[This review only contains spoilers if you’ve never watched the original Beauty and the Beast movie. Which has been out for longer than I’ve been alive. I’m just saying.]
How does a moment last forever? How does a story never die? These are the questions Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast will ask of its viewers. (Literally, it’s in the song). And we will answer by purchasing a second ticket to see the film.
As a petty young child, I let one thing come in between my love for Belle. You see, it didn’t matter to me that I physically resembled her the most out of all Disney princesses. Nor that I could empathize with an escapist bookworm trapped in a pond far too constrictive for her ambitious and mildly delusional self. At the end of the day, I just could not, for the life of me, accept to dance around in a yellow dress.
Did I ever get over my disdain for the color of mustard and daffodils? No. But in retrospect, perhaps it was this faux pas that kept me away from the infamous Beauty and the Beast #DressGate. The slight distance what kept me from finding flaws in Emma Watson’s performance. But if I’m being completely honest, I think anyone who has anything negative to say about this film is exactly the kind of person T-Swift wrote that “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” song for.
With outstanding cinematography, acting, soundtrack, and script, the only way Beauty and the Beast could’ve flopped (mathematically speaking, which coming from me is very certifiable information) would’ve been if it had not seized the opportunity to be something bigger and greater than the original film. And it most definitely was.
Let’s talk about how Belle picked up her slack
Even though Belle belongs to the second wave of Disney princesses (those with aspirations beyond marriage and a restructured family life), the original movie still kept her a little to close to the original Snow White-Cinderella-Sleeping Beauty trio. OG Belle has the potential to grab life by its horns, but only does so when forced to.
However, in this Beauty and the Beast, Emma Watson ensured that Belle was given more resilience, more audacity, and was allowed more opportunities to show off the intelligence and compassion she was already known for. This Belle isn’t just a girl hiding behind books, hoping to one day find something bigger than herself. Watson’s Belle is the master of her fate. A woman hungry for the knowledge she feels she’s been deprived of.
The new and improved Belle doesn’t softly approach dangerous situations. Instead, she runs out of a waltz fully dressed to save her father, and then runs back, still wearing heels and a full gown, to save the Beast. So forgive Emma Watson for wanting to give Belle a simpler, more flexible dress. In my opinion, this dress is better, looks fantastic in 3D, and the golden accents ALMOST make up for the inescapable, classic Belle yellow.
But what did Disney have in store for an even more headstrong and quick-witted Belle?
Dan Stevens’ groundbreakingly vulnerable Beast
Over the years, we’ve amply discussed how Belle and Beast’s relationship resembles Stockholm syndrome. As a counterargument, Dan Stevens presents us with a more vulnerable Beast, one whose roundness of character allows for a more complex and honest relationship with Belle. Director Bill Condon was also keen on using appropriate CGI that would allow the audience to always see Dan Steven’s eyes and facial features throughout the film. He stated it was what kept the Beast’s humanity, and the final product definitely reflects that.
We get a whole lot more of character development for Prince Adam. He isn’t just a brat that went too far, but a troubled young adult who lost his mother too soon and was consumed by his father’s vanity. Beast also feels responsible for the condition of the castle, and his servants don’t learn to like him because they’re stuck with him for years, but rather have always liked him and feel they’ve failed him.
Where the OG Beast had some severe anger management issues and a more overall beast-like disposition, Dan Stevens’s Beast is tender. You never actually believe he intended to keep Belle or even her father in that castle for more than a few hours. This is a Beast who wouldn’t have cared if Lumière set his “prisoner” free, a Beast that only went after Belle when she ran away because he knew she’d easily find trouble.
But more importantly, this is a Beast that doesn’t care if he’s vulnerable. Sure, for reasons of dignity and pride he tries to hide at first that he reads rom coms in the DL, but is fine with sharing Shakespeare sonnets with Belle once the cat’s out of the bag. All of these factors are what contribute to the surge of emotions you will feel when Beast sings “Evermore.”
Also, he reads Lancelot and Guinevere stories. LANCELOT. AND. GUINEVERE.
Gaston’s character is granted more complexity
Gaston’s villainy now exists in its own right. He’s not just a foil or an antagonist, but rather presents a compelling case for his own attitude towards the world. Gaston knows the townsfolk admire him, but he’s incredibly distressed by Belle’s indifference. Without her approval, Gaston cannot help but feel insecure. These aspects are present in the original film, but in this new adaptation Gaston’s insecurities are allowed to take a higher toll on his personality and his actions.
Luke Evans plays an exceedingly convincing Gaston. We can tell, more so than in the original film, that by general standards Gaston is truly deserving of the admiration he gets in the town. He really is more charming and more quick witted than the rest of them, with the obvious exception of Belle.
As an audience, we care a little more in this film when Gaston falls to his death. We know he’s a terrible person and is incredibly unhinged, but we also feel saddened to see him become complete engulfed by pettiness. It all boils down to Gaston not being able to rise up to Belle’s level and instead defaulting to being a dick about it.
Lumière and Co. are still the best hosts
For me, there was more riding on how they pulled off “Be Our Guest” than anything else. While Lumière was setting everything up for Belle’s big solo banquet, I was readying my heart for elation. Even with my high expectations (which kept increasing as the movie progressed successfully), Ewan McGregor’s rendition of “Be Our Guest,” coupled with outstanding animation left me breathless. Remember that eye-to-eye grin Belle had going on throughout? Same.
Emma Thompson is glorious as Mrs. Potts as are the rest of the enchanted objects. The ensemble is simply perfect, both in their CGI and human forms. So yes, I’ll be your guest. Where do I sign up for permanent residence?
Some other wins
I loved, loved that Disney treated interracial and homosexual relationships as no big deal. I’m glad they just blended in, as one hopes they will blend in life, without people batting an eyelash. I was deeply touched by how the townsfolk treatment of Belle was more pronounced, how we could see the outward bullying and isolation. I also appreciated that this movie made it more clear that Gaston’s advances are borderline assault.
Important causes/representation aside, I also want to talk a little bit about the cinematography itself. What made this movie a living, breathing fairytale was the incorporation of theatrical elements. From the way the sets were built, to the shots, to the use of space. Everything felt like a regal theater production, and for the kind of movie I just feel it lent so much dimension.
When Belle visits her birthplace with Beast, that rocking attic carries such profoundness because of how these settings had been presented to us. As an audience, we truly feel present in this moment where Belle’s past becomes clear and poignant, where Belle and Beast recognize that they’ve both lost their mothers at a young age. We are there for that emotional blow.
- Ugh, I’ve missed Emma Watson’s Hermione “Get the fuck out of my face” face.
- Dan Stevens. Growling. Why do you do this to people. Why.
- Beauty and the Beast 2017 > OG Beauty and the Beast. Sue me.
- Lumière’s spunk was on point AF
- I didn’t need the sadness of Mr. Potts trying to remember what he had forgotten earlier in the movie just so that it could get hit by it like a ton of bricks when I realized it’s his family he had been missing.
- Luke Evans and Josh Gad were amazing.
- As were Ewan McGregor and Emma Thompson.
- When Chip runs to Belle at the end being all like, “IT’S ME, CHIP!” Same, my child. Same.
- Belle teaching a girl how to read. #BOSS
- Reasons why Beast shows Belle the library in original movie: to apologize for being a dick.
- Reasons why Beast shows Belle the library in new movie: to prove he has better taste in books.
- The Beast’s IQ is like six times as high in this movie, #bless.
- I just can’t. I’m going to try and move on now.
- But you know I’ll be waiting by an open door…
- Fooling myself into thinking I’ll wake up in Belle’s shoes.