The theater sits in awed silence as a huge, ornate castle appears on screen and a voiceover begins to tell the story that, for most growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s, was a staple of their childhood. This is the new, live-action film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. When going to see the movie, expect that the theater will not only be filled with children and their parents, but also with nostalgia seeking twenty-somethings who have long been looking forward to the film’s release. From the moment the opening piano music begins, one should expect to be both charmed and overwhelmed by sentimentality.
Beauty and the Beast was originally released in 1991 as a cartoon Disney film with catchy and memorable songs, later becoming the first Disney film to be developed into a Broadway musical with songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The Broadway musical added new songs into the mix and was generally well received. The new film, directed by Bill Condon, is a fresh take on the classic story, and features a cast with impressive star power: Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Kevin Kline as Maurice, Josh Gad as Lefou, and many more.
There are a number of noticeable differences between this film and the original, all of which work well for the movie, and make the film more fleshed out and the characters more developed. For one, the backstories of the Beast and the servants, as well as that of Belle and Maurice are added, giving clarity to some previously unanswered questions. The opening scene, for example, is different, placing the film in a more obviously historically accurate setting—Bourbon era France, complete with ornate decor, fancy costumes and powdered wigs.
The characters in the film, while familiar, are portrayed in new and imaginative ways. Watson plays the character of Belle, a kind, bookish young woman who is independent and has a mind of her own, despite the complaints of the villagers of her town, Villeneuve, who deem her odd. Watson’s take on Belle is new and innovative, depicting Belle as the inventor rather than her father, Maurice, with Belle creating new inventions as well as teaching children in the village to read, despite the small-minded townspeople scolding her for it. The relationship between Belle and her father is expertly and tenderly portrayed by Watson and Kline, and the new backstory added greatly to the relationship.
Dan Stevens gives a stellar performance as the Beast. His portrayal as the misunderstood prince is both heartbreaking and, at times, hilarious as he is shown falling in love with Belle and gaining a new understanding of the world through books. In this version of the story, the Beast is as big a book lover as Belle is, allowing them to grow closer over their mutual love for reading, whereas in the original film, the Beast is taught to read again by Belle after forgetting how.
The other cast members give extremely notable performances as well. Ian McKellen and Ewan Mcgregor as Cogsworth and Lumiere respectively, are hilarious and charming, as is newcomer Nathan Mack as the plucky and adorable Chip, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, the lovable and motherly housekeeper. All the household-staff-turned-furniture are portrayed in impressively elaborate CGI. The scene in which the entire castle staff serenades Belle while singing the catchy tune, “Be Our Guest” is especially impressive knowing that most of it was done using CGI technology.
Two of the most hilarious and creepy performances in the film come from Luke Evans as the villainous and egotistical Gaston and Josh Gad as his loyal sidekick, Lefou. Evans portrays Gaston perfectly, capturing his vain, dim-witted and anger-prone personality with expert clarity. Gad as Lefou is hilariously clingy and over-the-top animated, bumbling along after Gaston and (literally) singing his praises with a reverence that borders on obsession. In this particular version of the movie, Lefou is portrayed as slightly smarter than in the original cartoon, later redeeming himself and switching sides, while Gaston remains the same.
The songs in the film for the most part remain unchanged, with the exception of a few new tunes made especially for this film that surprisingly do not come off as arduous and only add to the appeal of the movie. While Watson is not universally known as a singer, she does her songs justice with her sweet but quiet voice and her evocative facial expressions that express her dismay, delight, fear and love vividly. Steven’s singing voice as the Beast is a pleasant surprise. His new song, “Evermore” is touching, and expertly shows the Beast’s feelings of love for Belle. Evans and Gad’s rousing number, “Gaston” is very well done—Gad and Evans hold their own, and there are lots of back up vocals from the villagers in the pub and an elaborate dance sequence that made the song very entertaining to watch.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is, unsurprisingly, the dance between Belle and the Beast, which features Thompson’s sweet rendition of the song “Beauty and the Beast.” From the beautiful costume design to the elaborate ballroom setting, the whole scene is eloquently done. Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a triumphant and fresh remake of a the classic fairy tale, mixing magic and nostalgia to make a film that is dynamic, imaginative, and thoroughly unforgettable.