Director: Bill Condon
Nominated for: Best Costume; Best Production Design
I’m a late 80s baby and therefore the Disney movies from the early 1990s, like The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994), Aladdin (1992, Ron Clements & John Musker) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990, Hendel Butoy) hold a special place in my heart as they are the ones I grew up like, and none more so then Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale) which is my absolute favourite animated Disney classic. Needless to say I was a little bit wary when they announced that Beauty and the Beast would be the next in the current line of Disney animations to be re-imagined as live-action films. I also couldn’t wrap my head around how they were going to have real actors being the wonderful objects – like would they be identifiably the face of the actors providing the voices or what? I certainly did not expect to like this new version of Beauty and the Beast … nor did I want to like it … but I have to say that Bill Condon did an exceptional job and actually surpassed my expectations (and they were high expectations indeed!!)
That’s not to say there aren’t elements that didn’t quite gel with me because there were. And sadly the one that just didn’t sit right at all was Emma Thompson’s Mrs Potts – or more specifically her accent. Now it was always going to be difficult to take one the role that was made iconic by the wonderful Angela Lansbury but I had faith the Emma Thompson would be the women to do so. And she wasn’t – her singing voice is wonderful but the accent she used for Mrs Potts was all wrong for me. I understand wanting to put your own spin on a character but Emma’s got such a lovely voice anyway that I didn’t really get the decision to go with an accent. In fact the accent’s in general were sometimes a bit hit or miss – like Ewan McGregor’s French accent as Lumière.
Sir Ian McKellen was brilliant as Cogsworth – the irascible old clock forever put out by Lumière’s failed plans. The relationship between the two of them is hilarious. And Cogsworth gets even better when they’re returned to their human forms and you discover that there is a rather unexpected harridan of a wife in his past life. Actually the way that they linked the villagers with those who had been trapped in the enchantment was one of the new elements that I liked the most. I also thought the idea of adding Stanley Tucci as a piano, Maestro Cadenza, was a brilliant one but then I love Stanley Tucci as an actor. He adds a lot of humour to his roles. Kevin Kline fits as Maurice – and by adding more of a back story to his life becomes a much sadder character which makes you love him even more.
Luke Evans just is Gaston – he’s perfect. It’s as if the animated character has walked off the screen and become Luke Evans. The look is spectacular and he can back it up with the voice needed for Gaston too. It is spot on casting! As is the casting of Josh Gad as his hapless sidekick LeFou. The interplay between the two of them is wonderful. But what I really like is that LeFou is allowed to develop emotionally as a character. He definitely starts off as Gaston’s sidekick who blindly follows all his instructions and directions but he actually develops something of a conscience and begins to make decisions for himself after coming to realise that Gaston isn’t really the leader everyone makes him out to be.
Dan Stevens grew on me as the Beast but then I think that was just getting used to the make-up. The addition of the opening scenes of him as the spoilt Prince before the enchantment befalls the castle was a great decision as it shows the starting point of the man and makes his journey through knowing Belle all the more meaningful and a noticeable change in character by the end of the film. And the man has a set of lungs on him – I was very taken with his voice. I absolutely adore the new song written for the Beast. It’s beautiful, haunting and so emotional and perfectly fits the moment. But then the film benefited from having Alan Menken on board to write the music which meant that any new additions would still fit with the original songs thanks to him being the original composer.
Belle is the Princess I want to be – even now – as she’s a reader and a feisty character. She’s not the damsel in distress that previous Disney Princesses were – in need of the Prince to save her. In fact it’s she who saves the Prince! As such it was really important to have the right person for her. And I actually love that it was Emma Watson. I know that the comparison has been made between Belle and Hermione from as far back as the very early Harry Potters but it is a worthy comparison and you just know that J.K Rowling will have been inspired by Belle when writing Hermione so it’s a choice that made sense for me. Sure there were moments when it was like ‘Oh there’s Hermione’ but not so much that it took you out of the film.
The costumes are simply stunning! They’ve managed to maintain the magic of the original film while at the same time putting their own stamp on things. Actually that’s one of the things the whole film did really well – the new additions were done carefully and enhanced the original film rather than detracting from it. It must actually have been quite a daunting position for the costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, as these costumes are so iconic and yet animated so don’t exist in the real world in the same way. Especially the yellow ball gown that is very much the signature piece of the film. She has done an exceptional job – I got goosebumps the first time that scene comes on. It’s everything the original was and yet more because it was real this time. But I think the costumes that blew me away the most in terms of technical ability were the debutante dresses from the opening scenes that establish the Prince as the loathsome character he started as. These are all done in shades of cream, off-white and ivory and are absolutely stunning. They’re gorgeous – every one is an individual design that relies on different textures and patterns rather than colours to make them different from the others around them. It’s quite a brave thing to do as it could so easily have just all blurred into one but it was done masterfully and added a level of richness to the film.
Now nothing is going to be able to replace the original animated Beauty and the Beast for me because that will always be my favourite Disney. But I will say that this film did an admirable job and actually took me by surprise in terms of how much I loved it. The new additions bring an added spark of life to the film without replacing or removing anything that made the original so magical in the first place. And oh my god – the library – so much more mind-blowing in this film than the animation. I’m still so very jealous!!