Most of us have grown up with the animated classic. We know the songs, we know the lines, we know the story. Now comes the live action adaptation starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad, directed by Bill Condon.
The Sydney State Theatre hosted this enchanting evening (as predicted). An incredibly opulent space, that almost replicated what we’ve seen so far in the trailers. Setting the tone as soon as we walked in, the media wall was framed with gorgeous vines of red roses. We were also greeted with the most amazing jewels, Swarovski crystal jewellery fitting with the Beauty and the Beast theme. Patrons were greeted by models dressed as candelabra’s (Lumiere style) and models dressed in Mink Pink Beauty and the Beast designs. With a Megan Hess design inspired by Belle’s own gown on display. The atmosphere was buzzing, people around me were so excited to see the film. As was I.
We walked through the gothic/Italian/ art deco inspired theatre, feeling very much what I imagine a classic Hollywood style premiere would be. Walking in the main theatre, we were greeted by a large screen welcoming us to the premiere. As people bustled to their seats we were fortunate enough to be moved to seats in the front stalls. Front and centre to see and hear Josh Gad (LeFou) introduce the film. Disney star Gad returned to Sydney to promote the film and introduce it to a crowd of Beauty and the Beast fans. Gad known in the Disney sphere thanks to his role as Olaf in Frozen, returns to the Disney family to portray Gaston’s (Luke Evans) sidekick, LeFou.
Gad spoke about the role of Belle and the importance of a character like that to society today. Also, how the other stars wished they could attend too. Talking about what we could expect from the production, like the amazing set design and costumes. He started a sing along with the audience in the State Theatre, yes, we’ve sung ‘Gaston’ with Josh Gad. After that, Gad filmed a video message for co- star Evans. He also spoke about fellow stage performer Michael James Scott who was in the audience (they once performed together in The Book of Mormon) currently starring as The Genie in the stage production of Aladdin.
Gad then left us with a message from Emma Watson. She introduced the film with a short message for the audience in the theatre. Then came a familiar note, a familiar tune. It was at this point the chills started. To hear the opening notes of the prologue, but enhanced for a modern retelling was absolutely spine tingling. We all know that it starts with how the castle came to be enchanted, but in this adaptation we’re treated to a bit more. Involving all the characters in the intro. We also see Prince Adam and just how smug he was. Then comes another familiar tune. Belle. It was so amazing to see the way in which animation can be brought to life. The images replicated in a way that makes you sit back and think, this is really happening, we’re actually seeing the animated classic come to life. There were some light changes, such as the inflection of certain words, others being spoken rather than sung, some lines missing and others added. For me, it worked. I was okay with it. I loved the way Belle made her way through town, and for the reasons of flow, these changes worked.
Much like Gaston and LeFou starting their journey making their way towards town. I really liked the use of the telescope in this part. It brought the two ideas together, making a connection to the original. Emma Watson, Luke Evans and Josh Gad sung brilliantly. Particularly Luke Evans, who comes from a musical theatre background. Some parts were so specific to the original, like the, “please let me through!” line. Evans’ facial expressions throughout the film were so well thought out. Slight expressions to start off with that made you smirk and smile along, which then led to the larger expressions in the end. Very well done. One of my favourite parts was when Gaston, LeFou and Maurice (Kevin Kline) are seated in the carriage, squashed next to each other. Deviating from the original, but a truly funny addition. Then seconds later, we’re feeling a different emotion all together, when it comes to these three characters. Gaston definitely takes a turn in the film. One that takes him from loveable rogue to monster. It was very well done.
LeFou also grows in this film. He was another favourite. Again, his expressions and singing were stand outs. What I love about Josh Gad (in any role) is that he takes on the character with every fibre of his being. You hear it in each word, the emotion behind each word he says or sings, makes you truly understand the character. I really loved the way he saw the truth and at times would call Gaston out on it. Then came the part where we saw the crack or more, the chink in his armour. His loyalty or love of Gaston creates a moment where you question LeFou’s morals. Then the ending creates a sensation of reality crashing down and we see LeFou’s true colours. One line I particularly enjoyed was during the mob song. The scene in the pub, where they sing Gaston, was one of my favourite songs. I loved the scene, the dancing, the way they created it all, the way the characters moved throughout the song. Really dynamic and very memorable. It was also great to see Australian Simone Sault share the screen with the actors, at one stage dancing on the table with Luke Evans. I knew I’d love this scene, and I wasn’t disappointed.
A scene that surprised me, was the addition of the song Evermore sung by Dan Stevens as The Beast. Honestly it’s one of my favourite songs. He sung it so well, making everyone in the audience sit still and just escape into the feeling of the song. Or maybe that was just me. It honestly felt like I was the only one there, watching this emotional, beautiful performance. Again, chills. I see a great future for Dan Stevens when it comes to musical performances (we already know he’s a great actor, thank you Downton Abbey and Legion). What I really loved about Dan Stevens’ performance as The Beast is that at times I could truly see Stevens within The Beast. It just goes to show how amazing technology is. I’ve learnt that there was a new way of utilizing Stevens’ expressions to impress on the vision we see in the final product. Marker dots were placed over his face to then use technology to fuse Stevens’ expressions as The Beast’s. You particularly notice in the parts where he’s talking to Belle and you see the softer side of The Beast. A complete contrast to the start. Where I also noticed, the costumes add another dimension to the character and the journey they take. The Beast really grew, as a character and emotionally. We really see how brat-like he is at the start. We also learn that there’s a back story explaining what made Prince Adam the way he was.
I remember the day it was announced that Emma Watson would play portray Belle in a live-action adaptation. How excited fans were, me included. Fast forward to seeing Watson on the big screen as Belle, and I truly believe they made a great choice. I was worried at one point that perhaps the contrast between her British accent to the original American accent we’re all familiar with, Paige O’Hara who voiced Belle in the classic. Honestly, it didn’t even affect me. I loved the parts where Belle was given a newfound strength and power, like when she’s trying to escape via the window. Most of all, I loved the way she interacted with the other characters. The enchanted objects within the castle, Gaston, The Beast, her father. I really loved the story they created between Belle and her father Maurice. Belle in search of answers to questions about her past takes a journey with the beast. This scene was very well done, I liked the way after everything she and The Beast had been through they were equal in the way their histories shaped who they became and equal in the sense that they both empathized with each other, that judgments shouldn’t be made because you never know what led or made the person who they are, standing in front of you. I also liked the library scene. It didn’t have the impact of the original, but it’s been done, and so the film had to create a new unique way in approaching the library as a gift.
Maurice was introduced to us in a lovely way. Another favourite song of mine was How Does a Moment Last Forever. I loved how Belle was placed in the same position as us, that being an audience to this moment. You could tell that underneath the tune, there was raw emotion, pain but through that, beauty. We see her father tinkering away on a music box, through Belle’s point of view we see her father is an artist, drawings of herself and who we presume to be her mother adorn an easel like board. The next part where Belle is helping her father is a sweet moment too, reading his mind as he works with his tools, paralleling the animated classic and then again replicated towards the end of the film, bookmarking almost. Throughout the film you really feel for Maurice. Between the what happens with the beast (which is a tad more true to one of the earlier texts in literature), to the treatment he receives from Gaston (which had me gasping with shock in certain parts), to the way the townsfolk treat him, you couldn’t help but feel for Maurice. Which makes the scene between him and Agatha (Hattie Morahan) quite lovely. I liked the role of Agatha too, her positioning in the town means she gets to see the truth behind the façade. And then you learn some home truths that have you reaching for the tissues. Really well done in terms of character development and story lines.
The characters within the enchanted castle were great. I really loved Ewan McGregor as Lumiere. I think he did a great job, his little quips with Cogsworth as Ian McKellen were funny. The introduction to Lumiere was so well done. One of my favourite lines wasn’t in the film though, but hey, some others were. I loved the relationship the objects had with The Beast, and then also with Belle. They created the bridge between the two characters, and yes, some could say it was for their own benefit, but I truly felt like they loved The Beast/Prince Adam. The end scene, had me in tears. Of course you say, oh but we know how this ends. There’s one part that’s been added, that really gripped the heartstrings. One particular moment was between Mrs. Potts and Chip. Keep watch. I didn’t mind Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, but my one criticism would be, her effect as the narrator wasn’t as great as the animated series. Then again, it’s hard, considering David Ogden Steirs’ voice really resonates with you and is incredibly distinctive. As much as I tried not to think about it, I was thinking of Nanny McPhee during the opening prologue. Also in terms of the ball scene, again Thompson’s voice wasn’t blowing me away. It was good, but not the effect I wanted it to have. For some reason I feel like the cockney accent was too forced. A small critique. I enjoyed the incorporation of Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), that their love too, was distant. The track Days in the Sun in between all this reminded me of other tracks I enjoyed, and the images that accompanied really worked well. There were moments prior to watching where I thought how are the objects going to be, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was done well.
A couple of my favourite moments included those with Stanley (Alexis Loizon) and his interaction with Madame Garderobe, the audience loved that part, and the end with another pivitol character. Another charming moment happened within the theatre, when the ball scene occurred, I noticed there was movement behind me. In the aisles there were young children dancing with each other. It was such a nice moment and made me reflect on my own childhood, when we would act out Disney classics. It made me realize, this is exactly that for the new generation, who will grow up loving this film. When interpretations are created, I love looking at the vision one person had. What they saw from the original tale, what they want to highlight, or points they want to portray. I think the scriptwriters did a great job in achieving this. It made me reflect on other fairytales such as Cinderella, adapted over the years with different visions in mind. Watching this version of Beauty and the Beast I was reminded of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997) elements such as how vivid the images were in both films really captured my attention. The cinematography was breathtaking, as well as how parts were filmed. The camera angles and style of filming really helped tell the story. Like the pan down from the arch into a courtyard where Belle and The Beast have a charming discussion about how they are perceived by others. The scene was one of my favourites.
The special effects team did a great job and the production design was magnificent. The set design for the castle and grounds were absolutely breathtaking. Incredibly opulent and creative, fitting each scenario. Like the dungeons. They were so expertly done, I loved the spiraling staircases, opened door cells that would lead to open spaces. It all looked so intricate and detailed. The castle itself was so beautiful too. All the exteriors, such as the gargoyles, and the grounds too, really captured the gothic feel of it all. Also the grandeur, you really noticed it in the end, the scene between The Beast, Gaston and Belle. That ending too! At a certain point I knew what was coming, we all did, but I don’t think others expected it. Having listened to the Gaston track earlier, I knew exactly how the scene would go down. Then (and if you haven’t watched the animated proceed to the next paragraph if you don’t heed this spoiler alert) when Gaston plummets to his death, I heard a little girl behind me laugh and state the phrase, “bye, bye see ya Gaston.” To which the audience starts laughing. Very dark.
The movie was a masterpiece, and as Gad had stated earlier, there were elements that truly respected the original, but provided a new breath of life with a twist on the comical side. I will definitely watch Beauty and the Beast again. When we were walking out of the theatre, people were taking roses from around the foyer. I didn’t, because we all know what happened last time someone took a rose.