The “tale as old as time” was launched into the 21st century in a live action/digital hybrid directed by Bill Condon that captures and enhances all of the effervescent romance, invigorating music and nostalgia of the 26-year-old animated feature film.
Starring Emma Watson (Belle) and Dan Stevens (the Beast), the exhilarating energy captured in the film leaves a hunger for more. The film’s classicism captures the beauty and extravagance of France without feeling forced, while the grace, elegance and vivid details of the fairy tale radiates a contagious joy.
The reanimation of this beloved tale exceeded expectations, setting a new standard for revitalizations of such classics. In recent years Disney, among others, have attempted to bring fan-favorite stories back to life in live-action versions of “Tarzan,” “Jungle Book,” “Peter Pan” and more, but to no avail. While not every reanimation has completely flopped, none have successfully been able to capture the child-like curiosity and excitement that comes along with watching a new Disney movie for the first time, until now.
This comes in part because of the historical storyline, as well as the casting. Watson embodies Belle in body and spirit so well, she manages to escape her iconic role of Hermione Granger, which is a major accomplishment for any “Harry Potter” star. In fact, in this film, Watson’s past role adds to her resemblance of Belle by allowing her to showcase the same compassion, intelligence and bravery without it feeling forced.
The major fallbacks to the movie come in technical issues. The seam between animation and live action is nowhere near perfect. There are a few moments where live action was mixed with extreme moments of animation that almost threatened to break the up story.
The most extravagant and captivating scene by far is, as expected, the performance of “Be Our Guest.” Lumière and friends put on an outstanding performance for Belle, which of course is all done through animation. Due to the lack of live characters in this scene, it felt like a break from the script, a wonderful break, but a break no less.
The iconic score and brilliantly orchestrated music makes up for this discrepancy a bit with its enchanting tunes. The voices of the cast were well made up, although this is the one area Belle (Watson) struggled. It was clear her songs were touched up and that she hadn’t had as much vocal training as the other cast members.
While the storyline remained mostly untouched, what little was changed only added to character development and the timeless nature of the film. Belle, for example, is presented as a skillful inventor, creating a washing machine to do her chores so she has time to read more books. While she is of course, scorned for this by the village due to the time period, the scene only added to Belle’s “ahead of her time” thinking and the misperception of it.
Another arguably minor change, the “exclusively gay moment,” that has caused controversy across the globe and even gotten the film banned in certain countries, was actually minor in terms of screen-time. Gaston’s (Luke Evans) side-kick, LeFou (Josh Gad) is alluded to being homosexual by questioning his feelings for Gaston during the film, but the definitive moment of his sexuality is only shown in a brief scene at the end of the movie where LeFou dances with a man at the final ball.
The moment is so brief that had Condon not mentioned its existence in an interview, the world may have overlooked it, yet it resembles a major step for Disney. While Disney has had gay characters in other brief flashes of animated films like, “Finding Dory,” this was the first live gay pairing and the first involved in a romantic setting. Disney has backed that moment, refusing to edit it for countries opposed to it, instead letting the film be banned completely. With this defensive action, we can hope to potentially see more than just glimpses of these forward characters in future animations or live action films.