This film had many already-established fanbases- Disney fans, musical fans, diehard ones of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies (Emma frikkin’ Watson in a gorgeous blue apron, y’all) and those of ‘Downton Abbey’ (for the ever-beloved Dan Stevens #RIPMatthew). With a cast this star studded and animation this well-executed, there’s quite simply no way this film could not have been a hit! Disney’s first ever openly gay character, the smooth covering of plot holes and beautiful 3D graphics make it “woke” enough for a new generation but close enough to the classic for diehard fans to clap along. Emma Watson’s Belle- she’s a funny girl that Belle- is a delight to behold, from clouds of daffodil silk to pastel aprons, from soulful voice to angry rebuttal. Dan Stevens’ Beast, however, is a showstopper: hilariously awkward, with failed attempts at politeness to cringe worthy grins along the way, his believable arc as a snobby prince who learns to love is clumsily relatable.
It is, however, the side characters that make the entire film watchable from start to finish- where can one begin, honestly, considering the slew of them in the mix? Lumiére, candlestick with manners as exaggerated as his French accent, proper British butler Cogsworth and of course warm Mrs. Potts- singer of a Tale as Old as Time, mother of the darling teacup Chip- and even Gugu Mbatha Raw’s flowing portrayal of feather duster Plumette is commendable. Luke Evans plays a deliciously self-obsessed Gaston, but fawning LeFou is extremely well-engendered by a sardonic Josh Gad- whose miniature subplot is really a microcosm for the entire movie. He follows Gaston, believes in a provincial life (having forgotten there ever was a prince just like the rest of the townspeople) and even lies for his friend against Maurice; but eventually comes to the obvious conclusion that the castle and its mysterious inhabitants aren’t the bad guys- underscoring perfectly the conclusion that beauty lies within, and all that glitters (Gaston, brawny military commander) is not actually gold (he turns out to be an awful man with no regard for anyone else, blinded by prejudice).
Gaps in the plot that had been pointed out in the original over the decades were easily covered in this new version- the Prince’s subjects haven’t just forgotten his existence, the enchantress has placed a memory spell on them, the Prince isn’t an oddly cruel adolescent left to govern a giant castle alone, he’s all grown up and we see the backstory of him being “twisted” by his father while his mother is on her death bed. Even Belle’s missing mom gives us a key insight into her character- Maurice won’t tell Belle much about her, except that she had the same brave “outsider qualities” Belle does. When the Beast takes Belle back in time to her parents’ apartment in Paris, we realise that her mother died of the plague and Maurice had to abandon her and flee to the countryside to keep baby Belle from contagion. This heartbreaking past tells us a lot about why Maurice is so disoriented in this village and so devoted to his daughter, and her mother’s courage inspires Belle to help the Beast defeat the villainous Gaston. The music is of course a pleasure to listen to, and/or scream along to at a theatre: the opening number, Belle, has people rousing from their seats, the infamous ode to Gaston is droll as it is disturbing, and the lovely ballads that are sung across Belle’s time in the castle, from the servants’ lament ‘Days in the Sun’ to the backdrop of their love story’s blossoming, ‘Something There’. The Beast’s heart-stricken rendition of’ Evermore’, sung clinging to the spires of his crumbling castle, brings tears to the eyes; not to mention the wonderful theme song, ‘The Beauty and the Beast’. Sung as a duet by John Legend and Ariana Grande, as well as a movie version by Emma Thompson herself, it is not to be outdone by Celine Dion’s rendition of ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever’. Emma Watson claims credit for five songs across the film- a hidden talent from the actress forever embedded in pop culture as brilliant witch Hermione Granger.
The graphics leave nothing to be desired, from the greying castle to the “poor, provincial” village of Villeneuve that Belle calls home, the setting is utterly breathtaking. Rich and ornate costumes down to every detail, from the Beast’s subtle outfit change from rags to soft blue tailcoat as his character arc progresses, to Madame Garderobe’s visually overwhelming attempts to dress a “blank canvas” of a Belle, are chock-full of gorgeous colours and flying multitudes of fabric. The magical transformations- the enchantress in the opening sequence itself, the castle and its inhabitants turning to lifelessness, as well as their return to normal, are scenes that were beautifully handled.
Maybe a live-action remake could never replace an animated classic, and maybe the Beast shouldn’t have had horns- but all said and done, the movie tread wonderfully the narrow line between classic and modern, and walked almost perfectly the tightrope between trying too hard and simply too little.
- Devanshika Bajpai