A few years ago I watched the play The Cripple of Inishmaan with a friend in London. The play starred Daniel Radcliffe, who most people will know as the titular character in the Harry Potter film series. In The Cripple of Inishmaan, Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen and Radcliffe gave a very good performance.
Radcliffe’s co-worker in Harry Potter was Emma Watson who played Harry’s friend Hermione Granger. Watson now appears in a Disney re-creation of Beauty and the Beast, due for release in cinemas on 14 April. During the film, in which Watson sings beautifully, I found myself constantly comparing Belle to the young, wild-haired girl of Hogwarts. As Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Watson speaks with the same perfect elocution as she did in Harry Potter, and shows the same half smile as young Hermione did.
How interesting then that in this film the character Belle has a coming-of-age experience (not from Hermione you understand!), maturing from a young girl into a woman, but still retaining certain essential characteristics. This version of the story explains that both Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens) are who they are because of their parentage; Beast self-centred and angry, Belle considerate and creative. And it is Belle who helps Beast become his better self, in a story that prizes love and goodness above selfishness and evil.
Beast’s servants – all turned into talking furniture because of a curse – and the townsfolk of Belle’s village, provide the humour in the story. They also prevent Beauty and the Beast from becoming an all-out good versus evil story by showing that we are all capable of good or evil depending on circumstances and force of character.
The special effects, costumes and setting are good to watch and the music is enchanting. But there was something of a ‘same-old, same-old’ feeling in this fairly faithful rendition of the original story. After Shrek, which turned fairy tales on their heads, declaring them a ‘load o’ …’, it’s hard to go back to the traditional stories.