As a young girl, a brown-haired product of the 1980s with a taste for the musical and a thirst for adventure, I identified with Disney heroine Belle as “my” princess. Scrappier than others — or a badass, as I would now proudly call her in my 30s — Belle had a certain spark that I identified with.
In the early 1990s, screenwriter Linda Wolverton was inspired by the women’s rights movement when creating the character of Belle. An independent dreamer, a seeker of adventure and — gasp! — a bookworm, Belle looked for more beyond her small village and did not hesitate to storm into a strange castle to save her father. I’ll say it again: badass.
Princesses have gotten plenty of criticism over the years. Some say they give young girls unattainable standards of beauty and ideas of romance that simply don’t exist. But I never looked to characters like Belle for their looks, never compared myself to them, with their impossibly tiny waists.
Through middle school and high school, I was never one of the cool girls in halter tops who all the boys liked. Instead, I had a wide range of old navy tech vests (and man, I owned it; those things were comfy).
Here was my takeaway from these animated characters: Be outgoing and take risks; belt out some sweet jams to keep your spirits up; and always fight for your family. That was the tune I was hearing them sing. So, yeah, I thought Belle, Mulan and Ariel were some pretty cool characters to learn from.
I grew up in a small town, and I, like the Disney darling Belle, felt the exploration itch for quite some time. In my late 20s, I uprooted my life, removing myself from the complacent. I fueled my sense of adventure — and never looked back.
I may not have done it with a horse and a cool cape, but that’s still pretty darned Belle to me.
As for that whole “unobtainable love” thing? Sure, between watching “Beauty and the Beast” as a child and now being a “Bachelor” super fan, I just assume all love stories contain some sort of rose situation. And I wouldn’t mind getting caught talking to kitchen ware if I could get half a second that felt as magical as the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast.” A big guy with his facial hair on point? My friends would tell you that’s just my type. (Maybe Belle actually taught me a thing or two about choosing a man, too.)
A couple of years ago, when I first heard the rumblings of a live-action remake of the classic Disney film, I was apprehensive. Then, when I saw the first official trailer on Facebook, I was crying within seconds. Granted, I’m an easy crier, but it was beautiful and moving. However, I still felt like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ya know?
When the time finally came to see the film this week in a pre-release screening, I was nervous. Would this new version ruin the nostalgia of this classic tale I have known my entire life? Could I accept Emma Watson as my Belle? Could she even hold a tune?
The film opened with a dance in the castle of the Prince, played by Dan Stevens, all powdered wigs and twirling gowns filling the screen. We learn how he, fixated with outer beauty, becomes the Beast.
I held my breath. The moment of truth was here. A cottage door swung open and Watson began to sing my favorite song from the film, “Belle.” (I just always loved the “Bonjour! Bonjour!” So darned catchy.)
As much as I wanted to hate this remake, with all of its colorful twirling petticoats and harmonies, it dawned on me. Belle would rather choose a life as a crazy cat lady than marry some pompous turd. I remembered why she was so empowering to me, and some of the young ones in the crowd may be having the same feelings as I did as a kid.
They might be discovering their own little piece of Belle.
I needed to stop comparing, and start embracing.
Once the action picked up, as Belle’s papa raced though the dark, eerie forest, my heart began to race. As each familiar character was revealed — LeFou’s comedic camaraderie, Lumiere’s knack for the theatrical and Chip’s childish innocence — I was hooked.
I let myself go. When Watson swung over Philippe and rode off without a single fear or hesitation to save her father, I accepted her as my real-life Belle. I fell into the world that Disney had brought to life, vibrant and fantastical.
I don’t know if it was the impact of the live action version or the glass of Pinot Grigio, but I was even appreciating the film in new ways. The remake had brought a nuance of adult humor to the tale — with LeFou and Gaston’s friendship, and with Papa’s quirkiness — that did not go unnoticed.
By “Be Our Guest” (though a bit over the top), I could tell everyone in the theater was right there with me. The clapping and laughing gave it away: We were in this together.
We all know how the rest of the film goes: Belle tries to escape and the Beast saves her, then she in turn saves him and love saves them all. They dance, everyone cries and in the end the hairy nerd defeats the arrogant jerk to win the heart of the girl, proving that inner beauty triumphs.
More girls at bars on the weekends should be taking notes on this.
By the end, I had cried at the beautiful and iconic ballroom scene, had gasped at the fight between the Beast and Gaston, and had truly allowed myself to escape. Not until Lumiere revealed himself as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) did I return to the real world and reveled in the beautiful whirlwind I had just experienced.
When it was over, I walked away with a new love for an old fairytale, and not just because it proved to appreciate a good beard. A tale of love, friendship, family and courage, I felt reassured in my belief that cheering for princesses is not silly when they are as fearless, caring and powerful as Belle.
And I am excited for a new batch of little ones to begin their adventures, too.
I must preface this review with saying that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney animated films, second only to The Little Mermaid, so I had high hopes for the live-action Disney Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it did not quite live up to my admittedly lofty expectations.
Obviously, this new live action film, directed by Bill Condon, is based on the 1991 Disney animated film and not Jean Cocteau’s 1964 Le Belle et la Bête. Condon’s film follows the 1991 film very closely in telling a musically-driven story of a young woman from a small French village who is taken captive by a beast in his enchanted castle. There is one notable departure from the animated version. In this one, as in the 1946 film, Belle requests that her father bring her back a rose from his travels. This is how the father is captured by the Beast, because the Beast accuses him of stealing. That is the only nod to Cocteau’s film that I noted.
Beauty and the Beast is an entertaining film. It is, for the most part, well cast. Kevin Kline is especially a delight as Belle’s father, Maurice, and he and Emma Watson’s Belle have a charming chemistry. Characters that are flat in the animated version turn up more round in this one--for example, much ado has been made of the hint that Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou [Josh Gad] is gay. More than that, though, LeFou is given more dimension in the form of an inner moral conflict. Maurice is given a past and a dead wife, and some of the enchanted castle staff are given spouses. Overall, the film does a good job at rounding out the story and characters.
One of the best upgrades was giving Belle a little more spunk. I’m sure the producers were well aware of the Stockholm Syndrome criticisms of the ‘91 film, and they seem to have taken pains to combat that. Belle actively tries to escape, she’s a little more feisty and less helpless. There is also more time dedicated to organically building a relationship between Belle and Beast.
Now for the bad. The most glaring black mark on the film, for me, is that Emma Watson’s voice is so obviously auto-tuned that it’s distracting. Luckily, that’s not a problem with any of the other characters, but it makes her lack even more obvious. I’m a little bit confused as to why this was even a problem. In some of the best classic musicals, stars’ singing voices were dubbed over. Maybe the practice is seen as insulting or gauche now, but I’d prefer that to what we hear in Beauty and the Beast.
And, unfortunately, Watson’s voice isn’t the only thing that’s lacking. Her performance isn’t great either and she’s not alone. Beast, while he looks and sounds good, is oddly inexpressive. There is an overall lack of energy and expression in many of the characters, both live action and CGI, which is surprising given the number of talented actors in the film and the CGI talent we’ve seen from Disney in the past. So, while the movie looks gorgeous [even if some of the shots are too close up or move too fast to see much], it comes across as a little bland.
And finally, something that I’ve gotten increasingly curmudgeonly about: the movie is too long. The live action film is longer than the animated one by 45 minutes, and much of what is added is not only unnecessary, but boring. Belle’s trip back to Paris with Beast to explore her past, anything involving the enchantress whose role is significantly increased, Gaston’s more sinister and violent actions--I think the idea here was to add some depth but it doesn’t work. There are also 4 new songs by Alan Menken, who composed the songs for the animated version. Unfortunately, Menken seems to have lost his touch because the new songs drag just as much as most of the other added material.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast is not at all a bad movie, but I was hoping for something a little bit more. I think there was a chance to do something exciting given how much moviemaking has progressed, but that is not what happened. This is a film that is very similar to the animated version with a similar charm, but with more bloat. I still recommend seeing it, especially if you are a fan of the animated version. But maybe try to keep your expectations a little lower than mine were.