The classic tale gets a modern makeover in a remake that lives up to the original.
I presume I saw the old Disney princess movies when I was a kid, but they didn't leave much of an impression. The whole 'damsel in distress waiting for prince charming' thing never resonated with me. It wasn't until I saw the original Beauty and the Beast in college with my younger cousins that I finally found a Disney princess I could relate to. She read books and dreamed of adventure. She was smart and brave. With an amazing score and a well-plotted 'tale as old as time', Beauty and the Beast swiftly became my favorite Disney movie.
Needless to say, the remake had a lot to live up to.
Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, capturing both her dreamy imagination and her determined independence. And she can sing, doing justice to the classic songs. Watson reportedly campaigned to have her Belle be an inventor in her own right - not just "the inventor's daughter" - a welcome change. (Maurice is an artist/watchmaker-type this time around.)
Belle's reading is much more of a subplot, with the townsfolk up in arms about her trying to teach another young girl to read. Not only does it better frame Belle's issues with this "poor provincial town", it helps to show why hanging out in an enchanted castle with a library bigger than her house would be a marked improvement.
The new film also smooths out some of the rough patches in the original storyline. My biggest quibble with the original was wondering why on earth Belle felt obliged to stay the prisoner of a fearsome Beast who had locked her up for no darn reason.
The remake sets this right by having Belle tell her father from the get-go, "I'll escape, I promise." She begins hatching plans to do just that. From the point where Beast rescues Belle from the wolves, it's clear that she's there of her own volition. She likes it, and she expresses a desire to help the cursed servants. When Beast tells her to go to her ailing father, the gesture is even sweeter because we know she didn't really need his permission.
All in all, the changes serve to give Belle more agency and tone down the troubling Stockholm Syndrome aspects of the original story.
No One Fights Like Gaston
The supporting characters in the remake receive a similarly-welcome makeover. Kevin Kline's Maruice is given an extra backstory (and a little song) that make him less of a buffoon and more of a doting and protective father. It's easy to see why these two would take turns making sacrifices for each other.
Josh Gad's Le Fou is so much more than comic relief, stealing scenes as Gaston's trusty companion. And Gaston himself (Luke Evans) is equally fleshed out with a backstory as a bored war hero. While still impossibly vain and unable to take 'no' for an answer from Belle, he's nowhere near as repulsive as the original version. This makes his transformation into mustache-twirling cartoon villain later in the movie a bit puzzling, though.
Lumiere, Cogsworth and the other castle servants felt a little stiff and lifeless, but I don't know how they possibly could have compared to their expressive cartoon counterparts. I think they did as well as could be expected, but it was a little underwhelming. I did appreciate the improved diversity of the supporting cast, with several prominent roles going to people of color.
Beauty and the Beast did the improbable, bringing one of my favorite movies to live-action life while improving on the original.
- Princess Power:
- Bechdel Test: Fail
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