Beauty and the Beast: A Magical Retelling

By Wednesday, June 14, 2017 , ,

You may have noticed a bit of internet excitement lately over the new, live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I jest. That’s putting it lightly, as we all know. It’s made over a billion dollars (yes, billion) in theaters and I can only assume the DVDs are now flying off store shelves. And I suspect it won’t be long before my resolve gives way and I’m one of those DVD buyers… :) 

So, if you care to read a 7,000th opinion on this movie, I’m attempting one here. I’d been eagerly awaiting the film ever since it was a confirmed project over two years ago – I squealed with excitement when the lovely Emma Watson was cast as Belle and dashing Dan Stevens as the Beast (To all who have just now realized how wonderful Dan Stevens is because of Beauty and the Beast – welcome, we’re so glad you’re here. But always remember that we Downton Abbey fans had him first). That was the beginning, and my excitement grew as the cast did and as the opening day drew near. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite animated Disney film, so my hopes for this reimagining were high. I’ve now seen it three times (and counting!) and have been thoroughly enchanted during each viewing. And per usual, I have many thoughts.

Photo Credit: Alpha Coders

Translating animation into real life is obviously a challenge technologically and aesthetically, but also on an emotional level. That’s probably what has struck me most deeply about this film. The movie is beautiful – the color and vibrancy and fantastical elements are all striking to behold – but human actors and new story depths have done truly moving things for this classic tale. Belle’s kind and brave heart, Maurice’s grief for his late wife and sweet protectiveness of Belle, Gaston’s self-obsession, and the Beast’s deep despair and blossoming tenderness toward Belle all come to life with new force that I wasn’t wholly prepared for. Even the enchanted objects became more relatable through the voices of so many well-known talents and some amazing feats of technology. In no particular order, here are some aspects of the film that I found especially memorable, lovely, impressive, touching, or anything else in between. 

The Beast
Much scrutiny has been directed at Emma Watson’s performance of Belle, and it’s understandable since Belle is the story’s center. But I’d argue that not nearly enough attention has been paid to Dan Stevens’s masterful performance of the Beast. Because yes, he did perform the role, not just lend it his voice. In fact, he really had to perform everything twice – once on the set opposite the other actors and once in a sound booth where he reenacted everything with only his face. This video sheds light on the process he went through for the character and it’s incredible to imagine. Just standing around in the Lycra muscle suit he had to wear would be a feat in itself, let alone giving a convincing romantic hero performance.
Photo Credit: Insider

But Dan Stevens did that very thing and much more. Though the Beast is obviously animal-like, I was struck anew by the fact that this character was a tormented, human prince who sees no way out of his despair. And as Belle begins to break through his cynicism and hopelessness, his heart and humanity come to the forefront more than ever. He has a humorous dry wit that the animated version of him lacked, and his bond with Belle deepens as they realize shared loves for reading and traveling. Belle also helps him rediscover the beauty of the world he lives in and it’s lovely to see him learning to look outside himself again. This reaches its height when he realizes loving Belle means the sacrifice of letting her go, and his new song “Evermore” expounds on his feelings there in weighty, heartbreaking rhythm. 

Well done, Dan Stevens. I suppose I sort of forgive you for leaving Downton now… maybe. He did make quite a prince in that blue coat at the end, I must say. 

Gaston – the Song and the Character
Photo Credit: Fanpop
I’d not heard of Luke Evans before he was cast as Gaston, but I soon learned that he’s a singer and theater performer by training, so I was expecting to be impressed. But WOW. I came out of my first viewing well and truly gobsmacked by his performance. He and Josh Gad seemed uniquely made to play Gaston and LeFou and they just might have stolen the whole show during the “Gaston” song in the tavern. It’s so much fun and will make you want to dance with them. Luke Evans hits some impressive notes and makes you laugh at Gaston for about the first half of the movie, skillfully revealing his villain status a bit more subtly in this version. At the beginning, I wanted to playfully cuff Gaston and tell him to chill out, but by the end, I was feeling rather frightened of him and was thoroughly repulsed by his obsession with himself and his disregard for others. His contrast to the Beast is clear by the end – one has the good looks on the outside and beastliness within while the other, while he appears beastly, has far more goodness inside.

Belle and Maurice
Kevin Kline as Maurice was probably the most pleasant of surprises to me about this movie. Maurice is a rather eccentric, comic relief character in the animated version, but in this one, he’s thoughtful, gentle, and carrying past pain that makes him both quietly adoring and deeply protective of Belle. From their first scene together, their uniquely close connection is obvious – Belle is his whole world and she knows his everyday needs before he even asks. In many ways, their love for each other drives both of them throughout the entire movie. It’s clear that Belle’s capacity to love so selflessly and purely stems from him. One of the film’s first poignant moments occurs when she takes Maurice’s place in the Beast’s prison – he encourages her to live her life and forget him, but she tearfully replies, “How can you say that? Everything I am is because of you!” And then she willingly shuts the cell door on herself as he goes free. I might have definitely cried.
Photo Credit:

And interestingly, this daughter who Maurice has brought up so lovingly then ends up teaching him a few important things by the end. The back-story on Belle’s mother was an addition to this retelling that I really appreciated. We discover that when Belle was a baby, her mother died of the plague very suddenly, forcing Maurice take Belle and abandon his wife before the illness spread. This explains his pensive, sometimes sad nature and deep concern with safety. But by the end, Belle has helped him see the value in taking risks, letting go of guilt, and loving boldly. It’s a beautiful and touching arc for this classic father-daughter duo. 

The Waltz
Sigh. The iconic ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast is perhaps the most romantic sequence in any Disney movie, so I was excitedly anticipating it in this new version. And each time I’ve watched it, I’m pretty sure I held my breath for much of the scene. It’s simple and lovely and pure. Belle and the Beast look at each other as if for the first time, but also as if they’re seeing into each other’s hearts more deeply than ever before. Their conflicting emotions shine through beautifully as they spin and sway – their affection for one another is growing, yet they’re also uncertain and realizing they’re vulnerable where the other is concerned. And Emma Thompson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” frames the scene exquisitely. She does the song beautiful justice and much, much more.
Photo Credit: Alpha Coders

The Redemptive End
Even in the animated version, Belle’s shuddering weeping over the Beast has made me cry with her. But I was truly a mess as I watched Emma Watson acting this scene. Her sobs are desperate and truly heart-wrenching as she pleads for him to come back and then kisses his unconscious face. Her pain is palpable as you see her realize before your eyes how much she loves him. And this version added an interesting facet to this scene through the enchanted objects – as the Beast fades, they follow suit, seizing up and becoming completely inanimate. Their fear and regret add important depth to the scene, making even the most seasoned Disney fan wonder if maybe this time it’s too late. 

But oh, just wait, my friend! The transformation could not be more glorious. Belle and her newly restored prince gaze, smile, laugh, and kiss with a joy and wonder that gladdened my heart. The objects become people again, families are reunited, and the prince sees with new eyes what a gift he has in his kingdom and subjects. And what a feast for the eyes that finale is! Belle’s dress took my breath away. I also appreciated how in the midst of the joy and festivities, we get a glimpse of the fun in store for our happy couple. As they dance, the prince questions an odd look Belle is giving him, and she coyly quips, “How would you feel about growing a beard?” In response, he gives a playful growl and smile. I’m liking the pictures I have in my mind of their future life together.
Photo Credit: Pinterest

How’s that for thoughts? I warned you there were lots of them :) I’m thankful for the lovely nostalgic feelings this retelling evoked, as well as the new life and depth it breathed into the classic story. All in all, I was struck anew by the purity, sacrifice, and tenderness of this tale – a tormented prince and despairing servants are trapped without hope, but the selfless love of one person from the outside changes everything and redeems them all. It pointed me to the greatest, most selfless Love of all that I need to be reminded of every day, and as always, I’m grateful for a story that can do that.


*I do not own the rights to these photos*

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