“Once upon a –” and I’m an emotional mess. It sure didn’t take long. That nostalgia button packs a punch. I can hardly credit the new Beauty and the Beast for my sudden flood of emotions, however, because it takes at least ten seconds to properly form an opinion and I was a knockout at five. It felt more like I’d waited an hour at the door and two hours at the table before finally spotting my meal gliding towards me on the outstretched hand of a waiter. The smell alone would draw a tear from a raisin. In the Beauty and the Beast situation, I’d been savouring the first course for 26 years, letting the memory of it glow a bit around the edges, before finally getting my hands on a dessert menu. No wonder I snapped.
Aside from some backstory additions, the plot really hasn’t changed. There are a whole lot of villagers in this historically-set, small provincial town, but none are quite like Belle (Emma Watson). Behind that fair façade I’m afraid she’s rather odd. Belle reads. On top of that, she invents things too. Still, she is the most beautiful girl in town which means she is prime picking for the handsome asshole, Gaston (Luke Evans). He flexes in her general direction while Belle ignores him and fondly sends her father off to the market. When the horse returns alone, however, Belle doesn’t hesitate to dive into the woods in search. Somewhere along the road she crosses into winter and comes to a mysteriously forgotten castle with her father locked in a tower. Belle fails to negotiate his release with the castle’s master – a hideous, monstrous Beast (Dan Stevens) – and settles for sacrificing her own future instead. To Belle’s surprise, the castle staff are a welcoming bunch – as well as enchanted – and do everything they can to make her comfortable. No wonder, as their very humanity rests on Beast’s ability to woo said fair maiden, win her heart, and restore the castle from the enchanted back to the plain old pompously luxurious.
This Beauty and the Beast has a tough audience to please. A good percentage of us (me and all the 20-something-year-old women in the theater) can recite the original line by line, every song, every musical cue. I was immediately thrown when Belle’s conversation with the village bookkeeper didn’t start with, “I’ve come to return the book I’ve borrowed,” and end with, “If you like it all that much, it’s yours.” This Beauty and the Beast is not a copy; it is a delightful remake. There are more villagers (because casting is easier than sketching 50 extras), some lines are modified (probably due to modern sensitivities), and there are a few foundational changes…
For example, Belle is not just strong, she’s fierce. She doesn’t sit in her room and wait to starve; she hangs her sheets out the window and plans her escape. I believe in this Belle. She’s different because she’s smart, imaginative, and crafty. This 18th century girl builds a washing machine. All hail the witch! She’s also strong-willed and open-minded. Belle falls for the Beast because he delicately wins her over through shared experiences and common interests. Like reading. And beating back ferocious wolves. Beauty and the Beast doesn’t speed past their courtship in a single song (a damn good song, mind you). It exchanges backstory, what makes them happy, why enchantresses suck, etc. Basic first and second date stuff.
The couple share these experiences in the shadow of a crumbling castle. Here’s something new. In the animated original the castle was a little creepy, but sturdy. In this Beauty and the Beast a piece of the building falls away with every lost rose petal. Not that it was following every building code to begin with, but the shuddering foundations add an additional sense of urgency to this delicately forced romance.
We are fully aware of how the characters feel at every stage of the relationship thanks to new songs and added verses to the classics. Some of the lines have changed, so don’t be that guest who embarrasses herself by singing out loud in the theatre. Classics like “Be Our Guest” are updated with booty shakes and a kissy face from Mrs. Potts. To me it was less cute and more like Uncle Lumière was embarrassing the kids. Other songs are fresh off the press. They’re nice – but they aren’t needed. The musical menagerie makes Beauty and the Beast feel a bit like an exaggerated stage piece. I was looking for plot progression but got a solo about sadness instead.
In the midst of all this, we have Gaston throwing flaming torches at the carts of hard-working citizens while LeFou (Josh Gad) shoots him goo goo eyes and massages his earlobes. Beauty and the Beast may be strong and romantic, but it’s not always in the way you expect. LeFou is an overall highlight, with perfect comedic timing and just enough character to make you love him and forget about him at the appropriate moments. He deserves a spinoff. This character along with other modifications make this Beauty and the Beast a fresh pass on a classic. Even if some dramatic exaggerations are a bit tough to take seriously, still, I absolutely loved it. Beauty and the Beast hit my nostalgia button without ruining my childhood. There are some changes I miss from the original, but that’s what makes it a different movie. A rose is a rose and Beauty and the Beast is a 7.5/10.