Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is considered a tale as old as time — at least, since 1991. Having earned several Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards and nominations, this legendary Disney film went on to Broadway, where it was wildly successful. Now, over two decades later, this famous story is back in cinemas in live-action, and once again, breaks box office records and blows its audience away. Beauty and the Beast is not simply a rendition of the old animated feature; it reimagines the legendary story, modernizing for a new society.
The story of Beauty and the Beast is nothing new; it’s the hackneyed, but still important, idea that true beauty is found within. This 2017 remake does nothing to change this; the familiar story of a selfish prince that is transformed into a beast until someone can love him is still the backbone of the larger story.
However, there were many small features of the film that really enhanced it. For instance, songwriter Alan Menken, who wrote the original songs for the 1991 film with the late Howard Ashman, partnered with Tim Rice to add songs to the movie. These were all original songs, none of which appearing even in the broadway show. While audience members could still sing along to “Be Our Guest,” there were new songs that added to the plot. The song “Evermore” sang by the Beast (Dan Stevens) adds more depth to the character of the Beast, highlighting the changes he goes through throughout the movie. “Days in the Sun” shows the despair and longing for castle’s subjects to be human again. The songs fit impeccably with the familiar tunes of “Belle” and “Gaston,” acting as if they were not new additions.
One of the major flaws of the original film was the contentious issue of Stockholm Syndrome. Many critics found it offensive that Belle, who was originally captured by the Beast, ultimately falls in love with him. While the issue still persists in the 2017 film, it is definitely developed much further. Emma Watson adds a greater sense of independence and assertiveness to the already bold character of Belle. Watson’s passion for feminism and equality shines, as Belle is more than just simply a helpless damsel. She doesn’t just accept her fate in Beast’s Castle; she tries several escape plans before ultimately deciding to stay, empathizing with the servants’ struggle. Moreover, Belle appears to be the mastermind behind much of her father’s inventions. Despite the Stockholm Syndrome issues, the original Belle was already considered much more progressive than many of her princess counterparts, and Watson’s Belle adds so much more.
In terms of modernization, Beauty and the Beast features a Disney movie’s first openly gay character. Despite being something that was deemed controversial prior to the movie’s opening, it is not nearly as prominent as it could have — or should have — been. However, unlike loose speculation that exists online about Elsa’s sexuality in Frozen, it was very clear, without directly saying it, that LeFou (Josh Gad) was gay. While more prominence would have been welcomed, the mere lines about finding Gaston (Luke Evans) attractive and finding the right man were still steps in the right direction.
The actors were stunning. Aside from adding a stronger feminist message, Watson made a lot of Belle’s actions make a lot more sense. In the 1991 animated movie, the romance between Belle and the Beast feels forced and rushed. But with the addition of a few more songs and strong acting, it is clear that it takes Belle a long time to come to terms with her feelings — and even longer to develop them. She doesn’t just forget that she was kidnapped; she learns who the Beast is deep inside and learns to love him, which is more realistically portrayed. Evans also did a great job showing off Gaston’s selfishness and cruelty. The vanity he brought to the character really could make the audience detest him — just as intended. The rest of the acting was strong as well, but most of them really strengthened just how talented Emma Watson was.
The cinematography was absolutely breathtaking. When Watson sings the reprise of “Belle,” she is looking over the landscape of her village, which really matches the mood of the scene. Belle wants so much more than just her provincial life, and the grandness of the scene really emphasizes this. It is so beautifully designed, ringing a sense of poignant nostalgia to avid Disney fans. Beast’s Castle, too, is beautifully captured. In the original 1991 film, it wasn’t as extravagant. From the Gatsby-like party in the opening to the Beast vs. Gaston fight scene outside the castle, viewers can see the castle in all its glory.
The “Be Our Guest” scene — which is the grandest musical number — was immaculate. Watching the various kitchen appliances and castle objects dancing around to treat Belle to an extravagant dinner felt like the Broadway production. It really set the stage for the extravagance of the castle, demonstrating to Belle that there is much more that meets the eye. The other famous scene in the original film, the famous dance that accompanies the titular song, “Beauty and the Beast,” was well-done as well, but did not feel particularly as magical as the other songs. It seemed inevitable that it would happen; there was no excitement surrounding the first dance. That being said, it was still presented well and the ballroom did look magnificent.
Beauty and the Beast was an important milestone for Disney. Adding to the recent trend of progressiveness of Disney movies as particularly emphasized in Frozen, Zootopia and Moana, it helps define the new strength of female characters and modernization that have grown significantly from older films like Snow White and Dumbo. Any fan of the Beauty and the Beast should be more than satisfied with this movie. It did more than simply present the same story in live-action; it enhanced the story and, perhaps, improved it immensely. Beauty and the Beast represents a strong start to 2017 movies, and it will hopefully be remembered fondly alongside the original adaptation.
Tracy Goldman is a freshman in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]