Disney invites you to be their guest once more in this reimagined live-action update to their classic tale as old as time…
Director: Bill Condon/2017
Disney’s recycling program is running full steam ahead following the recent successes of Maleficent, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and last year’s The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is a whole new level, however, in attempting to recreate the original given the difficulty level of trying to match the 1991 animated classic in terms of its award winning songs, beloved characters, and artistry. The 1991 film was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Topping it, or simply trying to make a compelling enough live-action version is a daunting task.
Director Bill Condon is largely up to the task of taking on this monster project. The cinematography of Tobias A. Schliessler (Dreamgirls, Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day) captures the grandeur of the French countryside as Belle (Emma Watson) twirls and spins ala Maria from The Sound of Music, as she sings about such a provincial life. He also captures well the feel of the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle where it is simultaneously a place of dread and wonder.
The supposed controversy is, in itself, such a minor thing against the backdrop of the larger film and it is a shame, because it is taking away from what is otherwise a very fun film that is nearly as magical as the original.
Belle (Watson) is the daughter of an artist named Maurice (Kevin Kline). Living safely in the small French village, Belle is seen as a bit of an odd duck as she is a woman who can read, and who doesn’t seem to want to settle into the expected roles of that society where she simply falls for a man and instantly begins a family and a life of placing him first in all things. She longs for something more, fed by the adventures she finds in the books that she reads. Pining for her is the chisel-featured Gaston (Luke Evans) who, along with his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), are scheming to get Belle to agree to his marriage proposal.
When her father leaves to sell goods in the larger city, Belle holds down the fort, until their trusty horse comes riding back with no cart, and no Maurice. Desperate to find her father, the horse takes Belle down the path that leads to the now-forgotten castle where the Beast lives, along with his various servants. The Beast’s household consists of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and her son Chip (Nathan Mack), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Having neglected to have helped what appeared to be an ordinary old woman, the prince was cursed by the old woman, who was actually an enchantress (Hattie Morahan). For his sin, the prince would be turned into a beast and all who lived with him would likewise fall under a curse. She gave him a rose, whose petals would slowly fall over many years. If the Beast had not found someone to truly love him, that he also loved back in return, by the time the last rose petal fell, the entire household of the Prince and his servants would all permanently remain in their cursed state. Belle trades herself for her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, seeking to help save him as he appears frail and sick.
The rest of the film continues to follow the plot of the original animated film as Maurice seeks to appeal for help from the villagers to save Belle from this monster, while Belle gets to know the Beast and his staff. Gaston seeks to use this as a way to force Belle’s hand in marriage, while the castle staff secretly hope that Belle might just be “the one” who melts the Beast’s heart of stone, breaking the curse before they become permanently succumbed to its effects.
Anyone who enjoyed the original will certainly enjoy this live action version. It is, for the most part, a note for note remake, although new songs are added, as is original lyrics from the late Howard Ashman, whose lyrics were cut in the 1991 version. With a longer running time than the animated film, more time is spent on character development, helping the transition of Belle and the Beast from enemies to friends to romantic interest that makes more sense than just a few snowballs to the face and a gifted library to win a girl’s heart.
The cast puts everything into their parts and for the most part the interaction is a lot of fun. Watson’s turn as Belle will be the deciding factor for many as to whether they embrace this version as much as they did the original animated film. For the most part, Watson imbues her Belle with the qualities of a strong woman who understands exactly why she refuses to settle for the provincial life offered to her by a bully and brute like Gaston. This stronger version of Belle does take away a bit from kind-hearted to a fault version of Belle in the animated classic, but not so much that this aspect still isn’t there. On the whole, Watson does a fine job, as does the rest of the cast.
A few days before seeing the film, director Bill Condon created a bit of controversy suggesting that this would be the first Disney film with an “exclusively gay” moment. Now theaters, and even countries, are threatening to not show the film. For all of the controversy, it is a case of making much ado about a almost nothing. Parents who might be worried about seeing kissing between same-sex individuals or the like can breathe a lot easier. There is nothing like that here. Kids will likely not even pick up on the supposed “exclusively gay” moment as it is a blink and you missed it kind of affair. There is certainly some confusion surrounding LeFou’s behavior towards Gaston, but that is likely going to be picked up on more because of the controversy that has emerged. The more obvious scene is a set up for the controversial scene at the end of the film, but both, again, are extremely subtle.
Those from the LGBTQ community will likely have as mixed of a reaction as those from the conservative side of things have had.
(Minor Spoiler) There is some cross-dressing courtesy of the giant talking Wardrobe, Madame Garderobe, as she attacks the invading townspeople by wrapping 3 of the male villagers in ladies attire (she is a wardrobe, after all). One of the villagers in question suggestively gives the appearance that it isn’t such a bad thing to be dressed up in ladies clothing, but it is used for laughs much like Bugs Bunny appearing in drag in the Looney Toons cartoons. It is the set-up to the aforementioned controversial scene, and as “in-your-face” as it is going to get.
Those from the LGBTQ community will likely have as mixed of a reaction as those from the conservative side of things have had. On one hand, even subtle nods their way by director Bill Condon, who himself is homosexual, will be a welcomed gesture, understanding the giant risk Disney is taking as a traditionally family-oriented business in allowing one of their biggest properties to even consider making such changes in the script. On the other hand, many will be mad that the “exclusively gay moment” he advertised doesn’t really amount to much at all.
The supposed controversy is, in itself, such a minor thing against the backdrop of the larger film and it is a shame, because it is taking away from what is otherwise a very fun film that is nearly as magical as the original. I found myself tapping my toes to the classic songs, and enjoying the newer ones that have been written by Tim Rice and Alan Menken, the original songwriters for the 1991 version.
So, for a tale as old as time, Disney rolls out the red carpet inviting you to be their guest once again, showing you that there must be more to this provincial life. For the most part, this Beauty and the Beast live-action update shows that their attempts at recycling their older classics continues to pay dividends. That’s an ending that will make Disney live happily ever after.