Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, is Disney’s latest addition to their live-action collection of classic fairytales. Director Bill Condon creates an enchanting rendition of the 1991 animation and transforms a ‘tale as old as time’ into a more cohesive musical, whilst keeping the integrity of the original. With a juxtaposition between faithful reiterations that strike our nostalgia as well as new, modernised adventures, audiences see a revived storyline that is still faithful to the beloved classic.
A large focus in this movie-musical’s marketing stemmed around the filmmakers’ promise that there would be a much more feminist approach to the tale. With a princess whose feminist portrayal did not withstand the test of time, Condon does not hush the misogynistic undertones that plagued the light-hearted animation but highlights them, creating an honest interpretation of attitudes in the 1700s. Watson presents the iconic princess as a worthy competitor of 18th-century gender roles.
Thus, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast amplifies Belle’s strength and studious nature, presenting an inspirational role model. Disney’s choice of Watson as the leading lady is not only a success on screen, but her person offstage is also one which exudes the qualities of her character.
Subtleties of poverty, witchcraft and plague also penetrate the film, providing a historical backdrop to its under-developed predecessor. The implementation of a time-period and its respective attributes creates a profound magical reality in which the audience is invited into once again. Disney also incorporates hints of homosexuality and drag – a source of controversy worldwide – but these brief allusions are fleeting and handled in such a considerably discreet manner that the company should be applauded on its aim for diversity and inclusivity.
The intense contrasts within the film – beauty and beast, summer and winter, extravagance and decay – are both eerily enchanting and striking. Throughout, the movie is littered with pathetic fallacy that allows the audience to experience the emotion of the characters. The evolution of the castle’s indefinite winter to summer reflects the Beast’s emotional and physical evolution from beast to man. He appears more manlike as he becomes humanised by Belle, and Stevens introduces a level of compassion to the character that makes his transformation much smoother.
The protagonists therefore serve as relatable figures, demonstrating both sides of the human condition and the ability to transcend the confines of themselves. The story is not only one of the characters finding love in the unlikeliest of places, but one of finding themselves in the process, in this dark, charming and comical retelling.
Beauty and the Beast is also shot so beautifully that the scenery adds a visual poetry to the already ornate setting. Reflective of the decadence of Marie Antoinette, the movie exudes both royal grandeur, but exceptional decay, as well. The Prince’s lavish party at the start of the film highlights the sheer amount of decadence associated with French monarchy, whereas newer additions to the plot, such as the Beast’s castle crumbling as each rose petal falls – depicts an overall sense of fragility.
Disney’s live-action franchise has started off with enormous success, with Beauty and the Beast following award-winning and Oscar-nominated Maleficent and Cinderella. It is sure to follow suit, and more likely surpass the success of its counterparts. It remains questionable, however, whether Disney’s usual target audience of children are the intended clientele for their new creations. While they still are portrayed as family films, a slightly more aged audience is typically more appreciative of the artistry of the developed animations.
Whether or not that is the case, Beauty and the Beast is an assured success amongst all ages and shows great promise for further advancements.