Emma Watson’s Belle Reinvents Disney Magic in Live-Action ‘Beauty and the Beast’

It’s one of Disney’s most celebrated classics, and the newest incarnation is finally making its way to the big screen. One of the most anticipated movies of 2017, Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” directed by Academy Award-winner Bill Condon, stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the (computer generated) Beast. Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” preserves the charming story and music of the 1991 animated classic, but it also adds contemporary pizzazz, a feminist flair, and even a few new songs.

To recap, for those who aren’t caught up on their childhood staples: As revealed via song-and-dance by a small French village, Belle is largely acknowledged to be the town beauty, but she’s also, well, a bit odd. That is, she loves to read, and she willfully desires “more than this provincial life.” Meanwhile, town hunk and hot-head Gaston (Luke Evans of “The Hobbit”), shadowed incessantly by simpering sidekick LeFou (played by Josh Gad, now a Disney movie favorite as the voice of Olaf in “Frozen”), has his eyes on Belle for marriage. When Belle’s father Maurice (Oscar-winner Kevin Kline) is taken prisoner by a mysterious, brooding, fur-covered mansion dweller, Belle decides to save her father by taking his place, exposing herself to both the fearsome wrath of the Beast, and his mansion’s magical wonders.

A dazzling cast fills in for the castle’s enchanted objects: Ewan McGregor does his darndest impression of a Frenchman as the candelabra Lumiere, while Ian McKellen tags along as Lumiere’s grumpy mantel clock buddy, Cogsworth. Six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald is the wardrobe Madame Garderobe, and two-time Oscar-recipient Emma Thompson plays the honey-voiced Mrs. Potts, a teapot previously made famous by Angela Lansbury. Though “Beauty and the Beast” is a live-action rendition of the original film, this iteration certainly provides a few contemporary tweaks – such as new characters like Stanley Tucci’s harpsichord Maestro Cadenza, and additional musical numbers courtesy of the legendary Alan Menken and Tim Rice (the latter of whom is taking the place of the late, original “Beauty and the Beast” lyricist, Howard Ashman).

Aside from the visual splendor of newly choreographed dance numbers and some stunning production design by Sarah Greenwood, 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” includes Disney’s first canonically gay character in LeFou, and gives Belle a more overtly feminist makeover, presenting her – and not her father – as the inventor. Yet, as Emma Watson explained to Total Film Magazine (as recounted by SlashFilm), the character of Belle has always resonated with her. “There’s this kind of outsider quality that Belle had, and the fact she had this really empowering defiance of what was expected of her,” Watson said. “In a strange way, she challenges the status quo of the place she lives in, and I found that really inspiring.”

Beauty and the Beast” will be released in theaters nationwide on March 17.