Review: Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s highly anticipated live-action Beauty and the Beast reboot was as glamorous and magical as promised. Starring a freckled Emma Watson as Belle and heavily bearded Dan Stevens as The Beast, the film paid homage to the classic animated film by recreating almost exact scenes and outfits. However, the revamped version featured a star-studded cast including Emma Thompson, Sir Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, and Audra McDonald, who all added something new and sophisticated to their nearly inanimate roles. There’s an added banquet scene during the opening where we see the Prince in all his previous glory, alluding to the pre-revolutionary France era.

There’s a tangible nostalgia present as the familiar opening tune and narration describe the snobby prince’s downfall. As we’re reintroduced to Belle, our headstrong heroine, and the narrow-minded provençal townspeople she lives with; it’s almost uncanny to see Belle as a living, breathing woman rather than a flawless cartoon. It’s a pleasant but odd experience of seeing the film evolve from a childish cartoon to a live-action, older portrayal, fitting the 90s-kid generation of moviegoers. It was a slam-dunk for Disney: a romantic, nostalgic escape from reality featuring beautiful, talented people and classic songs by Alan Menken.

Emma Watson’s Belle is literate, educated, charming, and beautiful, of course — she even goes so far as to educate a young girl in the town, much to the shock of the schoolmaster. She reads Romeo and Juliet and escapes to fair Verona, while her eclectic father tinkers with miniature windmills rather than extreme, comical inventions. We learn more about Belle’s past, about how her mother passed away and how Belle has a notable love of roses. We see a more three-dimensional character with a tragic history, in addition to a more nuanced relationship between Belle and Gaston – get married, or die an old spinster in the small French village. LeFou, Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, is gay, which was a hotly contested subject in the weeks leading to the movie’s release. The Beast references his specialized education as a young prince in the castle, in comparison to Belle’s self-taught knowledge. These additions make the world of Beauty and the Beast more clear and real, so the audience might believe this could actually have happened, save the fantastical aspects. The characters have clearer emotions, desires, and obstacles more grounded in reality than Disney magic.

The special effects were lovely and sophisticated, including very detailed Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth. The singing is familiar and warm, with additions from the spectacular McDonald and Thompson, but some songs seem emptier, such as “Be Our Guest”, without the deep French accents we’re used to. Luke Evans as Gaston was a notable, love-to-hate-him villain in his song “Gaston,” preening and expectorating, and Watson sang sweetly in “Belle” and “Something There”.

The Beast himself has prosthetic horns, snarling teeth, and kind blue eyes. He roars and rages as in the animated film and, yes, presents Belle with the library.  Stevens plays The Beast as hotheaded, contemptuous, and still suffering from leftover royal French snobbery. His transition to gentle in the end is graceful and organic.

The last scene was glorious, including all the human-versions of the enchanted objects, and the beautiful costume design and scenery. And despite the cringe-worthy line at the end, the familiar cast of characters and new additions made for an enjoyable journey, definitely worth watching.