Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast
As if 90s nostalgia wasn’t already going strong these days, it's been further kicked into overdrive with the release of the live-action adaptation of Disney's 1991 classic animated film "Beauty and the Beast." While this is far from the first time Disney has done a live-action version of their animated films, it is undoubtedly one of the biggest, most well-made ones they’ve done to date. Directed by Bill Condon, the new "Beauty and the Beast" film effortlessly blends together live-action with digital effects. It faithfully and delightfully retells the tale as old as time while adding stunning visuals, new elements, and small details that further round out the characters and their backstories.
The main storyline has remained unchanged from the original and follows Belle (Emma Watson) a bright and independent young woman who trades places with her father (Kevin Kline). He has been taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens), a cursed prince who can only return to human form once he learns to love and to have someone learn to love him in return. Belle and the Beast share an unlikely love story while learning to look beyond appearances.
Emma Watson, known for portraying Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" film series, is a phenomenal delight as the free-spirited Belle, giving the character courage and making her an inspirational figure. Dan Stevens is the perfect fit as the unrefined-but-loveable Beast. He comes to life on screen with the helping hand of CGI to craft his hulking, monstrous appearance complete with shaggy fur and twisted horns. Luke Evans is the main antagonist Gaston, a hard-headed hunter and war veteran determined to take Belle as his wife. Josh Gad is LeFou, Gaston’s goofy right-hand man. Rounding out the cast are the servants-now-turned-household-objects of the Beast’s castle. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are the debonair candelabra and the cantankerous clock. Emma Thompson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are the motherly teapot and the graceful feather duster. Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald are a married couple transformed into a high-strung harpsichord and an operatic wardrobe.
When trailers for the movie were released, people immediately noticed almost identical similarities in comparison to the original animated film. Some fans even created side-by-side comparison videos by combing through the animated version of the film and selecting clips that mirrored ones from the live-action trailer almost exactly.
The live-action film is very much a direct adaptation of the animated film, having several scenes with lines that are borrowed from it word-for-word. But there are also several improvements and differences that help round out the story. One of the key changes is to the backstory of Belle. In the original film she was inexplicably deemed by the townspeople as a “funny girl” for no apparent reason other than that she liked to read. In this version she is portrayed as being more of an intellectual than anyone else in her town. Her father Maurice, an inventor in the original film, is now an artist/music box maker, while Belle has taken over the role of inventor.
Moreover, smaller details that were added to character backstories in this version help fill in some of the gaps left out in the animated film. They truly do help add more to the story and the overall viewing experience. Among these, we find out the reason behind the Beast's selfishness, and also what happened to Belle’s mother.
As for that “gay moment” that director Bill Condon hyped up prior to the film’s release? It’s not very “gay” at all and is essentially unnoticeable—blink and you’ll miss it.
Condon had shared that LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, would have an “exclusively gay moment” in the movie that would make him Disney’s first openly gay character. His comments sparked both positive and negative reactions worldwide. The most negative reaction was from the government of Malaysia which threatened to ban the film. Disney refused to edit out the moment in question. Josh Gad, the actor who plays LeFou, stated that there was nothing in the film’s script that said his character was gay. When asked about the controversy again, Condon began to downplay his remarks. He said that they had been “overblown,” and overblown they most certainly were. The "moment" is at the very end of the film and can be unnoticed if you’re not specifically watching out for it.
All of the songs from the original film have been fantastically redone for this film with the addition of a few original songs, including a haunting solo song for the Beast. Watson, who is not a singer and took singing lessons specifically for this role, has been criticized for not having a good enough voice to be in a musical film. However, she more than holds her own against her co-stars with singing backgrounds such as Evans and shines brightly while doing so.
Offering all of these spectacular elements, "Beauty and the Beast" is a certified hit with audiences of all ages. It's now the movie with the biggest opening record for the month of March. It amassed almost $175 million during its opening weekend.