If you’re already bored of live-action remakes of classic Disney properties, Beauty and the Beast comes bearing good and bad news.
The good news is that the 2017 version is solid, with enough new details to not make it feel quite so much like a shameless cash-grab (though make no mistake: it absolutely is that).
So if you don’t enjoy them, you still won’t be able to escape them.
The 2015 Cinderella is the best frame of reference for Beauty and the Beast. It, too, boasted a tremendous cast and gorgeous, ornate costumes and sets, anchored by a deliciously camp Cate Blanchett as the Evil Stepmother.
Beauty has no such actorly hook but it does have the major advantage of including the iconic music from the 1991 original, as well as new songs composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice.
Much of the film’s recent publicity has centred on its gay history. On the original film – as well as The Little Mermaid a couple of years prior – Menken collaborated with lyricist Howard Ashman to create the movie’s songs.
Ashman never saw the final version of the film that was released in cinemas; he passed away from complications due to AIDS in March of 1991.
Director Bill Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have elected, as tribute to Ashman, to feature Disney’s first gay character in the remake.
LeFou, sidekick to villain Gaston, gets to pine for Gaston in both word and song, which is not unreasonable given that animated Gaston likely functioned as a partial sexual awakening for many a young gay man.
It’s a nice tribute which doesn’t quite feel right for a couple of reasons. The first is that LeFou is played by Josh Gad, who is straight, where Gaston is played by Luke Evans, who came out in interviews in his early career in London but has become intensely private in recent years alongside his rise in the Hollywood ranks.
None of this is necessarily bad, though both actors do feel somewhat miscast, but it does make the film’s ostensible inclusiveness feel a bit strained.
As a lead, Emma Watson is charming as the fairytale’s titular beauty.
You might call her voice Emma Stone-ish, in that it feels thinly stretched over the Broadway stylings of Menken and Ashman’s songs, but she’s a winning screen presence and she provides Belle with an important sense of agency in a story which, at its core, is almost inescapably creepy.
So it’s hard to imagine this Beauty and the Beast will be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (the 1991 version was the first animated film to be nominated as such), but it’s a pleasant slice of fanciful, escapist bombast.
Beauty and the Beast waltzes into Australian cinemas on Thursday March 23.