Beauty and the Beast. A tale as old as time. Where to begin on explaining what is the beauty of one of my all time favorite Disney movies?
My hopes were high for this movie, as my dream since I was a young girl has always been to end up with a man who can somehow give me a gorgeous library filled with thousands of books, in an enchanted, hidden castle in a far away land. (And no, I never bothered to ponder the realistic side of that dream.)
As the lights dimmed in the theater and I saw the dark castle appear effortlessly on screen, I froze in anticipation. Awaiting the magic I knew was about to appear in front of my eyes.
The 2017 live-action/digital-mix of “Beauty and the Beast,” directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson (as Belle) and Dan Stevens (as Beast) leaves nothing short of whimsy and perfection. It transforms the classic 1991 animation into an extraordinary-yet-timeless vision while following the traditional storyline almost exactly.
This isn’t the first time Emma Watson has portrayed a strong, driven female – while growing up in her Harry Potter days, playing the character of studious Hermione Granger for a decade of her life. But her portrayal of Belle was more than what could appear to some as a bookish, quiet, young woman. She exuded a mix of empowerment and fearlessness. She overcame challenges and resisted unjust behavior. A true inspiration for any woman who has ever felt out of place in their world.
Watson and Stevens are joined by a grand cast of phenomenal, well-known actors, including Kevin Kline as Belle’s compassionate and quirky father, Maurice; Luke Evans as the handsome, devilish, Gaston – who you slowly start to despise more and more as the film progresses; and the hilarious-without-even-trying, Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou.
Because the film respectfully follows the same footsteps as the original animation, the majority of characters are CGI and are only able to lend their voices for the greater part of the movie. Emma Thompson plays the sweet, motherly Mrs. Potts; Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen play the unforgettable duo – the witty candelabra, Lumière and the nervous clock, Cogsworth; and Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald are the harpsichord, Maestro Cadenza and Belle’s wardrobe, Madame Garderobe. All of the “objects” work so flawlessly with Watson’s character that sometimes you forget they are only voices behind perfectly crafted, computer-generated images.
It is important to not forget the magic that truly brings this world alive – the teamwork of those involved behind-the-scenes. Costume designer and Academy Award winner, Jacqueline Durran brought the outfits to life that were in some of our imaginations for decades. Four-time Oscar-nominated production designer, Sarah Greenwood’s vision and execution were extraordinary and enchanting. And not to forget about eight-time Academy Award winning composer, Alan Menken recreating the Disney tunes into what one could call the “perfect” score.
Something the live-action version of this story brings to the tale is the kindness and compassion that both Belle and Beast have. It’s apparent that Condon wanted to bring out those emotions in the roles, opposed to shedding less light on them and keeping them structured. Belle seems to lend more of an ear (and a heart) to Beast’s thoughts and his life before the curse, and Beast expresses his affection for her more and shows his anger less.
There are a few sprinkles of additions to the original story, but ones which are welcome and answer questions that many of us have pondered over the years. What had happened to Belle’s mother? Who was the enchantress who had cursed the castle and why did she curse Beast in the first place? These are answered in the most seamless of ways that fit like a perfect puzzle piece among the plot.
One of the greatest developments of the film, which some may find as minimal – is the diversity of characters. From the opening scenes in a ballroom, you see all different ethnicities of women. To the closing scenes, where you see the first gay characters portrayed in a Disney movie. Sadly, these improvements are what should have always been in films – but it’s great to see that Disney did not shy away from them this time around.
The entire time in the theater, I was in awe. I was in love. I was in a sort of trance of the magic that was unfolding before my eyes.