Beast may not be Prince Charming, but Walt Disney Studios’ reboot of “Beauty and the Beast” is quite charming. The live-action film stays true enough to the original story to please most Disney fans while adding enough back story material and new songs to keep audiences interested in a well-known tale.
Prepare to be enchanted by Director Bill Condon’s look at the life of royalty in France in the mid-1700s. Our first view of the inside of Beast’s castle comes before the prince is condemned, and we see a luxe setting populated by the upper class who are dressed fabulously. The beautiful costuming continues throughout the movie, both in the provincial village and during scenes in the castle. Best of all, Belle’s gowns are just breathtaking. (An aside: Belle’s actual iconic yellow gown from the movie is on display at Hollywood Studios.)
Emma Watson steps into the role of Belle with confidence and makes us believe that she is the clever, albeit slightly awkward, girl who assists her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) with his inventions and prefers books over boys. Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is just how we know him in the animated movie — an angry animal whose gruff exterior hides his desperation at his doomed plight. And both actors make their romance believable. We fall in love with them and root for Beast to overcome what seems to be an almost-certain fate.
Equally strong are the performances by the actors playing objects that have come to life. We are first struck by the ornate beauty of Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) before being drawn into their witty banter. Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are outlandish and appropriately so, while Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack) are sweet together. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little teary when the household objects are saying goodbye to each other as the curse stills their movements. They are that endearing.
And then there are the villain Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LaFou (Josh Gad). Gaston is, of course, that horribly chauvinistic male who wants to marry Belle because he sees her as a trophy, not because he cares about her and her interests. His pursuit of Belle, though, is dogged and he relies on LeFou to help him carry out his plans. It had been announced that LaFou is the first character to have a “gay moment.”
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said in an interview with “Attitude” magazine. “And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
I appreciate and applaud this watershed moment. This particular thread is so naturally woven into the plot that it just feels like it’s always been a part of the story — and that’s how it should be. It’s not a shocking scene; just what you would expect this LeFou to do.
Likely more memorable are the other additions to “Beauty and the Beast.” We learn more about the Prince’s unhappy childhood and the fate of Belle’s mother — and the losses they both suffer help them eventually bond. Plus, we are treated to three brand-new songs: “How Does A Moment Last Forever” (two versions); “Days In The Sun”; and “Evermore.” The songs were written by Alan Menken, who also wrote the songs for the original animated movie that debuted in 1991. For this live-action version, he worked with lyricist Tim Rice.
Of course, the special effects make “Beauty and the Beast” a visual feast. CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) allowed filmmakers to create the amazing Beast’s Castle both in its heyday and in disrepair; bring to life the inanimate objects that the household staff has become; and make Beast a real, believable character. My children and I saw the movie in 3D, and that added depth definitely enriched the experience, as well.
We were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed “Beauty and the Beast” — especially after the recent spate of Disney remakes that seemed to be hit or miss on their appeal. (If you’re so inclined, you can read my reviews of the live-action versions “Cinderella” “Jungle Book” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”)
“Beauty and the Beast” is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. My daughter pointed out that she thought the gunshots might scare young children. There also is a scene with Beast battling wolves that they might find scary. Still, these scenes do not last long, and there is no blood or gore involved.
DISCLAIMER: I viewed Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.