Posted March 28, 2017
By KATE HOVAN
It is not uncommon for moviegoers to be disappointed by remakes of their favorite films. But director Bill Condon isn’t letting that happen on his watch.
Condon’s reinvention of the 1991 Disney masterpiece “Beauty and the Beast” is a thing of magic. It is somehow authentic to the story, yet transformed. He brings life to animated characters Belle, Gaston, the Beast and even Lumiere- everyone’s favorite talking candelabra. With $170 million in opening weekend sales, Condon clearly did justice to a childhood classic.
Emma Watson, not as an actress, but a person, is the human paradigm of Belle. Watson is both a recent graduate of Brown University and United Nations’ Women Goodwill Ambassador. She has long been hailed as a humanitarian and is an ongoing activist for gender equality. Growing up, she was surrounded by literature, playing a lead character in the “Harry Potter” film series.
Truly, no other Disney princess is more fitting for Watson to embody. Belle is an intellect, always reading and assisting her inventor father. Likewise, Belle questions married life and the traditional female role in her village. She doesn’t need a man to save her, like most traditional Disney princesses, and that is everything Watson stands for as a voice in Hollywood.
On the surface, these characteristics make Watson a perfect fit to play Belle, but she does so even more beautifully through her talent as an actress. It is amazing to see an animated princess come to life with such ease, manifested in Watson’s girlish charm but strong personality.
In an article in Vanity Fair, Watson even admitted to seeking approval from feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem while the film was being finalized.
Watson had added some of her own touches to Belle’s wardrobe, like a dress that had large pockets functioning as a sort of tool belt. She also requested Belle wear a less feminine dress and shoes that were more practical for life in a French village. Immediately upon showing the film to Steinem, she got the approval she sought.
Casting such a strong female role model and making changes to Belle’s overall look was a powerful statement by the filmmakers. However, the changes did not necessarily add to the film or make a lasting impact. Belle is a strong enough character on her own and Watson’s minor wardrobe adjustments weren’t very apparent to the overall message she was trying to convey. Watson’s feminist message came through much more clearly in her acting.
However, like any remake, “Beauty and the Beast” still comes with its small share of flaws.
In terms of visual effects and imaging, Condon’s modern adaptation is as ornate as one would imagine. It is certainly not the modestly animated classic one remembers watching as a child.
Arguably the most popular scene from the original, the “Be Our Guest” ballad, is almost too much to take in. The song is that same, however, the special effects are superfluous and even dizzying at times. Food and objects are flying and bright, strobe-like lights are dancing around the room.
Another fault of the film is in the development of Belle and the Beast’s relationship. Overall, their love story feels rather rushed, and it lacks that sort of enchantment that is typical of a Disney love story. Viewers might have a hard time becoming attached to the characters and very emotionally invested.
Lastly, it is important to note that the filmmakers’ creation of the Beast might be frightening for younger children. With such advanced visual effects today, his features are extremely lifelike and his anger seems to have been taken up a notch. Those seeing the movie with younger children should be aware of this.
Simply put, Condon’s spin on a Disney classic is widely successful for a different reason, too. The story of “Beauty and the Beast” spans across generations, making it a movie that virtually anyone of any age can enjoy.
Young children are experiencing it for the first time. Millenials and young parents are revisiting their childhood memories. And grandparents will recall introducing the story to their own children more than two decades ago. The story appeals to such a diverse age group that only severe changes to the original could have made Condon’s work fail.
The takeaway: Condon should be commended for his ability to bring one of the fondest Disney films to the big screen without losing its magical charm. The film ultimately proved to be as enchanting for young children as it is nostalgic for adults.
- Name: “Beauty and the Beast”
- Release Date: March 17, 2017
- Director: Bill Condon
- Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad
- Run time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
- Rating: PG