Beauty And The Beast Film ReviewPosted by Ashy Venkatrajulu
March 3, 2017
I loved the original animated Beauty and the Beast when it came out as much as any delighted child of Disney’s Renaissance era did. But that didn’t stop Belle from eventually drifting to the dusty corners of my mind, superseded once more by Ariel. Much loved but easily forgotten, Belle seemed too normal to be revered, too mundane to truly dream of being. She possessed a self-assured understanding of herself that was lost on me as a child. That she had insecurities that weren’t resolved by finding a Prince Charming, that she had found a kindred soul who understood her but was never the victim was positively strange. Her strength of character was rarely seen in Disney princesses up until then.
The original, released in 1991, is still remembered as one of the greatest animations of all time. In fact, IGN gave it that precise title in 2010, putting it ahead of favorites like The Incredibles and Toy Story 2. Its message is a surprisingly powerful one; its music still drifts into our consciousness every now and then; its animation is as enchanting and unforgettable as Belle’s yolk yellow gown. It’s a timeless classic that became the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Yes that’s right. It wasn’t Toy Story.
So why remake it as a live-action film? In order to create a visual masterpiece with all the adornments of modern day CGI and visual effects technology? Because Disney has suddenly invested in live-action remakes of all its beloved animations (Cinderella, Maleficent, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland)? The question is not a good one because none of its answers are satisfactory. In the end, why a film is remade only has a marginal impact on the result. Directed by Bill Condon (God and Monsters, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2) and starring Emma Watson (Harry Potter franchise) as Belle and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion) as the Beast, the result is breathtaking.
It is in a small provincial town in France, charmingly named Villeneuve after the French novelist who wrote the fairy tale, that we first encounter Belle and her oddities in a scene identical to the animated version. Yet calling her idiosyncrasies strange makes less sense now than it did all those years ago. With at last a renewed commitment to putting genuinely representative female characters on screen, Belle is suddenly intensely relevant. Female characters who aren’t romance oriented (Elsa from Frozen, Merida from Brave) have found widespread popularity with critics and audiences alike and it makes sense that Disney’s arguably first feminist heroine is making a comeback.
Writers Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) tried to do Belle justice. Whether it was because of the older-than-middle-aged men who wrote her or the portrayal, Watson—a near perfect casting—doesn’t quite capture animated Belle’s charm and humor. Watson emphasizes her strong-mindedness over her dreamy imaginativeness, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the missteps in the writing, Watson ensures Belle’s self-possession, independence and determination to find someone equal to her worth, resonates deeply. It is Stevens’ performance as the Beast, however, that is a
remarkable surprise. Instead of being burdened by an experimental technique of merging both motion capture CGI for facial expressions and puppeteering for body movements, he is bewitching and unreasonably expressive. From his first appearance in the film to his last, he is engaging and steals every single scene. There should be an entirely separate film about the Beast with Dan Stevens in every frame.
Coupled with revealing backstories that audiences of the original didn’t have and small reprises that delve deeper into the Beast and Belle’s characters, both Stevens and Watson infuse their roles with honesty and sincerity. The diverse and terrific cast, marked by wonderful performances by Josh Gad (Frozen) as Le Fou and Luke Evans (The Hobbit) as Gaston, and fantastic voice acting by Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, every recognizable face melts into the magical fantasy of the adventure and romance. Racing ahead with a feverish ambition to be more inclusive, Disney also features Le Fou as its first openly gay character. I’d say he’s more like Disney’s first heavily implied gay character. Still, baby steps.
Although it’s almost an exact remake of the original film, with musical additions from the Broadway production, Condon recaptures the magic of a mostly unchanged plot with stunning visual effects and gorgeous set and costume designs. Underlying its tremendous visuality, however, is the concept that knowledge can breed understanding, which in turn tempers ignorance. This age old battle between knowledge and ignorance are explored in ways easily accessible to children without alienating older audiences and, indeed, it reaches out to them. The ease with which Gaston incites the townsfolk to kill the Beast, using a rhetoric of hatred and fueled by a lack of understanding, is uneasily familiar. By making a classic tale relevant to present anxieties, Condon proves that his version of Beauty and the Beast is necessary as well as entertaining.