for newer audiences.

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