Enchanting. Dazzling. Spellbinding. A real beauty. These phrases have all been used to describe the number one movie in the world, “Beauty and the Beast.” The tale as old as time has come to screens yet again, 26 years after the animated inspiration was born and completely reimagined with a brand new live-action cast. Clocks and candelabras, teapots and wardrobes, visually remastered and voiced with splendor.
Our bookish heroine is played by the incredible Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films and Sam in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But some may say that this could be her most exemplifying role yet. Watson brings so much more strength and ingenuity to our beloved bookworm, giving Belle more depth than ever before. It was Watson herself who suggested refashioning the character into something more, a role model for a whole new generation of girls. “We tried to make Belle more proactive and a bit more in charge of her own destiny,” says Watson. This was achieved to the highest mark, Belle is still the character we all know, but she’s stronger, practical, and very inventive. Director Bill Condon says in an interview with Disney magazine, “I think we all know Belle is such an iconic character because she really broke the mold of Disney Princesses. She wasn’t someone who only cares about becoming a princess or getting married. She’s the one person who see’s the Beast - and it’s an awful sight - but she goes toe to toe with him.”
Dan Stevens, best known for his role as Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” plays the iconic role of the Beast. During the film, Stevens gives Beast an aura of beautiful melancholy and hidden pain that you immediately notice and appreciate. But he isn’t always this way, as we all know. Before Beast was transformed, before falling in love with Belle, he is spoiled and in this cinematic version, quite pompous. Steven’s performance as such is amazing, his anger and arrogance rivals that of the original Beast. It is once the Beast begins to open up, after Belle stands up to him and they become friends, where Stevens truly shines. He shows us that newfound gentleness and regains Beast some of his humanity, as was seen in the original Disney classic. Like Watson did for Belle, Stevens brings so much more dimension and depth to the Beast, while sticking with the attributes that Belle and us all fell in love with. As Steven’s says, “One of the interesting things for us was to make the Beast a human trapped inside this creature.”
We mustn’t forget our favorite talking furniture. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts and Chip (Emma Thompson and Nathan Mack), Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and newcomer Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). All of them did a superb job bringing these characters to life, renewing their respected personalities and breathing new heart into some. But I’d like to shine the light on Emma Thompson and Audra McDonald for a moment, and their performance as Mrs. Potts and Garderobe. For Thompson, living up to the legacy of playing such an iconic role, and an Angela Lansbury role no doubt, must have been nerve-racking. But it doesn’t show. Especially during the classic ballroom song, “Beauty and the Beast.” Thompson never falters and her voice mirrors that of the original teapot’s. I think Lansbury should be proud. With McDonald, everything about her portrayal is grandiose, from her ample ball gowns to her enchanted wardrobe form, to her character’s love for her husband Cadenza, to her passion for opera singing. “Let’s put it this way: this is not a subtle character,” McDonald says.
Homage must also be paid to the dynamic duo themselves, Gaston and LeFou. The narcissistic villain is portrayed by Luke Evans, best known for his role as Bard in the last two Hobbit movies. LeFou, the devoted sidekick, is played by Josh Gad, best recognized as the voice of Olaf in “Frozen.” Evans is great as Gaston and he looks the part, even though he may not be as perpetually brawny as the animated version. His voice is fantastic in the musical numbers that he participates, especially in the antagonist’s signature song “Gaston.” He’s everything you could expect of the villain: self-obsessed, vicious and cruel at times, and dead-set on marrying Belle because of her looks. But in addition to those familiar qualities, there is more than just a black and white, 2D Gaston. In the beginning we see a fairly harmless yet arrogant man, but as the film goes on we see a dangerous, utter transformation. Now he is out for blood, the blood of the Beast. It is this transformation that gives Gaston his depth, makes him into more of a person, a person who was scorned and is looking for revenge. And it’s as Evans points out, “I’d say there’s a little more humanity to the character now. He’s not as brash as you remember in the film. But, you know, he’s Gaston!”
Gad is a wonderful LeFou, he has the charisma and the vibe of the character, which is insanely important. Now there has been mixed opinions over the reveal that LeFou is gay, but in my opinion it does nothing to spoil or ruin the movie. As a matter of fact, I think that it is a good thing of Disney to push back boundaries with this film. One of those boundaries when it comes to LeFou is the fact of giving him a conscious. He is devoted to Gaston, but he also finds himself questioning whether or not the guy is worth it, whether he is doing the right thing. This is quite refreshing, a new take for an iconic, timeless character.
Last, but certainly not least, I have to talk about these songs. “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” “Something There,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Mob Song,” are all of the original award-winning numbers, brilliantly sung and revoiced. But it is the newcomers that I want to illuminate. First up is the song “Days in the Sun.” This is where the castle’s inhabitants reminisce about their “days in the sun,” when they were all human. I love how this song highlights everyone’s voices, and everyone’s desire to be human and alive again. Next is “How Does a Moment Last Forever.” This is Belle looking back on her Paris childhood. There’s a lot of emotion and love behind this one, not to mention Watson’s singing voice is absolutely stunning. Finally, we have “Evermore,” a solo sung by Stevens as the Beast. “Evermore” is definitely my favorite song of them all, with its beautiful timbre and chorus. It takes place after the Beast lets Belle go, and when he realizes that he loves her. I adore how haunting it is, how there is that beautiful and sad sense of longing that the Beast sings of. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if any of these (especially “Evermore”) win an Oscar for best original song.
Overall, Disney deserves a standing ovation. They’ve taken something that everyone knows and loves, and transformed it into magic that will endure for future decades to come. Bravo to the cast, to the costumes, to the songs, to the sets. I give “Beauty and the Beast” an 11/10.