“Beauty and the Beast” review


By Jeff Boudreaux

In the second of Disney’s long-awaited, live-action updates of their classics (following 2015’s “Cinderella”), Director Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a faithful, yet socially-modernized retread of the 1991 animated film. To start with, it was obvious that the storied-studio had a certain standard in which to adhere to, being that Disney’s first adaptation of the timeless tale was one of only two animated films to ever be nominated for a best picture Oscar (the other being 2009’s “Up,” one of their yearly collaborations with Pixar). Did they succeed in recreating the magic of the “tale as old as time?” Let’s break it down.

For those who are unfamiliar with the first film, or even Barbot de Villeneuve’s fairy tale in which it was based upon, the plot is quite simple. In a small French village, an artist named Maurice (Kevin Kline) lives with his beautiful, young daughter Belle (Emma Watson). The two are very happy and Belle passes the time through her love of books, all the while carrying on her chores and singing songs to the locals. She piques the interest of the narcissistic Gaston (Luke Evans), a man who believes Belle’s beauty is second only to his own! Belle is having none of it, but the simple girl-fends-off-boy routine is upended when Maurice becomes lost in the forest (during a trip to the market!) and is forced to take shelter in a dilapidated castle, to escape the unwanted company of wolves. (It was here that I internally mused that had Disney-casted Liam Neeson as Maurice, we might have had a different movie!)

The fact that Maurice decides to eat some of the seemingly-uninhabited castle’s food and drink some of its wine after his tremendous ordeal, goes unpunished. It isn’t until he swipes a beautiful red rose from the castle’s garden that he meets the castle’s owner, and let me tell you that the wolves had nothing on this guy in terms of scare factor. As Maurice’s horse shows up at their home, Belle must find the whereabouts of her father, and is shocked to discover that he has been taken prisoner for rose theft by a half-man/half-beast (Dan Stevens). Belle offers herself as prisoner to the Beast and tricks Maurice into accepting this arrangement. As the heartbroken father seeks the help of the despicable Gaston and his adoring sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), Belle gradually realizes that beneath the hairy exterior, stands a cursed prince that can find humanity once again if true love has its way. Talk about a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome!

Being so used to classic Oscar-winning musicals in which the lead actress’s singing was dubbed (i.e. “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi,” et al…) I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Emma Watson does her own singing, and contrary to some other reviewers, I think she did just fine. In fact, her performance was quite adequate even though I initially had a hard time envisioning Hermione from the “Harry Potter” series in this role. I do believe that Dan Stevens’s Beast comes across as a little-too cartoonish for my tastes, but perhaps that is due to watching a much-superior performance by Vincent Cassel in 2014’s French film adaptation (a much-superior film I might add), only two days prior.

I must admit that everything surrounding them is great, particularly the casting of Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou, respectively. Not to be outdone, the computer-animated castle servants were wisely portrayed by the likes of Ewan MacGregor (an absolutely-perfect Lumière, the castle’s candelabra), Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth “the clock,” and another famous Emma – Thompson as Mrs. Potts, the beloved teapot that sings our title song (admirably following in the footsteps of the original performance created by screen legend Angela Lansbury).

     Much has been discussed before the film’s release about the decision to present LeFou as Disney’s first-ever gay character. While some fundamentalists may decide that this is a deal-breaker for their beloved fairytale, I believe that it was done with the utmost representation of class and inclusion, which is par for the course in a story that preaches love and acceptance.

   Overall, the film is far-from-perfect, yet it has a magical quality to it that transcends genre. Fans of fairy tales, musicals, romance and even comedy and drama should enjoy this respectable outing from a studio that knows a thing or two about magic.

**1/2 (two-and-a-half-out-of-four stars)



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