Rating: Very Severe
Running time: 2 hour 19 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Spoiler alert in effect.
I realised when I was watching this film that this was the first time since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that I’ve seen Emma Watson on the big screen. I’ve watched Perks of Being a Wallpaper and Colonia and a bunch of her other smaller roles, but not at the cinemas. I really missed that. So I’m not going to hide my bias for this film. The main (and perhaps sole) reason for being so excited to watch Beauty and the Beast is because of Emma Watson. I mean, I still have posters of Hermione on my bedroom wall and to be honest, she’s been one of the biggest role models for me while growing up. She’s a sophisticated, elegant, smart and kind person who just seems like that rare combination of beauty and brains and charm.
So back to the film. I remember first hearing that Emma would be playing Belle in a live action remake of Beauty and the Beast and thinking about how perfect she would be for the role. The teaser trailer only showed her face briefly at the end, but the first full trailer was just glorious. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the trailer prior to actually watching the film. I do remember the trailer broke some record for the most views in 24 hours, beating The Force Awakens. I think this stems from the huge fan base composed of both Harry Potter fans (like myself) and fans of the Disney classic.
So Beauty and the Beast is the fifth live-action remake from Disney in the past three years. There was Maleficent in 2014, which was a remake of Sleeping Beauty. The year after was Cinderella. Then in 2016, came the visually stunning remake of The Jungle Book. In the same year, Pete’s Dragon came out. Out of the five, I’ve watched all but Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon, and Beauty and the Beast is by far my favourite, followed by the The Jungle Book. While the CGI in The Jungle Book was very impressive and worth watching in the cinema, there is a charm and grandeur to Beauty and the Beast that surpassed anything else. I’m thoroughly enjoying this phase from Disney wherr they’re recreating all the classics. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Mulan and The Lion King. Hopefully the casting and storyline will be faithful to the original.
There’s been a lot of articles and things said about the actual storyline. I won’t go too much into this because to be honest, I haven’t watched the original 1991 film in a really, really long time. I don’t remember much detail from that film so I can’t go and make comparisons. From what I’ve been reading however, it seems that they’ve made a few small tweaks to the characters. For example, Belle is a lot more fierce and independent in this remake. She bluntly refuses to be Gaston’s wife, she tried to escape her room after the Beast imprisons her instead of crying in her bedroom, and she made a washing machine contraption that allows her to read books while doing the laundry. It’s an updated, more modern Belle. I think that it’s great for the character but everyone has their two cents about it. Still on the character of Belle, there have also been criticisms of the way Beasts imprisons Belle, and how Belle ends up falling in love with him. People have said this is a problematic relationship, in that the prisoner falls in love with her captor, and suggests Belle is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I think the way Emma addressed this concern was very eloquent and true. She simply stated that Belle is fully aware that she is a prisoner and actively fights and defies the Beast. She is independent and maintains her own opinion, and falls in the love with the Beast only after getting to know him better. I think this definitely comes through in the story, with Belle deeply disliking the Beast at the beginning and only softening when she sees the true nature of the Beast. I did think that the transition from disliking to falling in love with the Beast was quite fast, and if they had built this up more slowly, it would have heightened the chemistry and attraction between the characters. But I still loved the romantic side to the story. I still love how true love can prevail and the moment where the Beast turns back into a prince and the two embrace, as cliche as that is, is still my favourite. I’m a sucker for any romantic subplot. There were also some more backstories for the characters. For example, with Belle, we see that her mother died from the Black Plague while Belle was still a baby, which helps us understand the relationship between Belle and her father better. We also see the introduction of a gay character in Le Fou, as well as an interracial couple. Controversy always surrounds such things, but I don’t know why these things are always overblown. They’re great characters, regardless of sexual orientation or race.
In terms of the acting and singing, I have to say Emma Watson is probably not the strongest in either category. As hard as it is for me to admit, I think she’s still developing as an actress and you could hear the clear auto-tune when she sung her songs. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy her performance. I thought she still did a wonderful job of conveying the characteristics of Belle that was both original yet faithful, but I also think it’s not a perfect performance. It’s a little harder to comment on Dan Stevens (who played the Beast), since he is mostly the Beast in the film, but his facial expressions are definitely good. Again, his singing is probably not the best out of the cast. The chemistry between Dan and Emma, however, was superb. I definitely felt a connection between their characters, just from the way they looked at each other and felt relaxed in each other’s presence. The other characters I really loved from the film and who I thought had the best performances were Gaston (Luke Evans) and Le Fou (Josh Gad). Their partnership was hilarious and witty and a highlight of the film for me. Both have fantastic voices, something that surprised me with Luke Evans, since I’ve never heard him sing before. He has such a powerful roaring voice that really captures the essence of his arrogant character well. I knew Josh Gad could sing of course, since he was the voice of Olaf in Frozen, and he does theatre often. Their camaraderie and constant banter was such a delightful part of the story that they often stole the spotlight from Belle and the Beast. The supporting cast were all outstanding as well. I was surprised by how well all the household objects could sing. I loved Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth. Their relationship is hilarious! Very impressed by the calibre of the whole cast.
With the music, it kept some of the original songs, like the title track ‘Beauty and the Beast’, sung by Emma Thompson in the movie, and sung by Ariana Grande and John Legend on the official soundtrack. I’ve always found Ariana’s voice a little irritating and high-pitched, so I still prefer the original 1991 version with Celine Dion on it. They also kept ‘Belle’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ which are my favourites from the original film. There are some new songs as well, including ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever’. I’m perfectly fine with them adding new material so as long as its consistent with the tone and feel of the story. I thought all the songs were great and none of them felt out of place for me. The musical performances were all really good, with high energy, humour and theatricality. One of the most visually spectacular scene was during the ‘Be Our Guest’ performance, with all the household objects participating in an epic sing and dance-along. The scene I was actually most looking forward to was the ballroom dancing with Belle and the Beast, which turned out, at least for me, to be underwhelming. The song is one of my favourites from the film, but the dancing felt exceptionally short and plain. I’ve watched interviews where the Emma and Dan explain how long they took to rehearse for that sequence. While I understand neither are professional dancers and doing the waltz properly is not an easy task, I was expecting a sweeping, lavish scene which would transport me to their world. Instead, I felt the dancing was average and it was over before I knew it. I think I just came in with too high of an expectation, because the scene properly wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast for me was simply magical in every sense. Was it perfect? No. But not for a moment did I feel bored. I was truly enraptured the entire time. This might be slightly (okay, a lot) biased by the fact that I adore Emma Watson, but even beyond Belle, every aspect of the film shined. I loved the musical numbers, the hilarious awkward moments, and the cliche yet still heartwarming love story. It was a theatrical, artistic, energetic and comical remake of the Disney classic, and for all the high expectations set, it met most of them. And if you’re wondering if I made any Harry Potter references while watching the film, yes, yes I did.
1. Do you prefer the 1991 film or this live-action remake? Why?
2. Do you think they should have kept to the original story, or are you happy with the changes made to the story?
3. What did you think of the cast’s performances, in terms of acting and singing?
4. Did you find any aspect of the story controversial?
5. Are you looking forward to the future live-action remakes from Disney? Which ones?