Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in my heart and in the hearts of so many women who fell in love with the unusual Disney Princess, Belle. The animated version of Belle was an intelligent, independent, dreamer who longed for a life outside of her small village. She was the first feminist Disney princess and people have wondered how live-action Belle will compare to the original. Belle’s cultural significance was not lost on Emma Watson, who stars in the movie opening on Friday.
“…it’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become,” she said at a press conference in Beverly Hills earlier this month. “I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing Belle (Reprise), you know, it’s kind of the “I want” song of all “I want” songs. And I just immediately resonated with her. I mean, I was so young I didn’t even know what I was tapping into, but there was something about that spirit, there was something about that energy that I just knew she was my champion.”
Casting Watson was genius. She grew up in front of our eyes as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies and is now a humanitarian and feminist icon. Making sure she got Belle right was important to her. Belle in this version is not just an intellectual who doesn’t fit in, she’s become more of a force of nature.
“In our film she’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read,” Watson said. “Moments like that where you could see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that, and yeah, that was amazing to get to do.”
Broadway legend Audra MacDonald, who plays Madame De Garderobe (the wardrobe), said that knowing the kind of woman Watson is and the works of the creative team involved, she knew that the movie would be handled correctly.
“So knowing full well that Emma was going to make sure that Belle was somebody who was independent, who was strong, who was educated, who was sticking up for girls and women, and who does all the rescuing in the film,” she said. “That’s why I knew it was going to be important for me to be a part of and for my kids to see.”
This Beauty and the Beast does have a more modern feel than the animated version. There has been a bit of controversy about the character of LeFou (Josh Gad) being gay – a movie theater in Alabama is refusing to show the movie. It’s a ridiculous controversy for 2017 because why should it matter (see Ewan MacGregor’s great response)? The film’s director, Bill Condon, said LeFou being LeFou is part of the bigger message of the film.
“You know, I talked before about how we translate this into a live act – that means filling out the characters. It’s also a translation to 2017, you know? And what is this movie about? What has this story always been about? For 300 years it’s about looking closer, going deeper, you know, accepting people for who they really are, and in a very Disney way we are including everybody. I think this movie is for everybody, and on the screen you’ll see everybody, and that was important to me, I think to all of us.”
It’s a modern and very entertaining Disney movie with a fabulous cast including Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts (the teapot), Ewan McGregor as Lúmiere (the candlestick), Luke Evans as Gaston, and Dan Stevens as The Beast. Before the press conference started, Josh Gad and Luke Evans joined composer Alan Menken to sing, “Gaston.”
Come back on Friday to read my full review of Beauty and the Beast.