Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Directed by: Bill Condon
'Can anyone really be happy if they're not free?'
So asks Belle (Emma Watson) in the new 'live' (read, largely CGI) version of the stage mysical of the animated movie of the classic 18th century fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. (And... breathe.)
Animated Belle was the first of a new breed of modern, sassy Disney heroines. Although emphatically NOT a princess (though back in the early '90s, Disney Princess mania had yet to reach its 21st century pink frilly paste jewel studded heights – ain't life strange?) she was a trailblazer for a nascent digital age that gave the tired old fashioned studio a new, lush lease of life and launched, well, Disney princess mania for a new generation of pampered millenial tots.
And now Emma Watson, the earnest, lovely face of young, intellectual, modern feminism (and a girl who knows her way around a creepy old castle), slips into the golden balldress to take a spin with her bestial jailor.
Like Watson, Belle likes books, which makes her an oddity in her small home town of simpering virgins and bluff manly men. Yet she's devoted to her somewhat useless father (Kevin Kline), who apparently sees breaking and entering and theft as acceptable modes of behaviour, and to top this (allbeit reluctantly) lets his daughter pay the price for his crimes.
And so poor, sweet, frustrated Belle finds herself a prisoner of a different kind, limited this time not by her provincial horizons and patriarchal duties, but as a captive in an enchanted castle in which everyone is enslaved to a magical curse, the master because he did the wrong thing, the servants (somewhat unfairly) because they failed to stop him.
Somehow, making the animation live only heightens the sense of wrongness about the story, which is, after all, the world's most famous depiction of Stockholm Syndrome. This isn't helped by the shoehorning in of lots of unnecessary backstory to make the tale seem 'real'. (The film is at least 30 minutes too long – in a musical you get an interval, remember?) In fairy tales, who cares about the exact disease that killed someone's mother? Why would we question that, when we're meant to take as read our heroine falling for a giant, grumpy, talking goat in a frock coat?
Yet there are some wonderful moments in this movie – any scene featuring Luke Evans as collossal bellend Gaston and Josh Gad as his hopelessly devoted sidekick Le Fou, for starters. The talking furniture is great, brought to life by a stellar cast including Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellan and Dame (c'mon, it's only a matter of time) Emma Thompson, who generally never puts a foot wrong, yet here continues that fine Disney tradition of adopting an atrocious Cockernee accent that would make Danny Dyer cry into his pint.
It's all wrong and yet it's sumptuous and gorgeous and deliriously Baroque and gloriously romantic at the end.
But to return to Belle's question, can we be happy if we're not free? The Beast (Dan Stevens) thinks not, and packs his beloved off home to her undeserving father. But the Beast in his selflessness is missing the point: the minute you lose your heart you are no longer free, but most of us wouldn't have it any other way. There's a reason it's a tale as old as time...