‘Beauty and the Beast’ charms, entertains, and enlightens
PHOTO BY WALT DISNEY PICTURES
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Where is it playing?: Bay, Sunset Drive-In, Downtown Centre, Park, Stadium 10, Galaxy
What's it rated?: PG
What's it worth?: $ Full price
What's it worth?: $ Full price
Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters. Dreamgirls, The Fifth Estate, Mr. Holmes) directs this live action adaptation of Disney’s animated musical fairytale about a young prince (Dan Stevens) trapped in the body of a beast who can only be freed by true love—but who would love him in his ghastly form? His improbable chance arrives in the form of Belle (Emma Watson), the only woman to visit his castle since it became enchanted, who comes to plead for the release of her father Maurice (Kevin Kline)—imprisoned for stealing a single rose from the Beast’s property. Meanwhile, Gaston (Luke Evans), the village’s pompous braggart, pines for Belle’s hand while his obsequious sidekick Lefou (Josh Gad) struggles with his conscience over his friend’s behavior. (129 min.)
Glen Confession time! I’ve never seen the original 1991 Beauty and the Beast animated feature. Hey, what can I say? I was 29 years old when it came out—not exactly he film’s target audience. Hence, I’ve come to the new live action version with zero baggage, no expectations, and nothing to compare it to. That said, I loved this film! It’s amazing to look at, a kaleidoscopic feast of color and movement that reminded me of a Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) film. It’s also got a great story that borrows familiar tropes from classic fairytales but mixes them in a wonderful new package with great musical numbers. And what wonderful themes! Belle doesn’t fit in because she’s intellectually curious and loves books. Gaston is the epitome of the vainglorious, pompous jerk. LeFou is a fawning fool. They’re both examples of what not to be. Meanwhile, the Beast has been cursed by his own corruption of overtaxing the villagers to fund a ridiculously lavish lifestyle. Yet, the Beast learns his lesson through Belle’s increasing affection. She sees beyond his terrifying exterior into the man who was twisted into selfishness and greed by his father. It quickly becomes clear that Agathe, the enchantress (Hattie Morahan), in a way saved the Prince/Beast by forcing him to finally put others before his own desires. It’s a great message, not just for kids, but for everyone.
Anna I grew up on the animated original; in fact, I still have a VHS copy tucked away in our disaster preparedness kit, just in case. For my generation, Belle opened little girls’ eyes to the idea of a princess who isn’t just pretty, but brainy, clever, and strong willed. Coupled with an amazing soundtrack, the 1991 version quickly earned its status as a classic. Going into the live action version, I knew the film had no chance of holding the same place in my heart as the original. That said, I could hardly contain my excitement during the opening number, which tracks very closely with the original. It was like transporting back to my little girl self and getting to live through the unparalleled Disney experience all over again. Watson is a perfect fit for Belle, and she pushed to make Belle a strong female lead, one who doesn’t take a back seat for any man, a woman who invents, studies, explores, and dreams of a bigger life outside of their provincial town. She can sing, too! Who knew? The film broadens the characters’ back-stories, adds in a few new musical numbers, but overall sticks to the story as it was. While the new material wasn’t my favorite part of the film, it did give the meatier storyline that live action demands much more than animation. It’s a fairytale with a timeless message—that redemption and love are always possible, even when hope is fading fast.
Glen Not only is Watson on point as Belle, but Evans and Gad are both great as the infuriating duo. The Beast is largely CGI, but Stevens’ voice work is effective. I also thought the voice work by the enchanted objects—Lumiére (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Chip (Nathan Mack), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci)—was wonderful. They were all fully formed characters. In an apparent stab at diversity, the film has several black characters as well as a gay subtext. LeFou is clearly in love with Gaston, but Gaston’s so busy being in love with himself that he doesn’t notice. One of the town thugs, however, may be just what LeFou is looking for. This has some conservatives upset apparently, which makes me appreciate the film even more for its bravery to normalize what should already be seen as normal. Hot on the heels of La La Land, Beauty and the Beast is another reminder of how fun musicals can be. I just might have to bust open our disaster preparedness kit and dig the VHS player out of the attic just to see what I missed back in 1991.
Anna LeFou’s infatuation with Gaston is comedic gold, and if someone is going to get upset over a gay character, they should just go ahead and skip the film altogether. I mean, it also has an enchantress who casts a spell, as well as talking objects, so LeFou’s sexuality is the least of your worries. Disney does such a great job of transporting their audience, and Beauty and the Beast is no different. The charming and quaint village where Belle and Maurice live is straight out of a storybook. Cobbled brick roads littered with chickens and flowerpots spilling over with color, villagers crowded at the market gossiping—it all adds up to a small town with saturation and gauzy lighting effects that have been dialed up a few notches. The castle is foreboding and cold on the outside yet warms up inside where the staff makes it into a home. The film score is sentimental and charming; I’ll be singing the opening song for days. Going into it, I was a little nervous that I would end up not liking this film at all, mostly in defense of the one I grew up loving. Fortunately, instead of trying to replace or duplicate the animated version, Disney managed to strike a great balance. It pays homage to its predecessor but stands on its own. I for one am so excited to see what other animated classics they re-imagine into live action. If Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast are any indication, we’ve got some pretty great films coming our way.
Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at email@example.com.