The timeless story of a girl who falls in love with her malevolent captor, a ten foot tall talking bear, Beauty and the Beast famously teaches that the man of your dreams is only ever a Stockholm Syndrome away. But while this live-action remake of an animated Disney classic leaves most of the hard lessons of the original untouched – loneliness is ugliness, true beauty is on the inside, candlesticks are French people – it does try to make a few concessions to modernity.
Belle is now a kind of inventor, in early scenes MacGyvering up a kind of proto-washing machine to scrub her dad’s mucky keks while she sits around reading her books. This annoys the more traditionally minded townsfolk, who find her progressive attitude to academia and laundry-based ingenuity unconventional and threatening. Also, for a girl that they’re all perfectly willing to spend five minutes singing about every morning, the villagers don’t seem all that bothered when she eventually goes missing.
There’s also been such a hoo-hah made about a gay scene that you’d be forgiven for thinking Belle breaks out the poppers in the second act. In reality, Disney’s “first gay moment” is disappointingly muted, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of Gaston’s sycophantic sidekick LeFou dancing with a man in the final ballroom scene.
The rest of the film is as traditional as taste and nostalgia allows. Emma Watson is a perfect Belle, pretty and demure but not doll-like. Luke Evans and His Jawline make a fine Gaston. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays the Beast, whose eventual (spoiler) transformation back into his human form is something of an anticlimax. He is, contrary to the entire point of the film, way sexier when he’s a giant talking bear-thing.
The cups and clocks and wardrobes all have famous voices too. But while the screen is permanently aglow in a warm and ethereal technicolour fuzz, most of the visual magic of the original piece has been lost in the move to flesh-and-bone acting. The Ewan McGregor-voiced candlestick Lumiere is a good case in point: he’s no longer an artfully hand-animated piece of brassware, but a generic, charmless and motion-captured CGI man made of gold.
Without the iconic animation that made it a Disney classic, new Beauty and the Beast tests the notion that looks aren’t so important. What’s left is an enjoyably schmaltzy romance that still pokes at the heart, but with a face that's a little more difficult to love.