Belle from ‘Beauty And The Beast’ is the bookworm’s Disney Princess, and an iconic character for '90s kids.
A voracious reader wanting more than marriage and children, her world is forever changed when her father is taken prisoner by a monstrous beast and his cursed servants. It’s a story that lives up to its ‘tale as old as time’ tagline, and one with a lot of nostalgia cred.
It’s hard to get a live action version of an animated classic right. The nostalgia factor alone can make it impossible, but there’s a magic to animation that doesn’t often translate well into a real-world setting, no matter how good the tech of the day is. What looks amazing in animation can be nightmare fuel when made realistic.
As a live action film, ‘Beauty And The Beast’ always had the potential to be problematic. Dancing, animated homewares aside, making a realistic beast was never going to be an easy task. Somehow, though, Disney have managed to create a monster both physically intimidating and capable of being seen sympathetically. Dan Stevens brings a vulnerability to even the worst of the Beast’s moods, taking the spoiled Prince and making even his beastly form somehow human.
Putting Emma Watson (best known for her role as Harry Potter’s bookworm bestie, Hermione Granger) to the role of Belle is, let’s be honest, a stroke of genius. Watson seems born to play kind-hearted bookworms with threads of steel to their personas, and clearly magical realms with more than a hint of darkness are rapidly becoming her forte.
This isn’t your typical cheery kids flick – Disney have clearly taken steps towards the darker, original fairy tale.
It’s a sucker punch of a film at times, and those looking for a simple, light hearted romp might be disappointed. The story has been tweaked to fit the realistic approach, with a new backstory filling in the blanks from the original lending a darker, more tragic atmosphere. And that darker tone isn’t helped by the nightmare fuel issues around the CGI.
Lumiere and Mrs Potts especially have moments of veering from cute to creepy, though I’m unsure why that is. Those who struggle with anthropomorphised objects might not enjoy the real-world incarnations of these beloved animated characters.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a film without controversy. You’d think it’d be the bestial undertones, or the Stockholm Syndrome connotations, but no. Instead, certain viewers are unimpressed at Disney’s ‘first openly gay’ character (only true if you ignore the shopkeeper in ‘Frozen’) – a rather overblown complaint given how little such characterisation actually occurs. A few longing glances and lines of dialogue hardly seems worth all the fuss.
What is bothersome, though, is the tired trope of the gay villain when there’s practically no openly gay heroes to compare it to. While LeFou is the least evil of the bunch, even trying to minimise the damage done at times, he’s also portrayed as a rather spineless doormat of a man.
Dear Disney: you’ve given us a gay villain. It’s time for some openly queer heroes, dontcha think?
‘Beauty And The Beast’ is beautifully rendered, even if some of the CGI elements don’t quite work. Visually stunning, with heart-melting choreography and heart-stopping fight scenes, it’s a staggeringly good movie that tries, if not always manages, to live up to its predecessor. But can anything ever really live up to the rose-tinted memories of our childhoods?
If not for the ghost of the 1991 classic constantly rattling its chains in viewer memory, this would be a near flawless retelling of a classic fairy tale.
'Beauty And The Beast' is in cinemas nationally from 23 March.