Magical. It’s the only way to describe the feeling of watching the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. The modern, live-action adaption was fun, and lively, and magical.
The film features Emma Watson as Belle, a young woman who doesn’t quite fit into the small French town where everything always remains the same. It plays very closely to the original film, but reimagines the world a little and plays with the realness of it. Instead of giving the backstory before the film starts, for example, it starts out with a showy dance number at the Prince’s ball – the fateful one where he is cursed to become a beast.
The animation of the film was stellar, as was the music. Several new musical numbers were incorporated into the telling of the film, which added depth to the story and characters. The story was also more self-aware than its 1991 counterpart; it has fun (LaFou’s character is a great example of this), and small adjustments were made to fix plot holes. One example of this is when Belle transports the injured and much-larger-than-her Beast back to the castle after their encounter with the wolves – “You have to help me,” she tells him. “You have to stand.” There were still a few plot holes (as with most fairy tales), but they did well with this recreation.
The entire film was very well-cast. Emma Watson is a fantastic Belle; Dan Stevens did a great job as the Beast; the entire ensemble cast of townspeople and castle staff were all wonderful. BUT. Josh Gad as LeFou, and especially Luke Evans as Gaston, were absolutely perfect. When they first appeared on screen and Evans began to sing, it was just him. He was Gaston.
Beauty and the Beast tosses out a number of stereotypical storytelling techniques that many fairy tales rely on. First, Belle doesn’t wind up being “saved” by the Beast/Prince. She does fall in love, but I would argue that she saves him. Then there’s the whole handsome-guy-as-villain. As my brother said, in any other Disney movie, Gaston would be the hero. He’s handsome, skilled, and charming, if a little full of himself. But in this film, more so than the original cartoon version, he is not just a non-hero, he’s certainly the villain. He goes far beyond vain and disrespectful of Belle; he also attempts to murder her father and get him tossed into mental institution. It was also good to see a wider variety of ethnicities and an expansion of gender roles in this film (women also attacked the castle, for example) than in the first one. I know there’s still a long way to go in these areas, but progress!
Before watching the movie, I read an article that argued for the use of voice doubles – trained singers to take the place of actors in musicals, which seem to be growing in popularity again. Although I had it on my mind, I tried not to be biased while watching. But – even though I love Emma Watson – I do think the film could have used some dubbing from a singer with a bit more range and experience. Perhaps it’s not something anyone would notice if they weren’t looking ahead of time – someone who saw the movie can let me know, maybe? – but maybe it’s something to be considered in future films. I feel like I’m nitpicking because it wasn’t a huge deal, but I have to be fair.
So yes, I’d say watch this movie. Watch it with your kids, watch it with your friends, watch it by yourself. One article I read said fans of the original movie are most likely to be critical of a remake, but I didn’t find this to be the case. I simply enjoyed the chance to experience the magic all over again.