I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.
The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.
Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.
Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.
Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.
Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?
This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.
Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.
But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.
She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.
The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.
One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…
These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.
Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.
However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.
Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.
But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.
Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.
As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.
All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.
It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.
Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was pretty lucky as a kid, growing up through the height of the Disney renaissance, the period where the studio got back on track after a few years of shakier efforts (I’m looking at you Oliver & Company). From The Little Mermaid in 1989 right through to Tarzan ten years later, they knocked out some of their best movies.
However, with Pixar starting to usurp their position and competition from Dreamworks, Disney stumbled at the turn of the 21st century, and while they could still produce some quality flicks (The Emperor’s New Groove and Lilo & Stitch) they were less consistent and it wasn’t until 2009’s The Princess and the Frog that they found their rhythm again and since then they’ve been back on form.
Possibly the pinnacle of their success, financially speaking was their latest release, Frozen, which became the highest grossing animated film of all time (unseating Toy Story 3) but is it any good?
In a word, yes.
The plot is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Snow Queen, which I have to admit I was unfamiliar with, so I don’t know how many changes have been made to it.
Here we have two young princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna. Elsa the older sister, and heir to the throne, has magical powers which enable her to create snow and ice at will. While playing one day she accidentally injures Anna, who is healed by local trolls. The trolls wipe Anna’s memory of the event and all of Elsa’s powers and from that day on Elsa, attempting to control her abilities, shuts herself away.
Their parents are killed in a shipwreck (Disney loves orphans) and Elsa is crowned Queen when she comes of age, and for the first time in years the castle opens its gates. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is nervous about this, while the less serious and lonely Anna (Kristen Bell) is keen to see more of the world and meet new people.
One of the first people Anna meets is Hans (Santino Fontana) a dashing prince who is thirteenth in line for the throne of his home country. Anna quickly falls head over heels for him and he proposes.
Elsa is shocked and cautions taking things slower, which leads to a confrontation which exposes her abilities. Afraid of the consequences and hounded by the unscrupulous Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), who wants to exploit Arendelle for profit, Elsa flees into the mountains, beginning an eternal winter.
Despite her solitude Elsa is finally free from having to constantly check her emotions and hold herself in line, and relishes her new found freedom.
Anna places Hans in charge and goes after Elsa to try and get her to fix things. On the way she recruits Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) an iceman to help her, pointing out that eternal winter will harm his business. Kristoff agrees and with his reindeer, Sven, they set off in search of Elsa.
Along the way they meet Olaf (Josh Gad) a snowman that Elsa created similar to one from their childhood, who is now enchanted and alive. They head for Elsa where Anna discovers that Elsa can’t turn the winter off and fears hurting Anna again, telling them to leave, in the process she accidentally injures Anna with a blast to the heart, and horrified by this is more determined to remain alone and not place her sister at risk.
Meanwhile, Hans sets off after Anna when her horse returns alone, and the Duke sends two of his men to eliminate Elsa. Hans arrives at the ice tower and rescues Elsa from the two goons, but she is knocked unconscious.
The blast to the heart has frozen Anna’s heart and only true love’s kiss can save her. Kristoff rushes her back to the castle so that she can be reunited with Hans for the kiss.
Can Anna be saved? Will Elsa learn how to control her powers and stop the winter? Will the sisters be reunited? And will Olaf finally get his wish of seeing a summer?
I flipping loved this movie, it was right up there with Disney’s finest. This is due to two key factors- firstly, the script which is hilarious and filled with great touches and a couple of nice little twists, and secondly, the music. Disney is known for putting together fantastic soundtracks, but I think musically this might be their best effort since The Lion King, as there isn’t a single duff track in the collection.
The first song in the movie, as Anna tries to lure her older sister out over the years is the heartbreaking “Do You Want To Make A Snowman?” and from then on it’s a string of belters, with the highlight being Elsa’s “Let It Go” which is just a sublime ballad, with Idina Menzel showing her vocal talents as her character gets to let loose all her self-enforced restraint for the first time.
Of course, a collection of fine songs is nothing without good story and characters to tie them together, and this is another area where the movie excels. The central relationship between Elsa and Anna is handled with a real delicate touch and shows the distance that has grown up between them.
Elsa’s fear of hurting her sister and others has left her constantly on edge, solitary and frightened, and the writers do a good job of capturing this unease and self imposed solitude. Throughout her primary concern is her sister and despite her love for Anna, she suspects distance is what will keep her safe, and pushes her away. This is what makes “Let It Go” such a fantastic moment, it being the first time that Elsa doesn’t have to worry, and can embrace her powers.
Anna is probably the heroine of the piece however, and Kristen Bell’s voice work is wonderful in making the slightly dippy, sweet character properly likable and heroic. Throughout she places herself at risk to help her sister and bravely strides off into the wilderness on her quest, even if she’s quickly out of her depth. Anna could be seen as a foolish character, and her rushed engagement to Hans might back this up, but it fits the character of a sheltered naive girl who’s grown up reading fairy tales and dreaming of her prince, and as the film moves on she shows quick wits and resourcefulness and a real never-say-die attitude.
The other characters are rendered just as well, from Kristoff’s quirky loner raised by trolls and who’s only friend is Sven, who he converses with frequently. At times the character is pushed to the side because it is really about the sisters, but he still has opportunity to show his heroic qualities and the slowly developing attraction between him and Anna as they bicker through the mountains is really well done.
However, the scene stealer is Olaf the Snowman, voiced with vigour by Josh Gad. He’s a wisecracking character who stays just the right side of irritating and gets some of the movies funniest moments (“You hesitated.”). The animators also have a ball with the surreal possibilities of his enchantment and snow body, leading to lots of slapstick and sight gigs, which I found delightful. And his song, “In Summer” in which he declares his dreams of experiencing summer is a comic masterpiece and highlights the character’s naivety and stupidity, and still finds time to offer a homage to Mary Poppins.
Sadly, some of the plot points had already been revealed to me online, so one of the twists lacked the impact it might have had, but I still loved it and it was nice to see Disney tinker with their formula and making good decisions.
All in all they get the tone just right, and it zips along at a decent pace. They manage to explore the fear that drives Elsa into solitude and the sister’s relationship with the right touch, never veering into the realm of the mawkish, and there are moments which are wonderfully sweet. It’s a nice twist to see a movie which is more about love than romantic love, and I found it extremely heartwarming.
Disney are back on top, and with this joining a string of decent efforts I’m keen to see where they go from here.
Verdict: A wonderfully sweet and charming fairy tale with Disney playing to their strengths. Brilliant characterization and an amazing soundtrack raise this to the top of the Disney pile and it’s probably their best movie in years. A treat. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.