Bill Condon's 2017 rendition of The Beauty and the Beast ends with a song by Céline Dion. “How does a moment last forever? How can a story never die? It is love we must hold onto. Never easy, but we try,” she sings. True to every line and note from the original, the movie is a dazzling proof of Disney's efforts to do just that.
It is a twisted and decadent prince who receives and rejects the enchantress impersonating a storm-tossed hag in the first scene. The party in full swing around him reeks of Oscar Wilde-esque revelry. The setting is somehow already dehumanised – beastlike. These first few minutes make two points clear: i. the movie is primarily for the fans of the original immortalised in 1991, and ii. those fans are now adults.
Every dialogue, every melody, every curve of the village and the castle reminded me that I knew what the next line or scene would entail. All the songs, from Belle's soliloquies to Gaston's raucous celebrations, are delightful in their loyalty to the 26 year old cartoon; the new version of Be Our Guest truly takes the cake with its blinding showers of colours, glitters, and fireworks, reminiscent of the Disney Dreams laser display I watched on Christmas night at Disneyland Paris.
As any true fan of Disney can testify, though, the sparks are mere decoration for the stories that we've loved all our lives. We waltzed to the Tale As Old As Time not just because it was beautiful, but because we dreamed of becoming like the first Disney princess (at the time) who chose wisdom and empathy over mindless romance. We adored Beast for his transformation into human from within. This movie understands that, and highlights that.
Belle's characterisation, in Emma Watson's version of a more syrupy 18th century Hermione Granger, is by far the most gratifying element of the movie. She no longer lets an unwanted admirer throw her favourite book into the mud (raise hands if that scene from the cartoon still makes you see red). This new Belle rushes through forests to rescue the men she loves. She plans her escape instead of crumbling on the bed in tears with the Beast barking out orders to join him for dinner. And when forced into a corner, she asserts that, “I may be a village girl. But I am not simple.” These strengths are reflected in the character of Maurice, not the crazy old man-child of the cartoon, but a wise and progressive father. Together, they form an impressive duo that uses its smarts to get out of sticky situations and tries to save the day.
Of course, the strongest duo is that of the Beast and the Beauty, who fall in love not because they are imprisoned within a cursed castle, but because they find in each other the parts of themselves that the world looks down upon – literature, humour, the shadows of a difficult childhood. These additions to the plot surprise us as much as they add to the credibility of the story, making it easier than ever before to root for the couple as well as their friends.
The Beauty and the Beast will always remain unparalleled, with the tiniest of its details embedded clear as day in our memories. This adaptation works because it doesn't pretend to improve upon the classic. By filling up the gaps and sweeping through the cobwebs, it merely seeks to remind us why we loved it so much in the first place, especially the parts that we may have overlooked as children. It does that job to perfection.