Being a child of the mid-80’s and through the 90’s, I grew up surrounded by Disney in all it’s many forms, and like many little girls of the age I was obsessed with Disney Princesses. As a result, the idea of making live-action reboots of these classic characters didn’t sit well with me when Disney first started pumping them out. Beauty and the Beast in particular was one that I was very wary of, as it was one of my all-time favorites as a child. I watched the cartoon version of the movie over and over, knew every song from heart, and admired the hell out of Belle. Talk all you want about “Stockholm Syndrome” and all the other nonsense that people use to ruin fun stories, but I thought Belle was an amazing heroine – strong, smart, brave, and kind. Everything that I wanted to be.
So when I first heard about Emma Watson taking up the role for the live-action remake, I have to admit that I cringed. Not because it’s Emma Watson – I personally think she’s a perfectly talented actress – but because she wasn’t an animated brunette voiced by Paige O’Hara. I worried that Watson wouldn’t capture the true heart of the character I’d grown up with. I worried that the CG version of the Beast would look ridiculous. I worried that the strange-looking redesign of the supporting knick-knack cast would be distracting and off-putting. I worried they’d screw up the songs, play around with the plot, and basically just mangle what was an important part of my childhood.
Last night I finally laid down and watched the movie on Netflix with Adrianna, and I have to (happily) admit that I needn’t have worried at all.
Now I’m quite certain that not all fans of the original animated film are going to sit well with the live-action version, but I personally thought that they did an amazing job of remaking the story while sticking very close and true to the original source material. Though there was a generous helping of new material – a bit of backstory for the Beast, a few new songs (that were beautiful and haunting, by the way), etc. – and a few small changes to make the storytelling make a little more logical sense, the majority of the film was a beautifully well-done love letter to the animation. The song scenes, for example, were near-perfect play-by-plays of the originals, with little cute extras thrown in. Important conversations were taken word-for-word, and the actors did their best to emulate the original character’s voices while still making them their own.
The visuals were stunning, with the cursed castle inhabitants growing on me more with each passing second. The Beast’s animations were damn near perfect, completely destroying my prior concerns that he would look stupid and fake. Color and shadow and contrast were used in a variety of ways to give the impressions of the original animation while still looking real. You could imagine the little village and the sprawling castle being real places that you could visit tomorrow, but they also seemed fantastical and dream-like.
Watson was lovely as Belle. Dan Stevens was equal parts frightening and charming as the Beast. Luke Evans was wonderfully hateful as Gaston, and Josh Gad was amusingly adorable as LaFou. The supporting cast all played their parts well, staying true to the characters while still having fun with them. I found myself singing along to the songs I knew, melting into my pillow while listening to the new ones, and the ending – though I knew exactly what was coming – made me squeeze my daughter and nuzzle my head into hers.
“They’re going to get married now!” Adrianna told me, and I giggled like a fool, because she’d enjoyed the live action movie in the same way that I enjoyed the animated one when I was a child, and I had to admit that I’d enjoyed it too. Quite a lot, in fact.
Live action remakes are always going to sour some people, especially if they’re huge fans of the original animations, and I myself will say that the original still sits in my mind as one of the greatest Disney animated films of all time, and it probably always will. But this live action love letter was done carefully, and with a great deal of care. They clearly wanted to breathe new life into the story while being sure not to alienate those who will always love the original for what it was, and I believe they pulled it off well.
I loved it, and would happily watch it again.