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IMG_1326The first time I saw the 1991 animated Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was already a grown-up, but I remember crying at the scene when the Beast is beset by Gaston and the villagers trying to kill him. The little girls in the row in front of mine turned around to see why these crazy grown-ups were sobbing behind them.  Those same little girls would be all grown up now, and perhaps taking their own children to see the updated, live action big screen version of this tale as old as time.

I rarely get excited about news of “reboots”, “remakes” or sequels of classics. But when casting news for this 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast was announced back in 2015, I could not have been more excited. And thankfully, I have not been disappointed.

IMG_1325As a United Nations Ambassador on women’s issues and outspoken feminist, there could never have been any doubt that Emma Watson was destined to be the 21st century Belle. Not only is this updated version of the beautiful farm girl a bookworm – just as Watson is in real life, but she is also an independent thinker and an educator, happily teaching other girls to read. In 1991, it is Belle’s father, Maurice (played now by Kevin Kline), who is the inventor but now, we know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

With a widened mythology, we now have a better understanding of what happened to Belle’s mother and an explanation of how the Beast (Dan Stevens) came to be such a spoilt brat in his youth and the part the castle staff played in this.

Living in the small French village of Villeneuve is returned soldier and self-proclaimed “most beautiful” Gaston (Luke Evans) and his right-hand man, LeFou (Josh Gad) who is somewhere between wanting to be Gaston and wanting to be with him. With both Evans and Gad coming from a successful musical theatre background, the Gaston-LeFou pairing is perhaps the strongest in the film. The song-and-dance sequence in the tavern is one of my favourites in the live action transformation. There is no doubt that Gaston is as bad a villain as they come, thanks to the wonderful performance by Evans.Rounding out the castle’s occupants are our familiar favourites from the animated version: old clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), teapot Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) and her son Chip (Nathan Mack), and wardrobe Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). New additions include Lumiere’s love, a featherduster named Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Madame Garderobe’s husband, Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci).

There are three new songs written for this live action version, all of which I have been humming constantly since the soundtrack was released in early March: Days in the Sun – performed by the castle household staff as they recall their pre-cursed lives, How Does A Moment Last Forever as Belle attempts to hold onto her memories of her parents, and the Beast’s Evermore as he frees Belle while accepting his own fate as he watches his true love leave him. Alan Menken returns to compose the music with additional lyrics by Tim Rice along with previously unused lyrics left behind by the late Howard Ashman who had passed away before the 1991 animated version was released.

A lot has been written and spoken by the cast and director of the 2017 version about the process of transforming animation to live action. Although the majority of the action is “live”, it was inevitable that the dining room scene is mostly animation, as are the castle household staff who remain animations until – I don’t think this can be a spoiler for a 300-year-old tale – their final transformation back into their human forms at the end of the movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Beauty and the Beast and had to hold myself back from singing out loud in the theatre, though I’m sure others would have joined in with the singing to the old familiar tunes. And yes, I still cried when Gaston was hunting the Beast. I can’t wait to see it again. Meanwhile, the soundtrack remains number one on my playlist.

Beauty and the Beast opened in Australia on March 23rd and the soundtrack is available worldwide.

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