Belle isn’t my favorite Disney princess.
In fact, the animated movie as a whole doesn’t really even rank in my top five favorite Disney films.
Don’t get me wrong, I think her character is great — she’s smart, curious, brave and compassionate — but in more of a ‘of course she is, she can’t not be‘ way. There simply isn’t anything not to like; in much the same way that the drawings were two-dimensional, Belle and her story with the Beast always fell a little… flat to me.
Still, I was incredibly excited leading up to the release of this remake (mainly because the songs are undeniably classics). I’m a sucker for magic and fantasy, through and through. Though if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I felt the same way about the 2015 Cinderella remake — which I absolutely loved and will watch any time I catch it on TV — but I’ve since realized: this is Disney — how bad could it be? The studio wouldn’t allow anyone to ruin a classic like Beauty and the Beast, not with so many fans’ hopes and expectations riding on its back.
The same way that I wondered how they would pull off the iconic dress transformation scene in Cinderella, I wondered how Disney would fare with a number like ‘Be Our Guest,’ or with the portrayals of the castle staff in their furniture forms in general. For me, it’s less about the technical aspects of it, but rather the quality of childlike wonder scenes like that bring when done right. I want to feel like I did when I first watched these movies, and with 19 more remakes on the way over the next few years, Disney is really going to have to try and top the success that was Beauty and the Beast.
Because this movie? It exceeded expectations I didn’t even realize I had.
I was a little apprehensive after hearing that they were tweaking the story in some places, worried the changes might distract from the original tale — but fleshing out Belle’s background, shifting the role of inventor more in her direction and finally, placing more emphasis on her curiosity than her dreaminess (right down to the way she delivered that line about her favorite book in the number ‘Belle’), all added a welcome layer. It modernized the story without taking it out of its time (19th century France, if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that).
I applaud Emma Watson for pushing those changes during filming, effectively creating a more proactive heroine than I personally felt we were given in the animated version. Here, she has more to do, she isn’t simply reacting to situations laid out before her — she tackles the (unfortunately) historically accurate ‘women shouldn’t be given an education‘ mindset of that era, by creating solutions to her problems and continuing to read and learn while teaching young girls how to, too.
Without giving too much away, the additional touches to the Beast’s story — even though they were just a few lines thrown in — helped make his shift back into the kind, bright boy he supposedly was in his youth a little more believable. He and Belle shared similar tragedy in their family lives that helped solidify a bond that may have felt a little rushed, even given the two hour run time, and set up that iconic grand ballroom scene to be that much more breathtaking and, well, beautiful.
The supporting cast was out-of-this-world talented, namely Audra McDonald (who I’d been warned would outshine everyone, a conclusion I’m inclined to agree with), Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor — but who would expect any less, honestly? While I wasn’t entirely enthused about the sheer amount of autotune that seemed to seep into Emma Watson’s voice — her voice was almost too smooth to the point there was nothing to it, taking away from the emotion in her songs if not for her spot-on acting behind them — the rest of the cast could take this to the stage if they wanted to.
I was most surprised by Dan Stevens (who I knew would nail it acting-wise, but musically, I wasn’t convinced) and Luke Evans (with the last film of his I watched being the ever unfortunate Dracula Untold), knocking their roles out of the park with such an ease. Beast was definitely more of his own hero this time around, and Gaston was a convincing villain with more to him than his womanizing ways, actually someone not to be trifled with.
But while we’re on the subject of Gaston, we have to talk about Josh Gad’s LeFou.
First of all, all I could hear when he sang was Olaf, but of course he’s incredibly talented nonetheless, so I could just as easily forget for a moment he voiced a sentient snowman. Secondly, I appreciated the effort on Disney’s part to include an LGBT character, but having been on high alert for any tells (other than knowing beforehand), I’m not entirely sure why anyone has banned the film in their state or country for this. I mean, he might wink at another man during the ‘Gaston’ number (which was showstopping, by the way), and if you read more into it, there could potentially be the inklings of a crush on Gaston, but you could also easily interpret that as hero worship and a touch of fear, as if he’s the Peter Pettigrew to Gaston’s Voldemort.
His flip flopping towards the end also wasn’t quite as believable as I would have liked — and certainly not enough to redeem him to me, personally; did your best friend/crush attempting to murder an old, frantic man set on finding his missing, imprisoned daughter again somehow not tip you off to the fact that you should have switched sides long before that point? Does it really take dropping a sentient piano on you to see that you deserved better?
All that aside, my favorite scene had to be ‘Be Our Guest.’
I’ve since heard people complain that it was too much like the animated version, that it was too much or too unrealistic, and to those people I’d just like to say: these are forks and spoons and knives. They shouldn’t even be moving in the first place, let alone singing and dancing. I think we can all spare a few glorious moments to suspend our disbelief, okay.
It was outrageous, I’ll give them that, but in the best of ways — in all honesty, I choked up when the music swelled for the last time. It was so rich and colorful and fun, and it instantly brought me back to the first time I’d ever watched that scene and heard the song. I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, almost a handful of times, and there’s this one attraction that is a favorite in my family that we’ve always gone to with every trip. Bear in mind, this attraction is interactive; it blasts you with cool and hot air, sprays you with water, blows sweet scents at you and immerses you into multiple Disney stories — and this scene did exactly that to me without all the extra trimmings. How amazing is that? (If you’re interested, it’s called PhilharMagic.)
This movie, in spite of all its critics or naysayers, reminded me why I love film and why I want to work in this industry. It reminded me of the magic that roped me in to study production in the first place, just by a little song and dance. From the set design, to the costumes, to the cinematography and the music and choreography, I loved this and I can’t wait to see it again. On a scale from 1 to 10, I would have to rate Beauty and the Beast…
And if you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed every promotional effort for the film, watch the trailer down below!
Featured image courtesy of Allstar/Walt Disney Pictures.