Since its inception, Walt Disney Pictures has been synonymous with magic, and Bill Condon’s live action rendering of the 1991 animated feature “Beauty and the Beast” will make you remember why. With infectious songs, lavish sets and ornate costumes, the audience is put under a spell, transported to a time in their lives when they believed in fairy tales.
The film begins with Alan Menken’s iconic score behind a woman’s voice, telling the tragic tale of the beast’s transformation from a spoiled prince to a hideous monster. He is cursed by an enchantress to live as a beast forever, unless he finds love before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose.
Years later, our story picks up in Villeneuve, France, where a young woman dreams of adventure outside her little village, but feels responsible to care for her beloved father. Belle, our heroine, is brought to life by the enchanting Emma Watson. She nails every aspect of Belle’s character: selfless, intelligent and independent. Considered an “odd” and “funny” girl by her town’s people, Belle is an outcast. Nevertheless, she is kind to everyone she meets. While resented by most for her love of reading and her unusual outlook on the world, one citizen in particular takes a liking to her. Unfortunately, the man who is so taken with her beauty is the pompous hunter Gaston (Luke Evans). Gaston is a belligerent, ignorant, entitled creep, and Belle has no time for his advances. She repeatedly refuses his proposal of marriage, as she has far too much self respect to even consider marrying a man like him, and besides, she has more on her mind than domestic life.
When Belle’s doting father sets out for a long trip, he asks Belle if she would like him to bring her anything from market but all she asks of him is a single rose. Her father (Kevin Kline) seeks shelter from a storm in a mysterious castle, unaware of whose home he has just invaded. He is shocked to find that the castle is inhabited by a cruel beast who imprisons him for taking a single rose from his garden. After her father’s horse runs home in a panic, Belle rides off to rescue her father. Without a second thought, she takes his place as prisoner of the castle.
The beast (Dan Stevens) is cold-hearted and unkind to Belle at first, but she is made more comfortable by the castle’s staff who were also cursed to become household objects unless the beast can break the spell. The staff includes a suave French candelabra named Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a clock named Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a teapot called Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and her young son, a teacup called Chip (Nathan Mack). The animated objects have delightful chemistry, and their well-written dialogue flows naturally. They encourage Belle and the beast to interact, in hopes that they may fall in love and restore the castle and its inhabitants to their original states.
One of the best things about “Beauty and the Beast” in the original animated film was its memorable soundtrack with such tunes as “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The recently released “Beauty and the Beast” soundtrack includes the same timeless songs but adds three new ones. In the original, the beast didn’t have a solo, however, the best new addition to the soundtrack is a haunting and heartbreaking song called “Evermore,” performed by Stevens. Watson’s vocals were sweet and melodious, perfectly capturing Belle’s warm spirit. The two standout vocalists, though, were undoubtedly Luke Evans and Josh Gad. The actors played Gaston and LeFou respectively, and they lit up the screen in every scene they shared. As much as I love the original music, a case could certainly be made for the music of the remake being superior.
In a decidedly feminist subplot which deviates from the source material, we see Belle as the inventor, rather than her father. She invents a washing machine which gives her more time to read and teach other young working girls to read. When a man sees her teaching a young girl to read, the villagers destroy her invention. This scene adds depth to Belle’s character, giving the audience an idea of her values and the degree to which Belle was alienated by the village.
Since the original “Beauty and the Beast” is a treasured classic, the live action remake had an incredible legacy to live up to. Thanks to flawless casting, great attention to detail, and a bit of Disney magic, “Beauty and the Beast” not only lived up to the original, but created its own legacy in the process.