Breathtaking visuals make live-action ‘Beast’ a beauty

Maya Dennis, A&E Critic

Belle stands in the middle of the room while the wardrobe swathes her in yellow silk, the fabric piecing itself together into a gorgeous gown. She gazing at the newly fashioned dress, then, glimpsing movement, looks to the ceiling. The gold pieces that usually hang lifeless in the air begin to shape themselves and attach to the lining of the dress. Belle runs her hands over the fabric, smiling, as the soft silk runs through her fingers. She spins once, admiring the way the dress flows as she twirls. She then makes her way to the door, prepping herself for what’s to come.

It’s becoming more frequent to see old Disney animated films turned into live-action versions, but “Beauty and the Beast” is much more than that. Throughout the film, director Bill Condon — who helmed “Chicago” — has created stunning visuals that are sure to take your breath away. While the 1991 version is highly renowned, it holds no comparison to the newer — and more elegant — version.

Academy Award-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran crafted intricate, detailed dresses and suits that perfectly fit the late 14th century French time period. Belle’s trademark yellow ball gown was beautiful, though not breathtaking, especially when compared with the live-action “Cinderella” ball gown of a few years ago. Still, the costumes helped cement the film’s visual wizardry, perfectly transporting audiences to a particular time and place.

While the film is set in the past, it keeps its ideas modern, much more so than the its animated predecessor. Probably its most modern — and controversial — touch is implying that Gaston’s friend/henchman LeFou is gay. This time around, LeFou’s relationship with Gaston is more of a man crush than a bromance. The presence of a gay character in a children’s movie shows that we’ve taken some important steps since 1991; now, all kids can see everyone is equal, no matter who you are or what you do.

But in some ways, Disney’s modernization of its classic has skirted controversy rather than embraced it. In the past, there was criticism over Belle’s seeming “Stockholm Syndrome” when it came to her relationship with her captor. Former “Harry Potter” star Watson portrays Belle as a strong, independent woman who has forged her own path in life and fell in love along the way., allowing girls to see the character in a different — and better — light.

Watson, as Belle, shows that anyone can be intelligent and still end up with their Prince Charming, no matter how “odd” they are. Not a bad lesson — and it doesn’t hurt that it gives you so many beautiful things to look at along the way.