Director: Bill Condon.
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline.
Running time: 129 mins
‘Beauty and the Beast’ rolled out the red carpet for a golden age of Disney some 26 years ago. It was the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and won, quite rightly, for Alan Menken’s score and one of the three nominated songs. It’s hard to imagine a case for this film’s existence without the songs– without, say, that five-note “Tale as Old as Time” motif.
Today, Bill Condon’s best move has been his generous update in grasping the nettle and making an out-an-out, bells-and-whistles musical: something none of Disney’s other refurbishments of its back catalogue lately, from Maleficent through Cinderella and The Jungle Book, have quite had the gumption to attempt. The film is wonderful, filled with lavish visuals, charming characters, and outstanding songs. It is lush and extravagant, with people in sumptuous costumes swanning about in ornate ballrooms. It is romantic and stirring, stuffed to the bodices with budding love and doomed affairs and unfulfilled passion. Nostalgia is powerful, propelling you as you watch this latest version.
This new movie is exactly as you remembered the old one to be, but this time, it’s packed with more. More in this case includes a few new songs created especially for the film, but given how familiar many of us are with the original’s soundtrack, it’s hard to give the additions fair consideration. Why pay much attention when the castle’s furniture starts singing a new piece called Days in the Sun when you know Something There is just around the corner? Beast’s new addition, called Forever More, fares better, if only for the soaring vocal performance of Dan Stevens.
There are also new story details here, including a side trip to Paris that provides more information on Belle’s departed mother and their family’s previous, happier existence before moving to, as Belle would say, the provincial life. But, as with the new songs, it all feels a little unnecessary. That’s the great challenge when remaking a universally loved film; any changes or additions need to be amazing, otherwise they will just be washed away in the wave of nostalgia for what you already know and love.