While I certainly watched the original animated movie as a child, I have no exceptionally fond memories of it, nor did I watch it enough times to remember it very well. I was, however, well-versed in the Beauty and the Beast storyline – it’s always been my favourite out of the princess fairy tales. I always liked how Belle was not a passive damsel in distress like Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (which is perhaps the most unsettling of them all) and was, in fact, the hero of the story, saving the Beast from his cursed fate. I’ve also always liked how it was about disregarding appearances and the importance of judging people based on their actions and personalities instead. Belle is also smart, brave, empathetic and loves to read – a great heroine.
I really enjoyed the live-action version, especially on the visual side. While slightly over the top, I loved the rich details and the way many scenes looked like paintings. Two scenes stand out especially in this regard – the scene where Belle is singing “I want more” on the hilltops in a very Sound of Music-esque scene and the sky fades to a sunset that reminded me of a Renaissance oil painting. The other moment was when Belle is entering the castle and the gorgeous Gothic facade is illuminated by oil lamps.
Dan Stevens was excellent as the beast and gave a really solid performance. The secondary characters were also all wonderful – Chip was my favourite – and were animated beautifully as well. Despite being objects, their human character really came through. You genuinely felt sorry for their fate and this helped add an extra emotional layer to the story. I’m quite picky about musicals, but I thought the songs and story were well integrated. The music and singing felt a part of the plot, not tacked on as an afterthought.
I do have a few issues with the movie though. First, I don’t think Emma Watson was right for the role of Belle. Her acting was fine, but she didn’t have a strong enough voice to carry the lead, especially when everyone else could sing so well. She also lacked the stage presence needed for the role and was swallowed up in the massive castle. I’d have liked someone slightly angrier and more stubborn to play Belle.
Second, I wish the relationship between Belle and the Beast was developed some more. There was potential for some really great character building scenes, but it jumped much too quickly from the Beast being mean to being super nice to Belle. I’d have loved to see a much more gradual transition so you could actually watch his transformation from a true Beast to one only in name. Like in The Secret Garden, I’d have loved to see how Belle being the first person to finally stand up to him made him a better person.
Third, I’d have appreciated some more explanation surrounding the curse. It’s unclear how long the Beast was cursed, or how long the arbitrary time set by the witch for the petals to fall off the rose was. It also wasn’t clear how the wolves seemed to attack anyone who tried to enter or leave, but Belle was able to leave without a problem at the end. It seemed as if the wolves only attacked when the Beast didn’t want anyone to come or go, but this wasn’t very clear especially as he didn’t seem to have any control over them.
In all though, it was a fun and entertaining movie and I really enjoyed watching it.