Has it really been 26 years since Disney first enchanted us with Beauty and The Beast? Apparently so. It seems like only yesterday when we were treated to Be Our Guest and of course the title track Beauty and the Beast delivered once by Angela Lansbury and again by Celine Dion. We were in heaven.
The 1991 animated version is something that even after all these years we still hold near and dear to our hearts so it’s only natural that when we heard there was going to be a live-action remake we felt a little bit apprehensive as we defended our love for Belle and the magic of all things Beast.
Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) took on the mighty task of bringing Disney’s Best Picture nominee to life. Rather than tamper much with the original, Condon and his screenwriting team Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos add only a few backstories but stay faithful to the original and much-loved classic. Their loyalty to the source pays off.
Emma Watson is utterly delightful and memorable as Belle and more than delivers on her musical numbers, including “Belle.” In case you haven’t seen the original and don’t know the story, Belle lives in a quiet French hamlet with her father. She is an avid reader who wants so much more than her small village can offer. Gaston (Luke Evans) is the village lothario who thinks he can get whatever and whomever he wants. He’s too much of a narcissist to see Belle has no interest in him.
One day her father ventures deep into the woods, gets caught in a storm, and is captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens). When Belle discovers her father’s whereabouts, she trades places with him, agreeing to live in captivity in the castle with the Beast so her father can go free.
The castle, it turns out is enchanted. The castle’s staff have been placed under a spell as part of a curse placed upon the Beast — who is really a prince. To break the curse, the Beast must learn to love and to find true love.
So, the big question is does Beauty and the Beast 2017 deliver on its live-action promise? The answer is an astounding yes, a million times over. Beauty and the Beast is completely thrilling and spellbinding.
Emma Watson is incredibly good, reeling you in as the film’s heroine who rejects the self-loving Gaston and embraces instead the Beast. Evans as Gaston is excellent. Josh Gad who’s LeFou is Disney’s first openly gay character is a scene-stealer as Gaston’s sidekick. Infatuated with Gaston, LeFou is so much fun to watch, and many of the film’s biggest laughs stem from this fraught situation. If you truly want to focus on just how gay his character is, there’s a scene at the end where LeFou… well, wait and see. There you have it. Disney 2017. Diverse. The distinguished cast –from Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts — is riveting.
There’s a scene where Gaston rallies the village spreading fear and hate about Beast, calling him a monster. His followers are quick to listen to Gaston and want to kill the beast. It’s a scene and musical number that seems even more relevant in today’s society where hate and fear-mongering spread faster than wildfire, and all it take is one loudly arrogant person to instigate it. The bully in this film is rewarded, he has his followers. The “normal” people like Belle are ostracized by the village because she’s “different” her neighbors, her father Maurice is carted off to a mental asylum for being “weird”, but in each case it’s Gaston who’s responsible for instigating the resentments.
There are powerful messages at the heart of Beauty and the Beast that ring beautifully true. There’s a simple message that is very easy to forget: Beauty is only skin deep and learning this lesson teaches us much about love. There’s also the message that knowledge is power. Rather than abide by anything she’s told, Belle reads and educates herself, and she wants something more than her life can offer her so she’s not afraid to explore what is beyond her village. Belle is a fiery and independent girl, and what a message that is to send girls everywhere.
The production is picturesque, as are the musical numbers which are done in that big Broadway musical style, and it’s a thrill to watch. The backstories and extra songs bring new depth to the characters. We find out about Belle’s mother, and we get a glimpse of the Prince’s life before he’s transformed into a Beast.
Seeing Belle’s princess dress come to life in the film will make your heart skip a joyful beat. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes and their intricate detail are simply exquisite.
The magic of CGI works and allows us to get swept away in the magic of it all, more so with the enchanted characters, and of course Beast.
Condon gives us viewers a visually rich film that will inspire a new generation to fall in love all over again with Belle, her Beast, and the ever-present magic that enchants the castle and recreates its rapture anew.
Beauty and the Beast opens on Friday