I’m getting ahead of myself.
I recently went to see Disney’s latest adaptation of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens and directed by Bill Condon. And as the centerpiece of Beauty and the Beast Month, I present my reaction/review of it. Beware, for there may be SPOILERS ahead.
Before I go any further let’s acknowledge something about this movie: it does not reinvent the story of Beauty and the Beast. This movie follows the same basic plot as the 1991 animated movie. If you’re looking for a “twist” on the story, this isn’t that movie and it’s not trying to be.
When it comes to adaptations of well-known stories like this, the more important thing is the details and how they’re handled. And if you want my opinion, this film handles those details very well.
This version of Beauty and the Beast even makes a point of fixing some of the holes in the original film like why the Prince’s servants are cursed too, how old the Prince was when he was cursed and how people managed to just forget about a member of the royalty after he was cursed. And all these things are woven into the story in a way that doesn’t halt the story or take anything away from it. In addition, we learn more about our main characters. The reason for the Beast’s heartlessness when he was human comes forward. We learn more about what happened to Belle’s mother. Overall, the entire movie just offers a deeper look at what the animated movie set forth.
Heck, even some of the most unexpected side characters get some depth. Take LeFou, for instance.
Yes, LeFou. The guy who’s had this whole controversy surrounding him because the movie depicts him as gay (for the record, I don’t care). In the animated film, LeFou was a tiny comical toady who followed Gaston around and did his bidding. He was the human equivalent of an animal sidekick in a movie where most of the sidekicks are housewares. His crowning accomplishment in the animated film is that he sang the song “Gaston”. In the live action film, he starts as Gaston’s sidekick but is quickly shown to be a man with a conscience but a weak will. He even finds the nerve to change sides later on. LeFou is one of the characters that had the most growth in the move from animation to live action. And his sexuality ,or the tiny hint there is of it, really kind of pales in comparison to the fact that he actually feels like a character now.
Gaston himself shows his malicious side a lot sooner in the live action film. Whether you like that or not is likely going to come down to personal taste.
There are other things I like. For example, the Beast and Belle actually bond over Shakespeare in the live action film. And it’s not just “I love that book too”. They actually disagree about it. Score a point for intelligent conversation.
The production design is gorgeous. They really seemed to go all-in for the French Baroque opulence on the Beast’s castle. The designs for the enchanted objects are all entertaining and interesting. I especially like the birdlike design of the Plumette the feather duster. There’s even a nod to the Cocteau film with two lamps held up by arms outside the entrance to the castle. Though, I think that detail may have been in the animated film too.
The film has all the songs from the animated film except the reprise of “Gaston”. There are also three new songs. “How Does a Moment Last Forever” is the new end credits song and both Maurice and Belle get to sing a bit of it. “Days in the Sun” is a song primarily sung by the enchanted servants about their hope to be unenchanted. And “Evermore” is a torch song for the Beast. And these are all really new songs. I checked to see if they were ported over from the Broadway production and they weren’t. The new songs are all pretty good. One little issue about the music, though. You can tell that some of the actors aren’t really singers. They’re not terrible, but you can tell that they’re not really vocalists by profession. They still commit themselves admirably to the task. It didn’t bother me, but it might bother other people. It certainly didn’t stop me from buying the soundtrack.
There are other flaws. The reasoning for the Beast’s cruelty when he was human is introduced and moves by very quickly. That moment probably could have been given some more exploration and time to breathe. Also, while it was great to learn more about Belle’s mother and Belle’s desire to know more about her does connect to one very important scene, that importance is maybe a little too understated . Also, Ewan MacGregor’s French accent as Lumiere is pretty bad. But these are minor things, really. Even with these flaws, it’s hardly Disney’s worst Beauty and the Beast production.
Well, I guess that really is it and I . . . oh wait, I forgot about the rose scene.
Now, this is a part of the film that doesn’t necessarily make it a better movie, but makes it a slightly better fairy tale adaptation in my book (after all, I’m not a professional film critic so take my assessments with a grain of salt). But one of my biggest pet peeves about the 1991 animated film is that they dropped the part about Belle asking her father for a rose. In the fairy tale, when Belle’s father is going on a business trip he asks his children what he should bring them back. Belle’s sisters ask for jewels and finery but Belle asks for a rose. Belle’s father then gets lost and gets treated to some mysterious hospitality at the Beast’s castle. But on the way out he picks a rose for Belle. This angers the Beast who accuses him of stealing and that kicks off the main action of the story. Now, the animated film cut that part out. Probably because they also cut out Belle’s sisters and that negated the point of her asking for a humble gift. The rose was repurposed as a symbol of the Beast’s imprisonment and the story’s proverbial ticking clock. But it’s still an awful shame to cut that part. It’s one of the most iconic parts of the story. The live action film reintroduces the rose request, but how do they do it without Belle’s sisters being put back into the mix? They make it a symbolic connection to Belle’s long lost mother. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it works.
Overall, I think this is a highly entertaining film. It’s beautiful, adds depth to some established characters, has some entertaining songs and tugs on the heart strings. It’s maybe not going to please everyone (for example: if you still see the whole story as an ode to Stockholm Syndrome, this film is not going to change that. Sorry). But I think if you like Disney’s previous reimaginings of its classic properties then I think you’ll like this.