Emma Watson's Belle ditches the corset and princess title in ‘Beauty and the Beast'

Poor Madame de Garderobe. The chest of drawers-come-to-life (voiced by Audra McDonald) is blissfully stuck in Disney-past while trying to dress Belle (Emma Watson) of Disney-future. Pulling out pink sashes and a giant hoop skirt, the trappings of gentile ladies in 18th century France, she misses the sartorial mark.

"Finally, a woman!" she proclaims. "I will find you something worthy of a princess."

"Oh, I’m not a princess," Belle retorts.

Welcome to the future, where Disney princesses, er, heroines are not confined to a certain set of beauty standards. Save the requirement for large, doe-eyes. That's not going anywhere.

The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast (*** out of four; in theaters March 17) gives the 21-year-old classic an update. While conservative critics have commenced hand-wringing about LeFou's sexuality, a more subtle development is being overlooked. One with a radical message: Watson's Belle gets a makeover, helping redefine what it means to be a female lead in a Disney film.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who has dressed complex women in Atonement, Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice, worked closely with Watson and director Bill Condon to perfectly embody this nouveau Belle.

"It's not a massive reinterpretation, she was always bookish, always engaged. But I think that’s moved forward," Durran said about Belle's educational pursuits. "She's more of an active heroine then she ever was before."

That means several noticeable changes in Belle’s wardrobe.

First to go was the corset.

Unlike the live remake of Cinderella -- which caught heat for how teeny tiny Lily James’ waist appeared in the iconic blue dress, and for James’ comments about the unpleasant undergarment-- Beauty makes a point to un-cinch Watson’s mid-section, which was presumably corseted in the original film.

"Belle doesn’t wear a corset, ever," Durran said. Not that the thin actress would need it. But the garment became antithetical to the new interpretation of Belle.

"She wouldn’t be someone who would wear something that would stop her breathing as much as she needed to because she wanted to look a certain way. Belle is not the same sort of princess as Cinderella," Durran said. "It was all about not making her into a princess."

That doesn’t mean the magic of the yellow dress has disappeared, however. The silhouette is much the same, and the voluminous skirt, buoyed by soft fabrics rather than a hoop, floats above the ballroom floor as Belle twirls with the Beast.

It also proves easy to strip off in case of emergency, like, say, needing to race on horseback to a prince’s side as he’s attacked by an angry mob. Also known as the French provincial equivalent of taking off Spanx pantyhose in the back of an Uber after work on the way to rescue bae from a boring office happy hour.

Belle also ditched a fancy heel to go with her gown. This contemporary working girl needs to hop a puddle or two on her way to the town wash basin, so Durran traded her soft flats from the animation for sturdy lace-up boots and socks. The blue dress that Watson wears for the majority of the film is tacked up on the side, revealing her bloomers, another utilitarian piece. The overall affect recalls 90s grunge and the powerful contrast of babydoll dresses and combat boots.

Watson's hair got a similar update, taking a cue from the boys. Instead of the giant bow from the animation, Belle's locks are casually pulled back with a thin ribbon for the majority of the film, a look more reminiscent of Gaston's than the curled styles of the town girls.

Other anachronisms include the gold necklace, ear cuff and headpiece that accessorize the yellow dress, which are meant to look like details within the castle. The pieces, created by Durran and crew, would be at home in any Anthropologie store.

After all, a 21st century leading lady still needs a little bling.

 

USA TODAY