The film has a star-studded cast. Emma Watson plays Belle and Dan Stevens inhabits the Beast. Luke Evans will fight like Gaston while Josh Gad portrays sidekick Le Fou. Kevin Kline will also appear as Belle’s father, Maurice.
Emma Watson is aware of the common critiques of the plot. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Watson defended Belle’s relationship with the Beast, which some say encourages women to stay in abusive relationships. “It’s something I really grappled with at the beginning; the kind of Stockholm Syndrome question about this story,” she said. “That’s where a prisoner will take on the characteristics of and fall in love with the captor. Belle actively argues and disagrees with [Beast] constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm Syndrome because she keeps her independence, she keeps that freedom of thought.”
Watson later told Vanity Fair that she took Gloria Steinem to see the final cut of the film because she wanted her to approve that the film did not conflict with feminist ideals. Steinem agreed, and said that the film “mirrored” Watson’s activism.
Playing Belle made Watson feel like she fully matured as an actor. “When I finished the film, it kind of felt like I had made that transition into being a woman on-screen,” she told Vanity Fair.
Your favorite talking appliances are back and more alive than ever. Lumiére (Ewan McGregor), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Chip (Nathan Mack) chatter away throughout the movie. And Stanley Tucci plays a new character, Cadenza, a harpsichord. (See character posters for each at EW.)
The film will feature Disney’s first gay character. Director Bill Condon told Attitude that LeFou, played by Gad, is involved in a subplot that touches on his feelings for Gaston. “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said. “Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Condon’s announcement prompted controversy surrounding the “exclusively gay moment.” Evangelist Franklin Graham called for a boycott of the movie, saying in a Facebook post: “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children — watch out!” An Alabama movie theater has also announced it will refuse to screen the film upon its release. In March, Disney indefinitely postponed the release of the film in Malaysia after censors took out the brief gay scene in the movie, as scenes supporting homosexuality are forbidden in the predominantly Muslim country.
Following the strong reactions, Condon said the whole matter had been blown out of proportion in an interview with Screen Crush.
“Oh God. Can I just tell you? It’s all been overblown. Because it’s just this, it’s part of just what we had fun with,” Condon told Screen Crush. “You saw the movie, year? You know what I mean. I feel like the kind of thing this has been, I wish it were — I love the way it plays pure when people don’t know and it comes as a nice surprise.”
Ewan McGregor, who plays the talking candlestick Lumière in the film, had no time for the controversy. During an appearance on The Late Show, McGregor told Stephen Colbert: “He’s a gay character. It’s 2017, for f-ck’s sake.”
No one is smug like Gaston. The self-satisfied hunter, played by Evans, was introduced in a new clip from Disney by Gad’s LeFou in proper, hammy musical form.
Condon decided to remake the film to “distinguish Belle again, 25 years later, as a 21st century heroine.” In an interview with EW, Condon said: “She is a character in an animated movie, so it is a question of taking these characters and putting them into this extra dimension, putting them into a live-action context, which means adding levels of psychology and nuance, and updating it.”
Ariana Grande and John Legend sing an updated version of the theme song. The full movie soundtrack also features a song by Celine Dion and contributions from Josh Groban.
Belle is more than just a bookworm. In the original animated movie, Belle’s father was an inventor while Belle stuck to reading books. But the live-action version presents Belle as the inventor, Watson told EW. “In the animated movie, it’s her father who is the inventor, and we actually co-opted that for Belle,” she said “I was like, ‘Well, there was never very much information or detail at the beginning of the story as to why Belle didn’t fit in, other than she liked books. Also what is she doing with her time?’ So, we created a backstory for her, which was that she had invented a kind of washing machine, so that, instead of doing laundry, she could sit and use that time to read instead. So, yeah, we made Belle an inventor.”
The movie references Harry Potter. Watson earned worldwide fame through her portrayal of Hermione Granger, and Beauty and the Beast acknowledges the role in a bit of dialogue that is very similar to a conversation from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
In a clip released by Disney, Belle speaks with a man named Monsieur Jean who appears confused. “Have you lost something?” Belle asks. He replies, “I believe I have. Problem is, I can’t remember what.”
The exchange is a sly callback to a moment in Harry Potter when Neville Longbottom is showing his classmates his Remembrall—a ball that will turn red when the owner has forgotten something.
“The only problem is, I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten,” Neville says when the sphere turns red.
The film is one of more than a dozen classics being remade by Disney. Live-action versions of Mulan, Aladdin and The Lion King are among the ones expected to premiere in the next few years.
Critics have offered mostly positive reviews so far. TIME movie critic Stephanie Zacharek called the film “wondrous” and said the musical arrangements are like “lush floral bouquets, laced with grand orchestral curlicues.” Currently, the movie has a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.