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Review: Beauty and the Beast

Ros Hull

An adaptation of the fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love. (As if you didn’t know …) IMDb

I had real reservations about seeing yet another re-interpretation of a Disney film – where are the new ideas?

Then I saw Emma Watson would be playing Belle … and Ewan McGregor would be singing (I watch Moulin Rouge! whenever I have to get through a pile of ironing). Emma Thompson was onboard (so how could it be completely bad) and Stanley Tucci too. How could I pass up the chance to hear the great Audra McDonald sing? Erm, and the whole Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) Downton Abbey thing. What can I say? I’m weak!

And I loved it!

I had what I can only call an old-fashioned musical extravaganza evening at the movies. This is a classic Hollywood musical, with big sets, big production pieces full of colour and movement and an attention to detail that would stand up well next to anything MGM put out in the Technicolor era. The talent of everyone involved is a bit alarming – from the costumiers to the leads. Yes, I have been singing the songs all week.

Apparently, it is quite long but I did not notice, I could have watched another fifteen minutes at least! It was the sort of film where the stranger next to me turned around at the end and said ‘Well that was just lovely, wasn’t it?’

It is not so much a re-invention as a re-imagining, a rationalising of the famed tale as old as time. Questions we’ve all had since we met Belle and the Beast in 1991 (OMG, has it really been that long?) are answered as logically as possible for a fairy tale. The reason the villagers don’t notice a whacking great castle close by is because of the enchantress’ spell. The reason the villagers are quick to rally around Gaston is that he is a captain and a veteran. The reason the Beast is so selfish is because he had a cruel father.

The reason the Beast has the. Best. Library. Ever. Is because he actually reads. For all those girls who were less about true love or romance and more about that library – the version in this film is just wonderful. The moment Belle first sees it is handled particularly well too. As is the waltz scene – just gorgeous and even more impressive when we understand that Dan Stevens is dancing on stilts in a full body suit (only the Beast’s face is CGI).

Belle is much more her own person in this film. She is the inventor not her father, knows her way around a toolkit and she tramps about in boots, not ballet flats. Which is great character development – but in a dark corner of my soul I want Emma Watson’s voice to have been augmented electronically (it wasn’t) because, well, she must have a fault somewhere!

The whole production is more complete, more sophisticated, than the animated original – with a more nuanced story. Which is more appealing to an older audience, as are the moments that are not from the animation. Watching our beloved candlestick and mantle clock lose their humanness is sad but the scene where they all become inanimate is really moving.

And finally, in a lovely surprise, Dan Stevens has the sort of musical theatre voice that would comfortably manage any classic Rogers and Hart musical. My mum-in-law just loved him. So I’ve pointed her toward Downton and not towards Legion, much as I love it (she is 87 and I don’t want to break her brain).

Images: facebook.com/DisneyBeautyAndTheBeast

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Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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