Apparently, on my third or fourth birthday, I refused to be called anything other than Belle, thanks to my deep adoration (obsession) with Beauty and the Beast. It was one of my favourite Disney films as a kid, and has remained one of my favourites as an adult. So, twenty or so years later, I went into the live-action adaptation with high expectations, and slight trepidations . . .
Belle of the ball?
I have to confess that I had my reservations about Emma Watson playing Belle. I’ve got a lot of love for Emma Watson – she’s a champion of women’s rights, has been doing some incredible things with her fame, and I mean, come on – she was Hermione Granger. That’s reason enough to like her. What made me nervous about the casting was that it seemed so . . . on the nose. It felt like the result of a fan vote, or a Buzzfeed poll. Like she was cast because she looked like her, because she’s as smart and beautiful as Belle is – and because everyone loves her. On paper, I suppose, it makes her a perfect fit. But I wondered if ‘perfect’ would be enough. Emma hasn’t had the most dynamic mix of roles post-Potter, and I worried that casting someone like her for someone like Belle would make the character feel one-dimensional. I wondered exactly what she could bring, or rather add, to the role I so revered.
As it transpired, Emma Watson did a pretty bang-up job. I mean, she was very faithful to the original, with a few new bits and bobs thrown in for good measure, but I suppose there’s only so much that can be changed about classic Disney films, particularly classic Disney princess films. It was a safe casting for a safe portrayal – she played Belle as Belle was in the original, more or less. So kudos to Emma Watson for delivering.
Props to the cast – they can all hold a tune. I did wonder at the start of ‘Little Town’ why Emma Watson’s voice jarred a little, but I think it had more to do with the British accent than her vocal range. The ‘Gaston’ song scene was actually one of my favourite parts of the film – not only did it recreate the original scene beautifully, but it was vibrant, visually impressive, and, best of all, fun, almost like watching a stage show as opposed to a film. Maybe I enjoyed this scene so much because I was so wary of being critical of the rest, and it was nice to take a break from picking apart performances, and just enjoy the show. With new elements and insights into the classic story, new songs were inevitable. But in an adaptation that went to such lengths to stay true to the original, the new songs seemed slightly jarring on-screen. That might seem like a bit of a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ comment, though – more likely than not, it was just down to the fact that they weren’t imbued with the same sense of nostalgia, and memories of Disney singalongs. Nonetheless, they were all well written, and it was evident that a lot of effort had gone into making the extra songs match the tone (or tune) of the originals.
Fairly Odd Parents
Besides changing from an inventor to an artist – and appearing significantly slimmer than his cartoon counterpart – Maurice remains the lovable, doting father, and was well played by Kevin Kline. The backstory of Belle’s mother, however, felt a little strange, and even redundant. One of the questions that was never answered, or even asked, in the original was the whereabouts of Belle’s mum. This addition, while interesting to a degree, feels a little inconsequential to the plot. If anything, it made me wonder why Maurice couldn’t just tell Belle in the first place. He guarded the secret of her mother’s demise as if he’d killed her – why not just tell her that she died of disease, and save her many years’ worth of questions, and turmoil? And we can’t mention the backstory segment without talking about the book. The magical book given to the Beast by the enchantress that opens the door to the world . . . was I the only one still chewing over this when they left the cinema? It’s visually beautiful and enchanting, but a curious addition that seems to add little to the plot, and ask a whole lot of questions; how long does this teleportation last? How does it work exactly? How do you return? Can people see you when you arrive at your destination, or are you invisible? And that’s just to name a few – there was a whole lot more head scratching where that came from.
Le Fou’s Moment
I’d heard a lot of praise before seeing the film about Disney’s ‘first LGBT relationship’. I’d heard that the film had been banned in Malaysia because of the scene. I’d heard that Disney were making ‘leaps and bounds’ in portraying all kinds of sexualities and relationships. So I have to confess myself a little disappointed when realizing that the ‘scene’ that had garnered so much praise and attention was quite literally a two-second clip of Le Fou joining hands with another man in a dance. A radical enough gesture for the historical period of the film, I’m sure, but over here, in 2017, I was expecting a little (or a lot) more. Baby steps, I suppose. Beauty and the Beast has taken one of the first, so let’s hope that the ones that follow will be bolder, and more confidently placed. A small shout out can be given to the casting directors – in an age where whitewashing and gender inequality are still such big problems in Hollywood, I was happy to see a lot more women on screen than there were in the original, and a slightly better mix of races (though in a film with two white leads and principal cast, that might not be saying much).
I felt a little unconvinced when watching the scenes involving the enchantress, and remained so after leaving the cinema. Even now, I’m not sure what the point of her physical presence was on screen. In the opening scene, most certainly – her actions in the beginning are obviously a major plot driver. But beyond that, I’m not sure what purpose she serves by standing silently on screen, and glowing. Then there’s the scene where she heals Maurice, the scene where she’s in the tavern, the scene where she comes into the castle to collect the rose, and brings the beast back to life. Was it necessary? Has she visited other towns in the same vein of inflicting cruel and ironic punishments on those with major character flaws? Is she the Nanny McPhee or Ghost of Christmas Past who frequents any town in which someone must be shown the error of their ways? Perhaps the scenes were added to serve as a cautionary reminder about overlooking magical people that are hiding in plain sight. The townspeople overlooked this quiet girl, the outcast, who the audience knows has tremendous power – not unlike our heroine in her little town full of little people.
A beautiful, enjoyable, and mostly faithful adaptation of one of Disney’s (or mine) most loved princesses. Despite a few minor gripes I may have had, I smiled the whole way through this live-action retelling of a tale as old as time.
I’d give it four roses out of five.