Friday, March 3, 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' is an Incredible Re-telling of a Story That is as 'Old as Time'

Emma Watson and Dan Steven in "Beauty and the Beast"
Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in Beauty and the Beast. (Disney)

MOVIE REVIEW

As Disney fans have been patiently waiting for the arrival of the new live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, news abruptly hit recently that caused some parents to second guess if they would be taking their children to see the new princess movie or not. In a recent interview with Attitude, director Bill Condon proudly proclaimed that the character of Gaston’s sidekick, Le Fou, is gay in the new movie. He described Le Fou’s character as “somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston” and admitted that the scene in question was a “short but explicitly gay scene.” In another article by USA Today,  Josh Gad, who plays Le Fou, said "I'm honored to have that moment as part of my character’s arc" but also said that "there was nothing in the script that said ‘Le Fou is gay.’"

Luke Evans as Gaston
I have to say that this news somewhat dampened my excitement for the film. I found myself wondering throughout the movie, “Is this the scene?” and second-guessing everything that Gad said in the movie. In the end though, the scene in question is indeed brief (blink and you’ll miss it), totally unnecessary and easy to edit out if Disney were so inclined. Without even seeing the picture, some will automatically cheer while others will want to boycott the film and you have to wonder why Disney would want to risk alienating any of their fan base.

Fortunately, the movie is called Beauty and the Beast, not Le Fou. It is an awkward love story between a farm girl and prince in disguise, not gay rights. Without getting sidetracked with any political or religious discussions about a sidekick’s character, I am going to judge the film as a whole, unfortunately, many others will be so focused on one small part of the story and miss the rest. And this film has so much to tell.

Just as Disney’s live action version of Cinderella was a compliment to its original 1950 animated film, so is this adaptation of the studio's earlier 1991 work. Both live action films are faithful to the earlier stories but they also have a few changes and their own special charm.


Just like the original story, an old hag comes to a spoiled prince’s castle (this time during a party) and offers him a rose in exchange for some food or shelter. When he laughs in the old woman’s face, she turns him into a horrible beast and curses his staff to become household items and appliances (for some reason). Their only hope of becoming human again is in paws of the Beast. If he can find someone to love him before an enchanted rose drops its last petal, the curse will be broken.

Kevin Kline and Emma Watson
As expected, Emma Watson makes for a perfect Belle. A beauty yes, and like the original, she loves to read, but she is also a tinker-er just like her father. It always bothered me that in the first film, everyone stared at Belle because she loves to read, but in that movie, she goes to a book store to pick out a new book to read, so reading shouldn't have been all that strange to this village. The new film corrects that in that Belle visits a second hand shop where there are only a handful of books sitting on a shelf.

This new film paints every character and their motivations more realistically and less cartoony. Belle's father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) is given more dignity than the cartoon version as well. This time around, Maurice is more of an artist rather than a “crazy” inventor. The issue of Belle’s mother is brought up too we later learn what really happened to her.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad
Luke Evans plays the conceited Gaston and has one of the film's best scenes talking to a mirror. He convinced that Belle is as beautiful as he is and so the two should be married. Makes sense. Josh Gad (controversy aside) makes the cartoon version of Le Fou more believable too. Faithful Le Fou studies Gaston's every move wanting to be just like him but gets virtually nothing back in return in regards to friendship.

Of course, you already know that Belle winds up in the castle and becomes friends with candlesticks, teapots, wardrobes and clocks. For this version, Lumiere the candelabra is played by Ewan McGregor, Cogsworth the clock by Ian McKellen, Mrs. Potts by Emma Thompson, Plumette by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Garderobe by Audra McDonald and Cadenza by Stanley Tucci. I enjoyed everyone’s performance as their characters, however, every time that Mrs. Potts spoke, I expected to hear Angela Lansbury’s voice. I love Emma Thompson, but she’s no Angela. Unlike the first film, the new Beauty and the Beast gives a little more insight on the fate of the enchanted objects giving us a stronger reason to want the spell put over them to be broken. Just because these objects are happier than the Beast doesn't mean that they too aren't suffering under the spell.

While much of the new movie is computer generated, there are many practical effects as well. Dan Stevens actually wore an incredibly heavy beast costume and had to walk around in stilts. How he managed to make dancing on stilts look elegant is a mystery. His portrayal of the Beast doesn't deviate much from the original source, but the movie does give him more screen time having actual discussions with Belle making him a bit softer with each chat.

Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Luminere and  Plumette
Every song from the original film is here with some new ones added as well that don’t feel tacked on. The entire movie is beautiful and some scenes, especially the opening number, is reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age of musicals.

For me though, Beauty and the Beast is full of powerful messages that are as "old as time." A prince is cursed because of his cruel actions taking down many with him to be a part of a curse that they themselves did not contribute to. On the other end of the spectrum, a selfless daughter trades places with her father to serve as a prisoner. Driven by love for his child, that same father faces scrutiny and abuse in his efforts to free his daughter. Finally, a beast releases a beauty from his clutches in an act of unselfishness. While the music is great and every scene is beautiful, it is these elements that make the Beauty and Beast story incredible.

Related: The Gospel According to Beauty and the Beast