On Friday night, as part of a friend's birthday celebration, I went to see the live-action remake of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I was nervous to see the film because my sister and I were obsessed with it when we were young. I think we've seen it at least 1,000 times. That might be a conservative estimate.
As little girls we were charmed by Lumiere's French accent, wide eyed and mesmerized by "Be Our Guest" and trembled with fear when Gaston rallied the townspeople to kill the Beast. I went into the theater on Friday night hoping this version would preserve the integrity of those moments.
This new Beauty and the Beast is, in a word, spectacular.
Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame plays Belle.
There was much talk leading up to the premiere of how Watson's version of Belle had much more agency than the character we first came to know. Many articles boasted that this Belle was not just a bookworm, but also an inventor. That storyline is barely touched upon during the movie. Belle does create a new way to do laundry (laundry? really, people?) and she always seems to have just the right tool to hand her father when he's tinkering, but personally, I found the statement "Belle is now an inventor" to be a gross exaggeration.
Belle's father, Maurice, is played by Kevin Kline. I wasn't aware that he was in the movie, so that was a fun surprise. In this 2017 adaptation Maurice makes music boxes. His storyline remains largely unchanged from the original. Kline and Watson had sincere believability as father and daughter and their scenes together were very endearing.
Luke Evans, who I first saw in The Girl on the Train, plays Gaston. Fun fact: while on the Ellen DeGeneres Show promoting the film, Evans admitted he is a huge Adele fan. He practices her songs until he has them memorized and then performs them for his mom. Too cute!
As Gaston, Evans is the cocky, overly confident villain you remember. Yet somehow, the number "Gaston" is one of the most enjoyable in the film. I can still sing along to every word, "No one's slick as Gaston. No one's quick as Gaston. No one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston!"
In this new version, Gaston is a war hero, which they use to explain his need to be in command and to pursue battle.
Gaston's sidekick, Le Fou, is played by Josh Gad, who you may recognize from the Broadway show Book of Mormon. There has been a lot of chatter about how Le Fou would be an openly gay character in this film, but I just didn't see it. There are a few instances where if you are really looking for it, you can say, "Oh, he smiled at that man" or "I think he just winked at a guy," but it was pretty subtle. This Slate article agrees that the "first gay character" push was overly hyped.
Dan Stevens, an actor who was totally new to me, inhabits the Beast. In this new version, the Beast's appearance is much more elaborate, including two very menacing horns. As he softens, his facial expressions warm and his blue eyes seem to become more piercing.
Interestingly, in the end, when the Beast transforms back into the prince, I didn't find him as handsome as the cartoon version! BuzzFeed is actually running a poll right now where you can cast a vote for which version of the prince is better looking - the cartoon or the human.
The Beast's gang of household objects are played by some serious Hollywood heavy hitters.
Lumiere (my favorite character then and now) is voiced by Ewan McGregor. Who knew a Scottish man could do a French accent so well! "Be Our Guest" has always been my favorite Beauty and the Beast number and somehow they made it even more magnificent. The visuals are gorgeous and at points it felt like you were looking through a kaleidoscope.
Lumiere's partner in crime, Cogsworth, is played by Sir Ian McKellen. Mrs. Potts comes to life thanks to Emma Thompson. Before going into the theater I didn't know Emma Thompson was in the cast and the entire time I kept thinking, "I know that voice!" She does a particularly emotional version of the title song, "Beauty and the Beast."
Two of the most musical characters, Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza, are played by Audra McDonald (Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner) and Stanley Tucci. They have some of the best lines in the film and some of the most memorable tactics in the fight against the townspeople at the end.
Though this version of the movie preserves so many of the best parts of the original, it also has some new dimensions. There are new songs, as well as back stories for the death of Belle's mother and the Beast's childhood. I found these welcomed additions. Check out this USA Today piece that lists the major changes between the two films.
For me, the most incredible parts of the movie were the set designs and the costumes. The Beast's castle was opulent (pre-curse), terrifying and then dazzling once again. The final scene of the film is a true feast for the eyes.
Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran was the costume designer (she won for Anna Karenina). I really enjoyed her interview with Entertainment Weekly about the design process. I also couldn't look away from this video on The Cut which dives into the construction of the famous yellow ball gown. Watson's dress has 2,160 Swarovski crystals on it!
Throughout the movie I could feel myself smiling so widely. With each song I was transported back to my childhood living room, singing along with my little sister. I really had to fight the urge to sing in the theater.
I'm not going to lie to you, I am already thinking about when I can see the movie again. I can't think of the last time I saw a movie in the theater twice, but I just loved this so much.
If you are on the fence about seeing this (probably because you are afraid it can't live up to the original), go! I promise you won't be disappointed.