Tale as old as time it may be, but this new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast feels anything but stale. The film sticks faithfully to its source material – the animated classic from 1991 – yet gives a fresh and modern take on the childhood favourite. The big musical numbers, including ‘Bonjour!’, ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ are outrageously extravagant and full of unabashed old-school musical charm, while several new songs written for the film are a convincing addition to the score.
The costumes are beautifully done, true to the animation as well as to the period, and although Emma Watson’s refusal to wear a corset in the name of feminism has annoyed some costume designers, the iconic yellow ball gown doesn’t suffer for it.
The casting, which is impeccable, is surprisingly diverse for a Disney, especially one which has the excuse of being set in 18th century France. There are two interracial relationships within the 10 main characters – Madame de Garderobe (the wardrobe) is married to Cadenza (the harpsichord) and Plumette (the feather duster) is with Lumiere (the candlestick) – and the film really does feel ‘colourblind’; the actors’ skin tone is irrelevant to their casting.
There is also the matter of ‘Disney’s first gay character’ – Gaston’s sidekick and comic relief, Le Fou. Horrified conservatives across America have boycotted the film for it, but frankly, if the director hadn’t been boasting about it, nobody would have noticed. Yes, he is a little camp, and if you want to read romantic motives into his slightly clingy friendship with Gaston, you can, but it feels half-hearted. The overall effect is neither a triumph for LGBTQ+, nor a slap in the face to the conservatives, and thus will probably be read as an insult to both parties, which is a shame, because it’s a really great film.
Although the original tale may be one of bestial Stockholm syndrome, as fairytale nay-sayers often grumble, here Disney has been at pains to remove this element as far as possible. There are clear moments as they discover each other and fall in love very naturally – without any coercion or hallmarks of the syndrome. Beast is also extremely human, and the story makes very clear to the audience and to Belle that he used to be that way, as were the household staff, so it’s not as if she falls for an animal.
Overall, I went into the film with great expectations, and came out with all of them met. We went to see the film on the day it came out, at the 8th of 10 2D showings that day (not including a further 6 3D ones), and our screen was fully booked out. At this point it is too early to talk about opening weekend box office takings, but, like the film, I think they might be pretty spectacular.