Expectations were pretty high to begin with when Disney announced that it was greenlighting a live action version of Beauty and Beast, one of its most beloved classic animated franchises. When it cast Harry Potter star Emma Watson as Belle and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens in the titular roles, expectations rose even higher. I’m happy to report though that after revisiting the franchise as a live action movie, I was not disappointed.
Synopsis: Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Belle (Emma Watson), who is a unique and headstrong girl who feels like a sore thumb in her village. She likes to read and dreams of a life beyond the mediocrities of a small town mindset. When her father (Kevin Kline) inadverdently incurs the ire of a cursed beast (Dan Stevens) living in a castle long forgotten by the townsfolk, Belle volunteers to take her father’s place as his prisoner and finds that the beast is not what he appears to be on the outside. It turns out that she holds the key to freeing the beast and the rest of the castle from the curse but only if she falls in love with him and see beyond his hideous appearance before time runs out.
Before anything else, I would like to give credit to the casting of the Beauty and the Beast live action version. Emma Watson ‘s strong presence really added the fierceness that was needed to elevate Belle into a strong, independent minded character who, instead of waiting to be saved, does what she needs to do to save the people she loves. There were times that I wanted to shake her because of her denseness (like why would she show the Beast’s image to a throng of narrow-minded townsfolk when it was obvious what they would do) but for the most part, she was okay.
Luke Evans as Gaston was the perfect villain. He looked and acted like the complete douchebag that was reminiscent with the animated version and even did one better – he was even evil enough to leave Maurice to the wolves literally. Add that to the over-inflated ego and the theatrical singing – and voila! the perfect villain of the piece. Frozen’s Olaf, Josh Gad may have been a semi villain as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou but he was still adorable. Who could ever hate this guy?
I thought it was a shame that Dan Steven’s acting chops were underutilized because he only appeared for a small portion of film but the voice acting of Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza really deserve high praise for making their CGI characters stand out. Actually, at times, it seemed that the CGI characters were overshadowing the main characters of Belle and the Beast because they were so engaging. Case in point — when it came to big productions like “Be My Guest,” because of the beautiful and entertaining production, Lumiere and the dinnerware undoubtedly became the stars of the segment and Belle seemed like a wallflower who was just there as part of the decoration.
After seeing the trailer for the film, one would expect that it would religiously follow the animated version but I’m happy to say that the live action version, while it adopted some parts religiously, also took care to add a few elements to update the story. Perhaps this was a fan service for the present audience who saw Beauty and the Beast when they were kids. With the updated story, the film could appeal to them in a different level now that they are adults. By fleshing out the Beast and Belle’s back stories, the film was able to make better sense of the characters.
With the short backstories and the new songs that were added to the classic OST, the film was able to flesh out what motivated the main character, their mindsets, their pain, which made them relatable to the audience. The new songs also reflected Belle and the Beast’s feelings at certain points in the film which helped build up their love story despite the limited time for development.
Of course, the film was not perfect as there were points that the approach seemed too theatrical to pass for a film. There were also some minor loopholes in the story. But for the most part, these were made acceptable by the fact that Disney was doing its best to recreate the same feel that the animated classic was able to evoke among its audience many moons before.
All in all, I doubt that Beauty and the Beast will be the last live action adaptation of a classic animated film that Disney will embark on because they are doing so well. Although at times, it was weird and over the top to see the film executed as a live action because it felt like watching a stage play rather than a movie, director Bill Condon’s film was equal parts visually stunning, engaging and eerily nostalgic because of its attention to the details of the original film. For a while, it took me back to my childhood but also managed to generate a new memory for my adulthood, thanks to the script by The Perks of Becoming a Wallflower writer Stephen Chbosky and his collaborator Evan Spiliotopoulos. I still thought the original was better but the live action was a good effort by Disney and it delivered on the hype which is much more than I can say for other attempts to reboot classic franchises.
PS. I loved Belle’s dress at the ball. The skirt was so flowy.