Due to living a life of egotism and greed, a young prince and his castle of servants are cursed by an enchantress. His name is now Beast (Dan Stevens) and he’ll be a monster forever, unless he can learn to a love a young woman, and subsequently obtain her love before the last petal falls. Years later, an opportunity presents itself when young Belle (Emma Watson) offers to take her sick father’s place when he is taken prisoner by Beast. With the help of the castle’s staff, she learns to look past her captor’s exterior and see what lies within. However, back in the village, a vain huntsman named Gaston (Luke Evans) has his own plans for her, whether she likes it or not.
This is a remake in every definition of the word. Much of it is shot-for-shot but at the same time, Bill Condon’s movie stands strong on its own two feet. Belle is an old soul who wants to read and acquire knowledge. She’s made for bigger things and town’s ideology is quashing her spirit, a spirit that has an aptitude for imagining things. Vanity reincarnate is set on marrying Belle. “You are the wildest, most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen! Nobody deserves you…” Gaston says, lovingly admiring his own reflection. His outlook on Belle is Victorian to the core: women should cook, clean and have children. That’s it. In essence, in both depictions of the character, Gaston is Disney’s Male Gaze.
This remake is a fine movie. Did we need it? Probably not, but do we need pizza? No, but I don’t hear anyone complaining. This all-star cast will be remembered in the years come, especially, Emma Watson (Perks of Being A Wallflower) as Belle, and Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) giving a film-stealing performance as Gaston The Huntsman. Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) says “it’s a tale as old as time” and she’s absolutely right. One hundred years from now I believe children will still love this story as much as those who grew up with it. From its sets to acting performances to its polemic stance against hypermasculinity and female gender constructs, this film is truly something special.
Emma Watson is enchanting as Belle. Her singing voice is great, but simple. It’s not the sort of voice that stuns whole audiences. She’s no Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables). There’s a beauty to its simplicity. For better or worse, Emma Watson is Belle. And opposite Dan Stevens, she truly comes into her own. They really clicked. Dan Stevens gives a wonderful performance as Beast. Starting as this brooding creature, we see him changing into a charming fellow who is not adverse to a joke or two. A great example is when Belle says “have you read all of these?”, in relation to the library full of books. “No, some of them are in Greek” replies Beast. Dan Stevens is charming, with every much of the same wit he brought to Matthew Crawley.
From the beginning, with Emma Watson singing ‘Belle’, I was sucked in. In each of the songs, and hence the whole film, there’s so much grandeur, typical of Disney. Furthermore, I really liked the construction of the castle. Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) and Ian McKellan (Lord of the Rings) as Lumière and Cogsworth denotes pure banter. Cogsworth is a grumpy man… or clock, who just wants life to be an easy ride. No fuss, no problems, he’s the pinnacle of that mid-twentieth century, middle-class ideology. He’d rather leave Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) to the wolves than help him, yet it’s portrayed in a comical non-gruesome fashion, well… because it’s a Disney film.
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks) as Mrs Potts with that East London accent was marvellous and I liked her rendition of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ To think anyone could trump the Celine Dion version would be ludicrous. Nonetheless, it was excellently done. And it was great to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) in more roles. She’s great in Miss Sloane, Free State of Jones and Amma Asante’s masterpiece, Belle. I’d cast her in anything. She’s a silent subtle talent that has the ability to steal whole scenes, saying very little. She does this so well in Belle. Give me more Gugu Mbatha-Raw!
The 1991 classic came out a few years before I was born, but I grew up on it. This remake is giving today’s kids a chance to be part of something that I loved growing up. It’s retelling a story that a new generation of potential-fans can watch and love, as much as I do. The songs are well-constructed and each song fits the scene it was designed for. From ‘Belle’ to ‘Something There’, and ‘Beauty And The Beast’, sensationally sung by Emma Thompson (The Remains of the Day), a song I think is as lyrically intelligent as Lion King’s Circle of Life. Alan Menken’s score is truly magnificent, seemingly unchanged from the animated one. Well, if it ain’t broke…
In the end, I guess one could argue that Belle accepted her fate as a woman. She did get married but then I’d counter with it’s about the freedom to choose and she chose Beast/Prince Adam, and not the vain and ghastly Gaston. She chose kindness over handsomeness and big muscles, regardless of him being a prince. After Zootropolis, in this world of growing sociopolitical anxieties, Beauty and the Beast is a story as old as time. It speaks to the now, a time of building walls and hiding behind fences, because as long as man is man, we will never accept those who think and look different.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say she even cares for him!” says Gaston, to which Belle replies “He’s not a monster, Gaston! You are!” There’s a beast in everyone and it stirs when you give them power. In the latest line of Disney remakes, Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful addition. I can’t wait for Lion King and Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins. With excellent performances and a wonderful tracklist, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is now in cinemas worldwide.