For those who remember the cartoon, this live action remake is almost word for word, and yet it manages to take on a life of its own
Disney’s 1991 animation Beauty and the Beast, along with its other classics like The Little Mermaid (1989), and The Lion King (1994) still stand today as the go-to classics for kids, with equally delighted adults viewing these yummy morsels side by side. In recent years Disney has sought to revive its old classics in live action with the likes of the wonderful, biting Maleficent (2014), the quite charming Cinderella (2015), and most recently last year’s fun, fabulous The Jungle Book. This year’s Beauty and the Beast marks yet another enormous success for a classic production company and studio that has remade its old successes into pure box office gold – the film has grossed over $1.2 billion to date against a budget of $160 million.
For those who remember the cartoon, this live action remake is almost word for word, and yet it manages to take on a life of its own, mainly due to the absolutely convincing, heart-warming performance of Emma Watson, who plays Belle, quite literally the Beauty of the title. Filled with star power, the film is fortified by delightful performances from Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, and Stanely Tucci who appear (I do not want to spoil the guessing game) as the various staff in the palace that, along with the cursed Beast (Dan Stevens), have been turned into objects of furniture, decorative pieces, or crockery by a mysterious enchantress.
Dan Stevens himself, mainly of Downton Abbey fame, is magnificent as the Beast, showing a range that I had not previously thought him capable of, to the extent that his reversion to a (sort of) handsome prince, was somewhat disappointing – the Beast was so much more interesting: humourous and grumpy, than the shiny haired, toothy Disney prince he reverts to that seems modeled for another generation when getting your happily ever after was the primary objective for little girls and young women.
Which brings me to Disney’s evolution from those classic tropes of princesses and princes to the more nuanced endings such as in the other smash hit Frozen (2013), and, of course Maleficent. In both these films, as well as in Beauty and the Beast the main characters are tenacious women who have courage, brains, and more nuance than the usually sap-headed, big-eyed characters who moon about hoping for salvation from handsome young men.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a good love story, but it just isn’t true that that is all there is in life, these days. Thankfully, it appears that some influential people realise the power of cinema in perpetuating certain tropes and with these new iterations of old beloveds, children, both boys and girls, can find so much more than just the love stories, songs and dances from before. They are now given another lens into the world where things may not always end well, but courage, compassion, good will, and well, yes, love, do usually win the day.