This tale as old as time gets a well overdue revamp with Emma Watson reinventing the Disney princess as the intelligent and self-determined Belle, in the live action Beauty and the Beast.
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Belle (Emma Watson) is struggling to find her place in the small provincial farming village where she lives with her father (Kevin Kline). Her difference from the average villager (in that she likes to read) has her at odds with the locals. It has, however, attracted one surprising fan, with Belle having somehow earned the unwanted affections of the most sought after war hero and all-round town stud, Gaston (Luke Evans).
Not surprisingly, Belle wants more. Intelligent and fearless, she imagines there must be more to life than an insipid army jock and a small town of equally limited minds. When her father fails to return from a regular trip to the markets, Belle goes after him only to find that he is being held captive in a castle at the hands of a terrible beast (Dan Stevens).
She gives her life for her father’s freedom and begins a strange courtship where her bravery and kindness slowly warm their chilling relationship. But, she remains his prisoner and despite her growing affection for him, struggles with his need to hold her captive.
Many of us would be familiar with the animated version of this Disney classic, where the kindness of Belle ultimately brings the inner human to the Beast’s surface. While this story doesn’t venture too far from the classic, it does empower it’s lead female, by making her as intelligent, brave and self-aware as every Disney female ought to be (but until now, has rarely been).
This is not to say the fantasy element isn’t still at the core. The costumes are stunning and the supporting performances—be they from a lamp, a tea pot or a clock—bring humour and warmth to this potentially dark offering. And the library! If ever a literary fantasy needed to be evoked, then EL James ought to look no further than the tome-tastic display presented here (bound to seduce any book worm, pun intended).
Despite its wild premise and Disney-esque sheen, Beauty and the Beast manages to maintain enough believability to carry the more sceptical of us through. And the dark aesthetic allows the CGI to deliver its visual magic without obvious cues.
Littered with a cast as strong as any of the Harry Potter films (think Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen to name a few), and with hints of sexual inclusiveness not before seen in the Disney universe, it could be that the story that first taught us all to never judge a book by its cover is now teaching a new generation that there is so much more to life and love than a perfect prince charming.
Sure, there’s part of me that wanted Belle to run off with all the books and leave her heart-broken beastly kidnapper to wallow for an eternity, without literature, but even I got caught up in the Disney magic of it all and accepted its inevitable happy ending.
When a conservative franchise, such as Disney, makes small steps in the right direction (having its first openly gay character and a female lead with a sense of self determinism) it paves the way for bolder, more beautiful norms for the next generation. This is where Beauty and the Beast is truly magical, and we can only hope the magic continues to grow stronger, so every young child can truly feel a sense of belonging in the wonder Disney creates.
Director: Bill Condon
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline
Runtime: 129 mins
Release Date: March 23
Reviewer Rating: 4/5