Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Beauty and the Beast (2017) is a tale as old as time, packed to its brim with Disney magic. As I walked into the theater, I had no idea I would be witnessing one of the best-executed remakes I had ever seen. The film was captivating, with stunning cinematography. The colors and camerawork gave it a Disney dollhouse feel that was visually gorgeous.

In addition to the cinematography, the casting choices are perfect. Emma Watson (Belle), Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gadd (LeFou) and Dan Stevens (The Beast / Prince) brought their characters to life, lending new humanity to the beloved cartoons through their acting and cohesiveness as a cast. The newly  added character backstories helped the audience to understand the characters on an empathetic, human level. For example, the prince’s backstory allowed the audience to understand how he grew up to be so cruel, which ultimately made it easier to forgive such cruelty later on in the movie.

Those additions could have been disastrous simply by trying to add too much, but Disney handled them tactfully and gave us an understanding of these characters in a way the animated version didn’t. Whether it is Gaston reminiscing about the glory of war, the Beast losing his mother and being raised by a cruel father or Belle losing her mother to the plague, the audience is invited into the hearts and minds of those characters. We now understand their motivations, and what shapes them to behave the way they do, an improvement from the otherwise vague cartoon.

This added character development allows these beloved characters to fit right into 2017. As the animated film was released in 1991, the characters needed an update. Belle is a fiercely independent role model, and now invents and teaches in addition to simply loving reading. Taking action and proving herself as a strong-willed woman with depth gives Belle the boost she needed to be a perfect role model.

The Beast is better portrayed in the new remake as well. The film opens with new backstory about the prince’s curse. Throughout the film, the Beast is all over the place emotionally; he is funny, cruel, sweet, brooding and so many contradictions at once. From his exasperation at Belle’s love of Romeo and Juliet to his vicious standoff with the wolves, he is emotionally diverse. The Beast’s face is highly expressive. Thanks to the new technology Disney used, he really comes to life. Through funny dialogue about books and Belle’s town, the audience sees someone with whom Belle could truly fall in love for his personality, rather than just a horned beast who learns how to hold a bird and eat oatmeal like a civilized human.

Gaston is transformed into a much deeper character in this movie. When we first meet him, he is so sweet, so genuine — I didn’t know why Belle wouldn’t marry him. He seems to truly love Belle and fails to lead other girls on, in a series of actions that differ greatly from his old playboy image. Only later does Gaston reveal the murderous, crazed lunatic that he really is. I only wish we had seen that side of Gaston earlier, as he started off too likeable and made Belle seem mean in her treatment of such a seemingly sweet guy by refusing to listen to him and shunning all conversation with him..

Initially, I was concerned about the soundtrack of the film. When A-listers are chosen for a musical, they are usually not selected for their singing abilities. Once the music started, however, my worries vanished. Former West End star Evans’ deep voice is masculine and beautiful, perfect for Gaston. Gadd, of course, is a Broadway star and shone as only he could in the role of LeFou. Stevens, too, sang well, as did the rest of the cast including Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere) and Ian McKellan (Cogsworth).

Watson, unfortunately, was the only one whose voice wasn’t up to par. She sings without sustaining the notes and phrases, which didn’t suit the style of the music. When she holds notes, she sounds much better.

There are also several new songs which, while not memorable, complemented the famous original soundtrack. “Evermore,” sung by the Beast, gives off an almost Les Miserables feel with its tune and subject matter, and due to the precarious camerawork that mirrors Russell Crowe singing “Stars.”

This movie is more violent than expected, considering it is a movie primarily meant for children. Gaston brutally killing Beast is over the top, and while I  thought it was strong for character development and plot, I would have been traumatized watching that scene as a child. On the other hand, the movie knew how to laugh at itself. From LeFou calling out his own illiteracy to making a subtle joke about France loving guillotines, both children and adults had several jokes to enjoy.

There are obvious issues with beastiality from the love between Beast and Belle. Stockholm syndrome appears, too, when Belle falls in love with her captor. Stockholm syndrome wasn’t as prominent in this version, due to the characterization of Beast as a sweet, caring guy who wants to make Belle happy, rather than a cruel, manipulative warden.  As for beastiality, however, there was clear sexual tension between Belle and Beast. The new technology makes the Beast look like nothing more than a handsome, buff guy who happens to be really hairy and horny. His developed human mind gives him a lovable personality, but at the end of the day he is physically an animal: tail, fangs, paws and all.

In addition, LeFou is openly gay. That change has, ridiculously, received some backlash from conservative voices. LeFou is perfect. His love for Gaston explains exactly why he follows him around and deals with how mean Gaston is. By the end of the film, LeFou ends up with another man in what is ultimately one of the cutest relationships of the entire movie. Watching LeFou realize his own self worth was inspiring. His epiphany that he is better than Gaston and that he is deserving of somebody who loves him is the most relatable and human aspect of the entire movie because many people have gone through similar relationships. Children everywhere should be thrilled to have Lefou as a role model.

Disney truly excelled with this movie. The cinematography and characterization of the animated classic is perfect, and I wholeheartedly recommend seeing this movie.  Just as Beast falls in love with Belle, it is easy to fall in love with this movie. Disney has a new classic, and this tale has surely stood the test of time.

 

Grade: A