Beauty and the Beast

Directed by: Bill Condon

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson

Disney is in the business of remakes.  As if the Marvel and Star Wars dynasties were not enough, the industry titan has decided to bring numerous cartoon classics to life.  In the last few years, Disney has released Cinderella and The Jungle Book to much success.   Live action versions of The Lion King and Mulan are also in development.  Even though The Jungle Book was a visual marvel, I was concerned about Disney’s decision to “reheat” such beloved tales.  I had similar reservations about Beauty and the Beast.  Much to my delight, the newly released live action adaptation is true to the original tale and a cinematic breath of fresh air.

Set in a small village in France, the film tells the tale of Belle (Emma Watson).  Belle lives a simple life with her eccentric father Maurice (Kevin Kline).  The local townspeople find Belle to be a little odd.  She is a young woman who loves to read, tinker with crafts and dream of a world outside of her small village.  Even more unusual, she does not swoon over local legend and pretty boy Gaston (Luke Evans).

One day, Belle’s father Maurice is traveling and he stumbles upon a garden on a mysterious estate.  Maurice is captured after he innocently plucks a rose for Belle.  Unbeknownst to the local townspeople, a cursed prince, the Beast (Dan Stevens) lives at the castle.  The Beast and all those who lived on the estate were cursed after the prince arrogantly mocked an unassuming beggar.  The Beast imprisons Maurice and sentences him to life for theft of the rose.  Belle is able to track down her father, and she takes his place as the Beast’s captive.  The film follows Belle and the Beast as they discover love.

Beauty and the Beast
is a visually stunning and enchanting film.  Having been involved with both Dreamgirls and Chicago, director Bill Condon successfully turns this classic tale into a live action musical that both adults and children can enjoy.  Parents can relive childhood memories, and kids can discover a new tale.  Condon captures the magic of talking candlesticks, disgruntled clocks and chipped teacups while simultaneously delivering drama and sensational musical numbers.  Although many will prefer the original animated film, Condon’s Beauty and the Beast brings its own flavor with no shortage of grandeur or enchanting musical numbers.  I highly doubt any viewer can refrain from toe tapping during the rousing renditions of “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston.”
The cast is also phenomenal.  The trailers for Beauty and the Beast primarily show Emma Watson, Luke Evans, and Daniel Stevens.  I did not peruse the full cast listing prior to seeing the film, so I was delighted to see characters voiced by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald.  Each seasoned actor brings their beloved Disney character to life with their own unique brand of charm.  If there is one drawback to the film, it’s that the supporting cast is so incredible that they overshadow Thompson and Stevens to an extent.  Thompson and Stevens do a fine job, but they have to compete with a litany of scene-stealing from their thespian co-stars.

Luke Evans is a revelation as Gaston, and hopefully this role will serve as a springboard into bigger name recognition.  Evans is so ridiculously narcissistic that he makes Gaston a more enjoyable figure.  Condon couples him with an adoring sidekick portrayed by Josh Gad, Together, Evans and Gad steal the show.  Their rousing rendition of “Gaston” was probably my favorite musical number of the film, only because it was such a delightful surprise.  We expect “Be Our Guest” to be amazing, and it surely was.  However, Evans and Gad turned “Gaston” into a fun romp without any special effects. Additionally, Ewan McGregor and Emma Thompson deliver noteworthy performances.  While it is no small task to fill the shoes of Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach, Thompson and McGregor are up to it. Finally, Audra McDonald’s vocal performance is extraordinary.

In terms of themes, the producers try to modernize the film by giving Belle more of a background story. Some feminists argue that Beauty and the Beast promotes domestic violence and is a tale of an abused woman who believes she can change a violent man.  While I understand the analogy, I choose to look at the film in a different light.   The Beast has been turned into an animal and lives in an estate with only talking furniture to keep him company. It is reasonable, in this fantastical world, that the Beast would have a bad attitude after years of isolation.  He does not even know how to interact with another human being at this point in his life.  I think equating him with a domestic abuser is excessive.  In addition, there was apparently an uproar regarding a gay story line being introduced into the film.  I honestly did not see it, and had to read about it afterwards to understand what the kerfuffle was about.  

Beauty and the Beast
earns a sober rating.  The film is recommended for adults and children alike.  In fact, while the credits were rolling, my 7 year-old exclaimed that she wanted to see the movie again.  Parents with very small children should heed the PG rating.  Some of the violent scenes with wolves and the Beast may be disconcerting for little ones.