Will contain some spoilers!
At 4pm last Friday I trekked over to my local independent theater, a joint that serves you meatball sandwiches in your seat, sells pints of microbrew, and delights you with short films and featurettes before each screening. My pal for the outing was a friend who also has a birthday in the 1980s, and who too could remember seeing the original Disney film at it’s initial release.
As the lights dimmed we realized we were the only people in the theater both with beers and without children, but that self consciousness faded as quickly as it hit. We spent the next two hours enchanted.
That sort of feeling should go hand in hand with a fairy tale about curses, capers, and the magic of true love, but I was amazed at the strength of the nostalgia that washed over me. From the opening notes of Belle to the final dance I was grinning from ear to ear.
Beauty and the Beast it not a perfect film. But it is a delightful one, and one whose flaws I can ignore for the sheer happiness that it brought to myself and my theater pal. Disney has been on a roll in recent years with its live action adaptations. Cinderella was lovely, Jungle Book was a technological wonder, and Beauty and the Beast was a triumphant joy to behold, and a worthy remake to the 1991 classic that ushered in the Studio’s golden age.
The cast seemed entranced with joy throughout the entire production, hamming up their scenes playing their archetypes to a key. More depth was given to Belle, her father, the Beast, and even Gaston and his good buddy LeFou. Plot holes and lingering questions from the original were also addressed. Why did no one remember the castle? Why did a witch punish a 9 year old kid? Aren’t 9 year olds supposed to be little snots?
Several scenes were thus added to expand upon the story, and most of them (and the original songs that came with) fit well and felt natural. The only one that seemed off was the part with the magical book and the windmill, which tried to give the relationship less of a Stockholm Syndrome kind of feel. However, the entire concept of the magic book just felt cheap, as was the entire addition of Belle’s mother. The story wanted to give the lead female more depth than just “this girl is a weirdo because she reads,” but the addition of a dead mother backstory was unnecessary for that. She invents, she teaches, she wants to explore- does she need more to define her?
And on the topic of Belle, Emma Watson did an admirable job that will now forever make me think that Hermione wasn’t really a muggle at all. She had a magic cursed grandfather back in the line, and it just took a few generations and a hop across the Channel for the wizardry to show up again! Watson obviously plays the role of fascinated bookworm well, and my only qualm with her portrayal was the singing. It was clear that correction was made in post (unlike La La Land, whose unskilled singers were intentional) so why additional work wasn’t done is beyond me. Dan Stevens, playing the Beast under a mountain of CGI (spare a few scenes) was a much more convincing vocalist, and was even given his own number to showcase it.
Luke Evans and Josh Gad, who played Gaston and LeFou respectively, had a great buddy chemistry and brought humor to roles that were, in the past, largely reviled and one dimensional. The rest of the cast sounded like they were having a blast, and most were well suited to their roles- even Ewan McGregor and his awful French Accent. Audra McDonald was stunning as always, and Ian McKellan was particularly perfect as a crotchety old clock.
Beauty and the Beast was, overall, a true delight; a film that can be enjoyed by all ages and one that gives me great hope for Disney’s ongoing re-make roadmap. My cheeks still hurt from smiling.