I love Beauty & the Beast. It’s my favorite Disney movie of all time, which is difficult to say, because I adore a lot of Disney movies. But there is something about Beauty and the Beast, the story, the characters, the plot development, the musical numbers, that is too perfect to ignore. It’s no mistake that it was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s perfection.
And that’s why my Mom took my sister to see it five times in the theater, singing every song that they learned from the soundtrack. It’s why there’s a home video of me singing, “Tale as old as time,” as a toddler. That’s why I walked into my wedding to an orchestrated rendition of that incomparable song. It’s why I have a throw of the stained-glass window, and all my computer desktops are scenes from the movie.
So, when they announced the live action version, and who the cast would be, I was spellbound. I watched the teaser trailer repeatedly, followed by watching the final trailer daily for several weeks. And last night was finally the night.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE
The Sets, Costumes, and Music
They just knocked it completely out of the park. It’s grand, overwhelming, and I want to wear every outfit that Belle wears throughout the film (her ear cuff and necklace in the ballroom? GAH! And that little finger ring? That choker? Loved it all). Somehow they couldn’t quite make the Beast less frilly, even though they did so for Gaston, but I can look past that.
Oh, and that music. I was slightly terrified after the Les Miserables incident of 2012, where some of the most beautiful songs of all time were butchered by half-singing, too much vibrato, and Russell Crowe (sorry Russell). But this cast was just… sheesh it was gorgeous.
Emma Watson just didn’t disappoint. Her voice was so clear, so transparent, so gorgeously airy. Dan Stevens’ sound was as desperate as his character, and as uncertain (but in the most profound way imaginable). As for Luke Evans, well he made Gaston completely his own without losing the dreadful things about him. Josh Gad killed it, but we all kinda expected that from Olaf, I think. Oh, and dear Emma Thompson. What a rendition of Beauty and the Beast! Audra McDonald was also a delightful inclusion.
The new songs weren’t bad either. But none of them can surpass what Alan Menken did with Evermore. That song was on repeat for days before I saw the movie (and it’s playing right now actually). I just… I couldn’t. And when you watch Beast sing it with this small little yellow blip of Belle charging away from the castle to save her father, your heart just can’t handle it. It can’t.
Emma Watson’s Belle
Overall, Watson’s Belle was superb. The feistiness that she brought, as well as the femininity, was what every Belle fan could ever want from that performance. She was a participant in her own story, making decisions for herself based on her own values, not on circumstance. When she charges up the stairs to see the West Wing for herself, when she questions how she can help break the curse, when she snaps Gaston’s arrows and then chases him around the rooftops to stop him from harming the Beast, were fantastic moments.
But my favorite scene is when she and Maurice are locked in the asylum carriage. She tells her father that she must go rescue the Beast, and he tells her that it will be dangerous.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes it will.”
But even beyond that, they never lose Belle’s romanticism. Her favorite play is Romeo and Juliet (LIKE ME), she still sings about a book that involves meeting Prince Charming, and she’s delighted to catch Beast reading a romance. Belle is not only a girl of her mind, but a girl that is open to sharing her heart.
All of this is everything I ever adored about Belle, and Watson made it shine brightly.
Kevin Kline’s Maurice
Kevin Kline is a delight in general. I still can’t get through one of his movies without hearing Captain Phoebus or Tulio, but still. He’s funny, goofy, sincere, and a magnificent addition to this live-action film. I love that they made Maurice an artist, who teaches his daughter to read, to dance, and to be everything she wants to be. He creates this safe world for her, but not safe in a restrictive way. It’s a safe place for her to be who she is and wants to be, even though the world won’t permit her. His lingering love for the wife he lost just radiates to his lovely daughter, whom he defends, protects, and creates this perfect childhood for. Sincerity is truly the right word for it. Don’t miss a moment of his performance.
Again, I don’t think there was any question that Josh Gad was going to play the perfect LeFou. But what I did not expect was him developing a conscience throughout the course of the film. His discomfort with Gaston’s decision to leave Maurice for dead, and his visible distress in lying about Maurice’s story added such a layer of complexity to all of it. You can’t help but feel jarred by his lines in the Mob Song or the feeling of relief when he chooses sides with the castle. It’s like watching a friend in an abusive relationship get out. And he’s not forgotten at the end of the film at Belle and Beast’s wedding.
As for the infamous gay moment, you can find whatever you’re looking for. I saw it as more of a goofy, misplaced adoration, used as the butt of a joke more than explicitly pushing any agenda. It’s nothing more than what Disney has done in the past, in my opinion. But I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
Dan Steven’s Beast
I saved the absolute best for last. I have adored Dan Stevens since he played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey (didn’t we all?), so I was so excited to see what he would do with Beast. And he was perfect. He nailed it. I’m not even sure how to describe it any more than that. His voice even sounded like Robbie Benson’s in some scenes (something I was not disappointed with at ALL), but he still made the character authentically his own.
He’s brutish, and then endearingly awkward and uncertain. He’s so overwhelmingly educated but so incredibly ignorant. He wants to feign manliness, but he’s terribly vulnerable and sweet. He’s a complex mess, and it makes so much sense why Belle could fall in love him. I was absolutely in love him by the end.
And gosh, Steven’s eyes just completely captured the character perfectly. The CGI team did wonders in making sure that his face still shone through the animation, but those eyes are what stole the show.
Pere Robert, the relationship between the household staff, Lumiere and LeFou’s comic relief, Philippe coming to the rescue on multiple occasions, Philippe befriending the Beast, Belle and Beast’s back stories, the gorgeous music boxes, the addition of Beast’s enchanted book, Nathan Mack’s Chip, and Cogsworth’s awful wife. Oh, and the music they play whenever Belle is in her room is called “Home” and it’s an ode to the Broadway musical. That tickled me to death.
Cogsworth was bland, which was a travesty because Ian McLellan is astounding. I wanted more from Emma Watson in certain scenes. I wanted more out of Beast’s backstory, and more focus on Belle as an inventor. No one questioned Belle being in this beautiful ball gown when she comes to free her father. The historical French accents weren’t my favorite (again Beast’s frilly outfits were very eh, as was the harpsichord sound in some of the songs), and I wanted them to replicate the library scene from the original.
The pacing was just a little quick for me in some sequences too. The beginning seemed to speed by so quickly (except for that exceptional Belle ensemble. Gosh, I loved it) as did the development of Belle and Beast’s relationship. Belle doesn’t even question the castle when she reaches it, despite the fact that it’s a CASTLE. I’m not sure how the original was able to pace it so well, but the live-action take just couldn’t quite compare.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is it couldn’t touch the original. The global impact that the animated Beauty & the Beast had on the world just can’t be replicated – no matter how gorgeous the sets are or how perfect the cast is. How can you repeat the same reaction you had the first time you ever saw Be Our Guest? Or the first time you saw Belle walk down the staircase in that yellow ball gown? What about the sweeping ballroom scene? Or that spellbinding transformation of the Beast? You can’t.
But that isn’t to say it wasn’t a great movie. I see it like this: treat this movie as if it were the creation of some die-hard fans (who happen to work for Disney and have a multi-million dollar budget) who made a tribute to the animated classic. You know it’s not the original, you’re okay that it’s not the original, but you darn well love the fan-made rendition too.