The classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, first published in 1757, has been reproduced many times and in many different forms over the years. Disney produced a cartoon version of the story, there have been ice-shows and musicals and, of course, the classic 1946 film directed by Jean Cocteau. Now Christophe Gans has brought the story kicking and screaming into the 21 century with a film chock full of CGI special effects, a star-studded cast and a new back story for the two main characters.
Gans sticks to the main fabric of the original fairy tale. After believing his fortune is lost at sea, Beauty’s father (Andre Dussolier) is told one of his ships did made it to port. Before he makes the trip to reclaim the family’s wealth, he asks his three daughters what they would like as gifts. His youngest, Belle (Lea Seydoux) asks for a rose. While returning home, the father becomes lost in a storm and takes refuge in a strange castle. As he is leaving the next day, he picks a rose from the garden. A Beast appears and tells him that he will be punished for the theft of the rose by returning to the castle to live for the rest of his life. When Beauty hears what has happened she takes her father’s place and goes to live with the Beast. Surprise, the Beast is really a handsome prince and only the love of a woman can restore him to his original form.
There’s no denying Gans’ Beauty and the Beast is a visual delight. The decor and costumes are sumptuous and the action, once it gets going, cracks along at a fair old pace. But the combination of classic fairy tale and state of the art special effects is an uncomfortable one. Used sparingly, they add a magic, other worldly feel to the film -magic potions, forests that bend and grow, life-giving water – all work beautifully. Strange gremlin-like creatures and giant statues that come to life à la Harry Potter – not so much. As for the star-studded cast, there’s not much real work to do. Cassel as the Beast is more Aslan, from Tales of Narnia, than scary, wolf man while Seydoux is pretty and effective as Beauty.
Sadly, the love affair with the Beast is almost non-existent, a real shame given the amount of potential with Cassel as the leading man. The remaining cast of brothers, sisters and assorted villains lark about in a distracting and non-sensical sub-plot which only exists to provide the excuse for more jaw-dropping special effects.
Beauty and the Beast is an entertaining film for a family-outing, but not one that comes remotely close to the genius of Cocteau’s classic. In French cinemas: 12/02/2014