Ever since Disney started their live action movie remakes, I was a skeptic. I grew up on the classic Disney cartoons and couldn’t fathom a remake being up to par with said classics. Enter Maleficient (2014) and I was captivated by the graphics. Cinderella (2015) had me starting to turn to the side of live action remakes. The Jungle Book (2016) made me a fan of the possibilities of these remakes to explore the characters we know and love more in depth.
Beauty and the Beast (2017) turned me into an avid fan of these remakes with their grace and ability to add new dimensions to the stories and make them new, yet familiar. This retelling of the classic story is sure to go down in Disney’s history as a new classic. Let me apologize in advance for the length of this, but this movie deserves the utmost praise.
I will always be an Ariel fan first, but Belle was holds the spot as my second favorite princess. Her independence and longing for more than this provincial life spoke to me, and Emma Watson has managed to bring new life to this beloved princess. She’s the same Belle we all know; a book lover, someone who wants love instead of an egotistical hunter, and a kind-hearted person, but Watson manages to take Belle and turn her into more. In an odd way, Belle seems more present in this film than in the original cartoon version. She’s more determined to break the curse that has the castle staff and the Beast imprisoned, she’s more determined to have the love her parents had– a heartbreaking background story that will have you in tears– and more adamant that Gaston is not the man she’s going to marry.
Oh, and Watson can sing! I was pleasantly surprised by this. The songs we love have been given new life and brought to life in a way that is enjoyable not only for children, but for adults who are kids at heart. Watson takes a princess that taught girls to strive for more and now gives girls a role model that teaches not to be afraid of anything, that hope endures, and that love truly is powerful.
The Beast comes to life thanks to Dan Stevens, and I don’t just mean that he looks real. Stevens manages to do the impossible and gives the Beast a myriad of emotions, whereas the Beast in the original version seemed to just always be angry. We see the anger and frustration, yes, but we also see a deeply rooted remorse at being the cause behind the servants having spent their years as household objects. Stevens also manages to bring a childlike innocence to the Beast; we’re reminded in his friendship with Belle that he was just a child when the curse was placed on the castle.
What’s so impressive about this performance, though, is how Stevens did it. Stevens is the actor, but the Beast is all special effects and CGI as a result of facial capture technology. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to convey these emotions on your own face when your face isn’t really the one the audience will see. This also speaks to the talent and hard work of the visual effects staff of this movie. The Beast feels real, as though you could reach out and touch him; everything down from the movement of his hair (fur?) to the shadow of his tail and claws is so impeccably done I still find myself in awe that it’s all computer generated.
Stevens manages to also tug at the heartstrings in his solo song, “Evermore”, which he performs when he released Belle back to her father. This is a truly heartbreaking song that explicitly expresses the love the Beast has come to feel for Belle and the grief that he’s left with at her loss.
The most visually impressive part of this movie, though, is without a doubt the servants. Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, still have those same personalities that we fell in love with, but the visual effects team has knocked it out of the park. Again. These characters look just like every day objects with a subtle touch of humanity. It’s enough to invoke laughter at their antics, sympathy at their pain, and joy when they return to human form; yet they all look so real, that again, you can imagine yourself holding them, walking by a pessimistic antique clock sitting on your dresser, or a maternal teapot in your kitchen.
For a movie where they spend most of their time as a voice, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McKellen remind us why they are legends, or should be. Mrs. Potts is like the aunt you’ve always wanted, caring, yet in fierce in battle and willing to do whatever it takes to protect those she loves. Lumiere and Cogsworth are the best friends who refuse to admit they’re best friends and instead spend their time bickering like an old married couple. It’s a comedic dynamic that does nothing short of make you fall more in love with these already adorable characters.
Let’s not forget about Gaston, the villain that we all love to hate and absolutely hate to love. Maybe it’s odd to find the cartoon version of Gaston rather handsome, but there is no shame in finding Luke Evan’s version of Gaston a dreamboat. Until he opens his mouth, that is! Evans gives Gaston’s ego another layer of proud. Everything from the tone of his voice at his declaration that Belle will marry him, to his facial expressions and stance scream that Gaston is better than the rest of us. The added time in this film, give Evans the opportunity to truly show us the villainous side of Gaston, though. Evans is brilliant in his portrayal of a man struggling to keep his perfect image up for the village people while his more monstrous side.
The main characters were fantastic, but to me the real standout star of this movie was Josh Gad as Lefou. Considered a minor character, Gad gives Lefou emotions and something we miss in the original Beauty and the Beast, a conscience. Lefou has always known what team to be on, but by the end of the film, we begin to see this character question the morality of Gaston’s side of things. Most of Gad’s performance of Lefou is delivered in the form of one liners; one liners which are guaranteed to leave the audience in laughter. Gad was a perfect choice for this role as he, like Lefou, is so effortlessly charming and funny.
The most iconic scene in this movie, deliver brilliantly by Gad, is a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moment. Disney has always been a company that welcomes and embraces people of all backgrounds and lifestyles and it’s refreshing to finally see this on film. It’s Disney’s first portrayal of a gay character and couldn’t have been more empowering and has hopefully opened the door to more characters like this.
A Tale as Old as Time has been re-told in a magically innovative and visually stunning way that will captive audiences with its gorgeous score, striking costumes and sets, and vividly expressive actors. This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is sure to go down as a Disney classic and will leave you with a sense of hope and joy that only Disney can deliver. So run, don’t walk, to your nearest theatre on Friday and snatch up your seat to this little French village and it’s monstrously lovable prince.