Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’: An enchanting recreation of the tale as old as time

Lauren Sieberg, Staff Writer

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Ever since its first official live-action remake of “101 Dalmatians” in 1996, Disney has worked on five other remakes with mixed success. One particular remake left fans with bated breath and high expectations months prior to its release. The company’s newest recreation of “Beauty and the Beast” hit the theaters on March 16, 2017, and for the most part, the film has certainly exceeded fans’ expectations.

The 2017 version of “Beauty and the Beast” follows a plotline almost identical to the 1991 animated film with minimal alterations. The film opens with a gorgeous ball held by a prince (Dan Stevens) in a grand castle in France during the Rococo era. The celebration is suddenly interrupted when a mysterious enchantress disguised as an elderly woman enters the ballroom, pleading for shelter in exchange for an enchanted rose. The prince, a haughty and cruel man at the time, denies her request. She then reveals her true form and casts a powerful spell on the castle and everyone in it, transforming the servants into inanimate objects and the prince into a (not-so) hideous beast. The only way the spell could be broken is if the prince learns to love another person, and if that same person reciprocates that love by looking past his appearance before the final rose petal falls.

One individual who has the potential to break the spell is the protagonist Belle (Emma Watson), a young, ingenious woman who is as beautiful as her name implies. She can barely stand living in the nearby town of Villeneuve with her father and inventor Maurice (Kevin Kline), mainly because the townspeople mock her for her unique love of books and only tolerate her for her good looks. Belle hardly puts up with the antagonist and war veteran Gaston’s (Luke Evans) attempts to court her, and it’s clear that she wants much more than the provincial life she lives.

Before her father leaves to sell his elaborate handmade music boxes, Belle asks him if he could bring back a single rose from his journey. Unfortunately, his travels don’t exactly go as planned; he gets hopelessly lost along the way, and seeks shelter from the bitter cold and dangerous wolves in the now decrepit castle. While there, he is imprisoned by the Beast after an attempt at picking a white rose from the castle garden.

Once Belle comes to rescue her father, she finds herself face to face with the Beast himself, and eventually chooses to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. Her father is forced to leave, but he insists that he will find some way to rescue her in the future.

Later, Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellan) escort a rather startled Belle to a proper bedroom, where she meets the rest of the significant castle workers. Although she befriends each of the servants, Belle still does not initially intend to remain in the castle as a prisoner forever, regardless of her promise to do so. However, a sudden life-threatening situation brings Belle and the Beast together, and she discovers that he really isn’t as terrible as he first appears. From this point on, they begin to develop a special bond built on mutual trust and a shared appreciation for books.

The first thought that stuck with me while watching was the incredible attention to detail throughout the film. I was initially worried that the amount of details would be too much to handle, but I never actually felt overwhelmed. Whether you’re studying Cogsworth’s complex clockwork, the gold trim on the walls in Belle’s bedroom, or something else entirely, you’ll never find yourself without something to observe.

As far as historical accuracy is concerned, it’s clear that the film is set during France’s Rococo era because of the period-sensitive and absolutely gorgeous costumes. The outfits during the main title, especially Madame Garderobe’s wide, pale blue gown and the prince’s black and white ensemble, is the most realistic. The only costume that doesn’t exactly match the time period is Belle’s classic yellow dress, which lacks the bulkiness and over-the-top detail of most gowns in this era. Despite this, her dress is absolutely stunning when she twirls during her iconic dance with the Beast.

Since the original “Beauty and the Beast” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, the 2017 “Beauty and the Beast” had a lot to live up to. Each of the magnificent songs (both new and old) made sure to include something there that wasn’t there before. The older songs generated a refreshing and nostalgic feeling for those who know the original masterpieces, such as the iconic “Beauty and the Beast,” “Belle,” and “Be Our Guest.” None of the songs feel as if they have been altered too much; the only significant differences are the never-before-heard voices, humorous inserts of dialogue, and a delightful instrumental near the end of “Gaston.”

On the other hand, the brand new songs, such as “Evermore” and “Days in the Sun,” are equally as charming. These two specific melodies capture the deepest emotions of the Beast and his servants, delving into the intense feelings of hope, heartbreak, and everything in between. In spite of not having any real singing lessons prior to the film, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens master their respective songs with absolute grace and genuine emotion. Overall, the near-perfect songs are what makes the movie really shine.

In some scenes, though, Watson’s acting falls a little short of her animated counterpart’s strong emotions. As much as I love Emma Watson as an actress, her rather blank expressions at some key emotional points in the film occasionally overshadow her more touching parts. During a scene near the end of the movie in which any normal person would be completely shocked, Watson’s face is devoid of astonishment, much less any feeling at all. This is in stark comparison to the animated Belle, who looks clearly surprised during this scene. At other points (such as her first talk with Gaston in the village) Belle’s tone, facial expression, and dialogue are almost too bold and condescending, to the point where she could possibly be described as mean. In the original, her animated counterpart by comparison is the perfect mix of sass and kindness, while the live-action Belle feels a little too blunt.

Luckily, the believable and impassioned acting during other parts more than makes up for the expressionless moments. Josh Gad’s depiction of Gaston’s goofy and exuberant sidekick LeFou is absolutely hilarious, and produced several well-earned moments filled with pure laughter in the theatre. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Luke Evans’ remarkable acting provided multiple layers on top of Gaston’s original character, making him much more than simply a rude, narcissistic antagonist. Dan Stevens’ phenomenal portrayal of the Beast is more than successful, likely because he paints his character as not only a frighteningly hostile person, but also as a character with real hopes, dreams, and interests. These actors positively contribute to their respective animated counterparts, making them seem more like real people with legitimate backstories and wishes.

Even though the marvelous racial diversity certainly made “Beauty and the Beast” stand out amongst other popular historical fantasy films, the LGBTQ+ representation felt like a complete step backwards. Disney had every opportunity to have Lumière and Cogsworth fall in love, but the company chose an entirely different approach. While it was not stated in the film, it was confirmed by the director Bill Condon that LeFou is gay. As much as countless fans across the world would love to see a confirmed LGBTQ+ character in a Disney film, it is difficult to see much good in the creation of a flamboyant homosexual character literally named “the fool” who pines after his obviously heterosexual villain friend. In short, no representation is sometimes better than poor representation, and this is one of those cases.

As someone who considers Belle one of my biggest heroes because of her deep love of reading and “just be yourself” attitude, I walked into the theatre as a bit of a skeptic expecting disappointment. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the recreation had matched the original film. Although some representation and acting in the film produced extremely mixed feelings, the experience is still unbelievably enchanting due to the magical soundtrack, intricate details, and historical accuracy. Anyone who grew up with the original animated film can now experience the magic, adventure, and romance all over again alongside younger fans, thanks to this stunning new version of the timeless classic.

Grade: A-
“Beauty and the Beast”
Rated: PG
Length: 139 minutes
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Stanley Tucci

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Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’: An enchanting recreation of the tale as old as time