Anticipation has been so high for Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast that the film’s second trailer set an online viewing record with 127.6 million views in the first 24 hours. Is it because the 1991 animated version of the film was so beloved? After all, it was the first animated movie to ever be nominated as Best Picture– and not in the animated category (which didn’t even exist then). Is it because Emma Watson is so popular (she's got nearly 25 million Instagram followers)? All I know is that anyone I told that I saw an advance screening of this film asked, “How is it?” and “When can I see it?”
I was excited but skeptical. How could one possibly improve upon this national treasure? The singing! The dancing! Gaston’s over-the-top ego! Belle’s taming of the Beast! Well, perhaps they didn’t improve upon it per se—but it is definitely entertaining, perhaps a tad more sophisticated than the original, and, for many of us, nostalgic. For those two people out there who aren’t familiar with this fairy tale —a young provincial girl named Belle (Watson) is held captive in the castle of a beast (Dan Stevens) who is actually a haughty prince upon whom a spell has been cast by an enchantress to teach him a lesson about beauty being only skin deep.
For the spell to be undone, The Beast must learn the meaning of and find “true love” before the last petal falls from a rose that the enchantress has left him. As part of the spell, the enchantress turned the castle’s staff have into inanimate household objects–clocks, feather dusters, ottomans–but they are very animated indeed which makes for quite an interesting ensemble.
There’s also a side story—the shallow village Cassanova Gaston (Luke Evans) has his sights on Belle, a bookworm who wants nothing to do with the vain hunter. Flanked by his trusty sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) Gaston wastes his time trying to impress her and cruelly belittles her inventor father who refuses to give him her hand in marriage. Of course there ends up being a battle royale between the Beast and Gaston and of course Belle and The Beast fall in love just in the nick of time. This is, after all, a fairy tale.
There are few missteps—a little overzealous use of CGI, especially with The Beast and some background info that felt a bit unnecessary (what happened to Belle’s mom for example). But those are easy to overlook. Your favorite songs are all here, major stars bring the characters to life, the sets are amazing and there are some cool special effects. There are also a few homages to other classics (look for scenes reminiscent of The Sound of Music, King Kong and Frankenstein). Take your niece, your daughter your next door neighbor’s daughter, heck your mom—and relive this tale as old as time. Believe me, no one will be gloomy or complaining while the flatware’s entertaining.
Here—the six things we loved most about this film. And don't forget to catch it in theaters, starting this Friday, March 17. (Spoilers, obviously, below.)
1. Emma Watson as Belle
What’s not to love about this charming Brit, famed for playing Hermione in the Harry Potter films? She’s the perfect Belle. Innocent with a heaping dash of feisty. Smart with a major dose of pretty. Sincere with a sense of humor. She somehow even manages to bring a feminist touch to a girl who falls in love with her captor, which is no easy task!
2. Those Costumes
From the glamorous white dresses in the opening ball sequence and Belle’s famous tiered yellow gown (festooned with gold dust) to Gaston’s jaunty red hunting jacket and The Beast’s dashing blue dinner ensemble, this film’s costumes are everything you want in a romantic fairy tale. In fact, it’s got a good shot at a Best Costume nomination—we're calling it now! Be on the lookout for a bevy of mini Belles in yellow dresses come Halloween 2017.
3. Josh Gad as LeFou
Much has been made of the fact that this version of the fawning sidekick is the first openly gay Disney character, but it’s actually much more subtle than that would imply. It’s obvious Gad had a blast playing LeFou with a distinct flair. “But she’s so well read and you’re so…athletically inclined,” he tells Gaston, perhaps a bit jealous after the self absorbed hunk confesses his goal of wooing Belle. You’re never quite sure if he wants to be Gaston or be with him...or both—which makes his performance all the more fun to watch.
4. Luke Evans as Gaston
The handsome Evans plays the egomaniacal Gaston with perfect swagger and misplaced charm. His exaggerated vanity and bravado and finally his jealousy and greed are spot on. The rowdy pub scene in which LeFou gushes over a depressed Gaston, singing about how great he is to cheer him up is definitely a highlight. Before long, the pub patrons and Gaston himself are all singing and stomping along.
5. The Songs!
In addition to the above mentioned tune “Gaston,” the film is filled with all the favorites from the Disney original—plus a few new ones. It’s hard to say if the new songs are quite as good as the old ones or if I’m simply attached to and nostalgic about the old ones, so they just seemed better. Regardless, it was hard not to sing along in the theater to “Belle” and “Tale As Old As Time.” I mean, who could resist?
6. The Castle Staff—Especially Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts.
Ewan McGregor plays the maître d' turned candelabra Lumiere, and is great as the dry ringleader behind the staff’s scheme to get Belle and the Beast to fall in love and break the spell. He gets in some of the best wise cracks—reminiscent of another beloved gold metal manservant, C-3P0 from Star Wars. “A broken clock is right two times a day, but this is not one of those times," he drolly tells the clock Cogsworth, (played by Sir Ian McKellan). Lumiere’s true motivation? To be become human again so he can reunite with his beloved Plumette, the maid turned feather duster (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw). And while Angela Lansbury’s legendary turn as the cheerful, kindly teapot in the original film was a hard act to follow, Emma Thompson is up to the task. The first of the castle staff to really befriend and take care of Belle, she is equal parts comforter and no nonsense advice-giver. With her crisp yet soothing British accent you’ll find yourself wanting her to pour you a cup of tea.