By the Collectress
I have done my best to keep this review spoiler-free and will tag any potential spoilers with **.
“La Belle Et La Bete”: it’s a tale as old as Hollywood. Though the earliest filmed version of the fairytale appeared in 1946, the story did not rise to its peak of popularity until Disney released the animated classic in 1991. Since then, the character of Belle has become well-known in pop culture and beloved by young book-loving fans everywhere. So why would Disney feel the need to create a live-action version of an already-popular story?
That’s just why: the story.
If you’re a skeptic like my mother, you’ll say: why do I need to watch the reboot if the original is already amazing? You don’t need to watch it, but you should.
The plot doesn’t change from the original animated feature: Belle’s father, Maurice, becomes a prisoner in an enchanted castle ruled over by a Beast, and Belle heroically takes her father’s place to save his life. As she adjusts to a life in which candelabras, clocks, and teapots talk, she becomes very attached to the Beast, and in the end, chooses him over a “provincial life.” Along the way, we see a chauvinistic villain determined to convince Belle that “no” actually means “yes” (in current slang, Gaston is a “fuckboy”), a sidekick who is mistaken for a fool (who turns out to be the most interesting character in the movie), and a beautiful-yet-almost-tragic romance between a harpsichord and a wardrobe (only in a Disney movie, eh?).
The music, scenery, and costuming are much like the animated film as well. The setting is still rural France (with a small slip into Paris in one scene). Belle still wears the blue town dress and the gold ballgown; Gaston wears red and gold. The music, also composed by Alan Menken who did the original Disney score in 1991, evokes a sense of dreamy nostalgia for me, a 90s kid. It is the same song, but performed by a different singer.
What this version of Beauty and the Beast gives us, however, is something that is more than 2-D. Whereas the animated version of Belle is motherless without explanation, Emma Watson’s Belle has to confront the truth about her mother’s death. Whereas the animated Beast was a brute without cause, Dan Stevens’ Prince Adam/the Beast, like Belle, lost his mother at a young age but, unlike Belle, was raised by a cruel father and offered no moral guidance. Cogsworth and Lumiere are the same bickering comedic relief, but their friendship is presented as deeper and more significant than in the film. ** In fact, they spend what they think is their last few minutes alive together, and Cogsworth’s last words are telling Lumiere that he’s enjoyed working with him for so many years.** Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, LeFou (literally French for “the fool”) is not a fool. In fact, it could be said the LeFou is the character with the most development in the film, switching from merely Gaston’s sidekick/scapegoat who pines for his best friend to a self-actualized character who, at the climax of the film, rejects Gaston’s chauvinistic, paranoid, and selfish ideologies and embarks on a path to redeem himself.
Gaston, however, is the same: handsome, charming, and a bully with zero respect for those not in the same social ranking. Luke Evans plays Gaston’s douchey personality in such a way that’s both charming and seemingly effortless; in fact, Gaston is so memorable that even three days later I’m still singing “My what a guy, Gaston!” as I type this review. In summary, even though he’s a charming and attractive villain, Gaston is terrifying because he is real: we’ve all met a guy like Gaston. I don’t want to like Gaston, in fact, I loathe everything that Gaston stands for, but I enjoyed watching Luke Evans dance on a table top.
As for dancing, the dance in the castle’s ballroom is magical. While the gold ballgown has been criticised by many a costuming cosplayer in my social circle, I did nothing short of swoon over how it swished and twirled as Emma Watson danced. This film brings to the big screen one of my favorite childhood stories (in fact, it was the first film I ever saw in a theater) and makes it even more magical. In fact, that’s the best word for this film: magical. It is, after all, a fairytale, and what’s a fairytale without magic?
If you’re a fan of the original animated story, go see this one. Children will love the whimsical nature of this film; adults who grew up in the 90s will love the journey back to their childhood.
Beauty and the Beast is now playing in U.S. theaters.