“A tale as old as time,” sings Angela Lansbury in the 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast. On Friday, the live-action remake of one of Disney’s most treasured tales premiered in theaters across the country and the globe. Based on the original fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the movie tells the story of Belle, a bookish and headstrong girl who finds herself trapped in the castle of The Beast, a prince under the spell of an enchantress. Belle takes the place of her father as a prisoner in the castle, but as she spends more time there, Belle and The Beast grow to care for and understand each other. This story is one of not only love, but of understanding and hope in the face of prejudices and hardships.
This remake has been long anticipated. Since the teaser trailer first arrived on May 23rd, 2016, it has been one of the most highly marketed films in recent years. With presale tickets on Fandango selling at record levels, expectations for this film were high. The film’s stars—Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans—have been traveling along with other members of the cast and the film’s director, Bill Condon, on a press tour across the globe.
I have always loved Beauty and the Beast, so as excited as I was for this live-action adaptation, I was equally nervous. But this film left me absolutely delighted. As I watched some of my favorite animated scenes brought to life, I couldn’t help but feel like a kid again. There was a certain sense of childlike wonder among the audience, and I felt such joy spreading through the theater as the film came to a close. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but this movie was exactly what it needed to be. The CGI (computer-generated imagery) effects and animation blended seamlessly into the film, and I found myself forgetting that any CGI was happening at all. It was joyful, and enchanting, and catered well to its audience. It is the most fun I have had in a movie theater in quite a while; I plan on seeing it again.
Watson was a wonderful Belle. She is so similar to the character in life that it felt like such an obvious choice when her casting was announced. She has an intelligent air about her that suits Belle beautifully, but she embraces the silliness and vulnerability of this princess with grace and charm as well. Stevens, her costar, was equally charming as The Beast. Though we only see the character’s more egotistical side at the beginning of the film, it is enough to establish a strong character arc for The Beast that Stevens found in a really engaging way. He made you feel for The Beast, even in that character’s meanest moments.
Luke Evans and Josh Gad were a delightful pair as the film’s antagonists: Gaston, a narcissistic hunter, and Lefou, his eager sidekick. Their characters were often a source of humor in the film, and they both had a nice grasp on the necessary balance between humor, good, and evil in their characters.
Gad’s character, Lefou, has been facing some controversy; Condon has explicitly said in an interview that Lefou’s character is gay. This choice sparked some unrest among more conservative groups in the States and across the globe. Russia has decided that the movie only be shown to those over the age of 16, and a theatre in Alabama banned the movie from screening. Others, who support the choice, worried that it may undermine his sexuailty to have Lefou pining after Gaston, a straight man, instead of having his own romantic narrative. This was definitely something I made sure to pay attention to, after hearing so much about it in the media. After seeing it, I must confess that that part of Lefou’s plot is so subtly done, it could almost be missed. This character choice is a big milestone for Disney, as Lefou is the first confirmed LGBTQ+ character in a Disney film.
This controversy has overshadowed other positivity in the film. The cast is quite diverse, especially considering the animated film featured all white characters (and a Beast). There are interracial character couples and several actors of color in leading roles, which I think can be considered a step in the right direction for Disney and the world of family movies. That genre of film is often faced with questions surrounding the lack of diversity.
The entire cast of furniture was wonderful, from Emma Thompson’s nurturing Mrs. Potts’ to Ewan McGregor and Sir Ian McKellen‘s playful banter as Lumiere, the suave candlestick, and Cogsworth, a high-strung clock. They were all strong presences on screen. Audra McDonald’s gorgeous vocals in the film’s opening aria, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s vibrant plumette further solidified the strength of this ensemble. Each actor was bold in their choices, and true to their character. You felt for and with them, which made their final transformations even more exciting.
Whether you are a fan of princesses or not, Beauty and the Beast is worth a trip to the theater. It is well crafted, beautifully filmed and costumed; it was enchanting in every way. If you are looking for a joyful, enchanting and nostalgic night at the movies, this beautiful tale is an excellent choice.
Watch the trailer here. All photos by Disney.