It’s one of the most highly anticipated films of the year – and we’ve had to wait since 1991 for Disney’s live-action remake of its animated classic Beauty and the Beast. But you can all breathe a sigh of relief. Because the new Beauty and the Beast is everything you wanted – and a whole lot more.
You won’t be surprised to hear the story hasn’t changed much from the original film. Director Bill Condon has done a terrific job of updating the “tale as old as time” and adapting for a modern audience its message that true beauty comes from within.
From the opening number, when Belle climbs the hill to look out over Villeneuve, you know you’re about to watch a film that’s epic in scope. The production values and design are sumptuous and from start to finish the film is visually stunning. It’s also stunning musically; all of your favourite songs are back (‘Be Our Guest’ is particularly rousing) and they’re joined by a handful of new ones (‘Days in the Sun’ is the standout).
The casting is admirably diverse and the cast themselves uniformly excellent. Emma Watson is a luminous screen presence – and our new girl crush. Her Belle is fearless and feisty and you’re rooting for her from the start. As Beast, Dan Stevens is equally strong. He brings out his character’s vulnerability and gentleness and mines the full depth of his emotions. He’s also very droll and provides more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.
The supporting cast are also excellent, with Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts deserving special praise. But many gay viewers will be most interested in the character of Gaston’s long-suffering sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad).
LeFou’s romantic feelings towards Gaston are much more pronounced than we were expecting; in our exclusive interview in the latest issue of Attitude, Bill Condon tells us about a character who’s discovering his sexuality. But in the finished film it soon becomes clear that LeFou has already discovered his sexuality – and the other characters around him are aware of it too.
In case his sexuality isn’t clear enough, LeFou wears a pink bow and minces around the screen in a characterisation some gay viewers might find a stereotype. But we should remember that this is a film aimed at viewers of all ages, so has to be painted in broad brushstrokes. Gaston himself for example could be seen as a caricature of masculinity. And thankfully, Gad doesn’t present LeFou as a figure of fun to be laughed at. On the contrary, he humanises him and makes us – and the other characters around him – empathise with his unrequited love for Gaston. Crucially, without giving too much away, LeFou is allowed a happy ending – although it’s very brief and you can’t help wishing Disney could have squeezed a few more seconds out of it.
But none of this will spoil your enjoyment of the film. It’s sweet and charming and the love story at its heart is an absolute delight to watch. The wolf scene is genuinely terrifying; the scene in which Belle and Beast dance to the title track in an empty ballroom is gorgeous; and the ending will have you tearful.
There are a few clunky lines of script and a new scene in which Belle and Beast visit her parents’ former home in Paris is overly sentimental. But the film has so much heart and its songs are so stirring that it’s difficult to object for long. Delightful.
Beauty and the Beast hits UK cinemas 17 March.