Beauty and the Beast
Much has been made of Disney’s new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. When the trailer was released last year, it became the most-viewed trailer on YouTube within 24 hours. The result is a beautiful and well-deserved reimagining of the animated world of the 1991 film.
The prospect of Emma Watson, a UN Women goodwill ambassador and outspoken feminist, taking on an iconic Disney-princess role excited many. And, certainly, it is Watson who steals the show. She is well-cast as Belle and her everyday prettiness makes her both believable and relatable. There is also a notable correlation between Watson’s own accessible feminism and her character’s positioning as a positive female role model for young girls.
Watson’s Belle isn’t a feminist icon who overthrows the patriarchy and the film isn’t exactly a radical shake-up of the traditional fairy tale plotline. However, Belle is breath of fresh air because she manages to reclaim traits such as intelligence and reasoned argument as feminine: she likes reading, invents a primitive washing machine to make her domestic chores easier, and isn’t taken in by the charms of Luke Evans’s dashing Gaston. She makes her own decisions for the right reasons and she sticks to her guns even in the face of danger.
In a Disney first, there’s even an openly gay character, although all the fuss seems a little overstated: Le Fou is outrageously camp and hilariously played by Josh Gad (Olaf from Frozen), but the gay “reveal” takes up only a second of the film. Still, it’s a nice nod towards the camp world of musical theatre and gives a homosexual character a look-in in a previously exclusively heterosexual world.
The living castle inhabited by the beast is full of an array of familiar animated objects, who are unveiled at the end to be played by a roster of A-list stars in cameo roles, including Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson. The effect is charming and playful, particularly during the musical numbers, which will be delightful for anyone brought up on the original animated film. In particular, Be Our Guest even manages to outdo the original version, with a spectacularly choreographed scene of crockery and cutlery dancing to the brilliant vocal stylings of McGregor as Lumière.
The design is stunning, from Belle’s iconic dress to the interactive castle, moving seamlessly between live action and CGI throughout. The rendering of the beast, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, is highly convincing and his features subtly change as we get to know his more vulnerable side.
Longer than the 1991 version, there are a couple of new songs by composer Alan Menken that add depth to the main characters; this extended take also explores the beast’s backstory and Belle’s relationship with her father, whose character is well-judged by Kevin Klein.
In all, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t offer a radically different model of femininity and relationships, but it’s a highly enjoyable step in the right direction. There’s something here for both kids and adults to enjoy: the emotional drama is very real and perfectly punctuated by moments of pure joy and unadulterated fun. An instant classic.
Beauty and the Beast is released nationwide on 17th March 2017.
Watch the trailer for Beauty and the Beast here: