“Tale as Old as Time” (Turner)
Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens
I am a Disney girl through and through. I grew up watching their animated films, and it was Disney’s stories that first captivated my imagination: the stories I recreated and expanded on when playing make-believe with my sister, stories that continuously espoused ideas of hope, wonder, and love, and therefore molded my ideas of what I wanted the world to be.
Disney has most recently attempted to recreate one of these classic stories, Beauty and the Beast, with live-action, an exciting but dangerous endeavor. Although to replace cartoonish renderings with physical embodiments is visually enriching, it reduces the spaces where an observer can fill in the blanks for themselves. Therefore, these recreations can only serve to validate or nullify the ideas that I had already personally fleshed out and internalized. And no one hopes it’s the latter.
Beauty and the Beast was off to a good start with its impeccably casted Emma Watson as Belle. Not only did she uncannily resemble cartoon counterpart, but Watson’s real-world persona as a women’s rights activist amplified Belle’s character as an intelligent, strong-willed, and empowering female role model. I was pleased to see that this adaptation chose to explore Belle’s independence and resourcefulness more deeply: Belle was portrayed as an inventor who taught the young girls in the town to read. Additionally, Watson’s acting was genuine and unforced, and her singing abilities are surprisingly robust. Another character that benefited from this remake was Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad). The originally mindlessly loyal lackey was complexified in this remake. His loyalty to Gaston (Luke Evans) was substantiated by romantic motivations, he was shown to question the morality of his actions, and he got to deliver some of the film’s most wonderful moments of comic relief. On the other hand, the reinterpretation of Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) fell flat: he became the victim of lazy script writing. Maurice became an ornery artist subject to a few too many deus ex machina rescues and a frail, irrelevant backstory.
Regardless, the Beauty and the Beast remake was overall successful in visually bringing the story to life. The amount of detail laced into the sets, scenery, and costuming was breathtaking. The sets accurately captured the quaint bustle of Belle’s provincial town and the Beast’s haunting castle. His castle dripped with the opulence and elegance of 18th century France, and transformed over the course of the movie from a cold and lifeless place to one that radiated warmth, reflecting the characters’ developments.
Each aspect of the costuming was clearly just as meticulous, as the costumes simultaneously emulated the period’s style while staying true to the original film’s designs. The Beast (Dan Stevens), Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and the rest of the crew were beautifully brought to life using CGI, allowing the actors to look just like the objects they were supposed to be while still allowing facial expressions and emotive gestures to shine through.
When the long-awaited waltz between Belle and the Beast finally began, a wave of nostalgia and joy overcame me. This sweet interaction between the two characters was captured perhaps even more beautifully in live-action than in the animated film. Belle’s iconic yellow dress was perfectly replicated, and the dramatic sweeping shots as the pair glided across the ballroom filled me with wonder and hopeless romanticism. And since to evoke these feelings from the audience is the whole point of this movie, I knew that this time, with Beauty and the Beast, Disney had succeeded. This film not only managed to stay true to the original, but made it even more resonant and complex than before. This mixture of stunning visuals, great acting, and beautiful music (including all the original score with several additional new songs composed by Alan Menken) made for an inspiring film.