Normally, I stick to book reviews, but last night I went to see the new live action Beauty & The Beast remake, and I had to write about it. Obviously, growing up in the 90s, Disney was life for me, as I’m sure it was for so many others, and there was always something about Belle that appealed to me. She was bookish and didn’t quite fit in, people whispered about her, and all she wanted was adventure – something she didn’t feel she could get from her little hometown.
Now, twenty-five years on from the original Disney animation’s release, the live action remake has landed, and thank goodness for it. The casting is genius. I have to admit, I was a little uncertain as to how Emma Watson would fill this musical role, but I think her performance was perfect. She’s a phenomenal actress anyway, and her singing was just as good. I love that she had a hand in tweaking Belle’s character a little in order to transform her into a more modern version of the original Disney princess. Now, instead of Maurice being the inventor of the family, Belle is the one creating washing machines and who knows what else. She’s still a bookworm, clinging to the fictional worlds that words can offer her as she goes about her daily life in her little town with its cloying whispers, and we even see her teaching a little girl to read. We also get more of the small, intimate moments between Belle and her father, which are touching and genuine. First when Maurice is singing about his losing his wife and Belle walks in and just stands there listening to him. Then the lovely moment when Belle asks her father if he believes her to be odd. A small moment of insecurity from our heroine that reminds us (particularly younger viewers), that she is after all, only human, and still feels as flawed as we all do. To me, this was an important step to making the character human as opposed to her being a princess on a pedestal – untouchable and someone young girls could aspire to be like without actually succeeding. Emma brings a very grounded quality to the character, and makes her very emotionally mature. I felt a kind of nostalgia watching her performance on the screen, because there were all the elements of the original character, with even more wonderful things mixed in.
There was a scene in particular, which wasn’t in the original film, which I found to be a delightful addition to the story. This is when Beast takes Belle to any place she wants to, by way of an enchanted book. It gave us a chance to flesh out Belle’s mother’s back story, and because it was so heart-breaking, it allowed Emma to explore the more emotional side of Belle’s storyline. I found this scene particularly touching, because not only has Belle begun to appreciate the Beast’s sensitive side at this point, but she also literally goes on a journey to discover more about her own past, with him by her side. As Emma said in a recent interview during the film’s press tour, the Beast challenges Belle intellectually, but I think, also emotionally. That’s why their connection feels so real, because they help one another along the way to discovering more about themselves, and in turn, come to learn so much more about one another.
The Beast was all-around fantastic, both visually, but also in the way that Dan Stevens portrayed him. The emphasis on the blue eyes that were undoubtedly human and so sad and filled with pain. The snippets of humour. The instances of naivety and genuine insecurity. Kindness at the most unexpected moments. Most of all, I loved that the relationship between Belle and the Beast was allowed to grow organically on the screen. I was a little worried that it would be rushed and as a result become something the audience wouldn’t believe, but it was given plenty of screen time, enough to allow the characters to explore this natural transition from friendship to compassion, and eventually love. For me, it was magical that this progression came about through their mutual appreciation for literature. And actually, reading is a prominent theme throughout the film. At key moments, we see how the act of reading can bring characters together and help them to grow, to mature emotionally, and to empathise with others in the world around them, and I think that’s an incredible message to be sending to younger generations. I thought the use of the William Sharp poem, “A Crystal Forest”, in particular, was a beautiful piece of literature to share with the audience. The language was perfection. The setting of the snowy landscape and the bright, rich contrast with the characters’ costumes – ugh. It was just a hair-raising moment. The poem was exquisite and slipped seamlessly in with the scene’s dialogue.
One of the most poignant moments in the film, is when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, and is lying injured on the ground. Knowing this is her one moment to take her freedom and escape, Belle grabs her horse and just stands there, teetering on the edge of a decision to run and leave the Beast behind. She can physically see her way out through the forest – a glimmer of light beyond the enchanted winter engulfing the castle, yet in the end her humanity wins out, and she chooses to stay to help him back to the castle. The reason she stays is because of her compassion, but also out of a duty to nurse the Beast back to health for saving her life. There have been claims that Belle displays signs of suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, which is when a hostage begins to have feelings for their captor, but I disagree. This very moment in the film clearly disputes any such claims, because Belle chooses to stay. Not out of any emotional connection with the Beast, but because she is good person, and cannot simply leave him to die when he just risked his life for her. In the first instance, at the very beginning of the film when she has just taken her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, the Beast invites Belle to dine with him and she refuses, insisting that she would never dine with her captor. Surely this is enough to dispute any Stockholm claims.
The visual effects of the film were something else. Take one of the most famous sequences from the original: Be Our Guest, when Lumiere serves Belle dinner. The colours. The sparkle. The intricacies. The whole thing was a feast for the eyeballs. So much happening and so much nostalgia and so much smiling. It was a wonderful moment to relive. Then there was the yellow-ballgown-waltzing-scene that is probably the first thing people associate with the story of Beauty & The Beast. First off, the creation of the dress was wonderful, then the way the beast was looking at her as they danced in the ballroom, and their conversation afterward on the balcony which brought the whole scene back down to reality. It was all just an amalgamation of anticipation as to whether or not this scene would live up to its expectations – wonder as it did – and then such joy that it seemed somehow even better than I expected it to be.
Overall, it was important for me to be able to find things – adult things – to relate to in this new retelling of the classic Disney animation. And I found so much. I think the creators of this film managed to strike a perfect balance between the old and the new, the young and the old, nostalgia and new and innovative additions, which is why this review is pretty much just a girl gushing about a live-action remake of one of her all-time favourite Disney films. I wasn’t sure any film adaptation could live up to this story, but somehow the remake surpasses all expectations. I cannot wait to watch it again. And again. And – (*sigh). You know how this goes.