A Supercharged Live Action “Beauty & The Beast”
By Skip Sheffield
Walt Disney has certainly gotten its money’s worth out of the tale of “Beauty and the Beast.” The original folk tale dates to 1740, but it was Disney’s 1991 animated version that really took off, with songs by Howard Ashman (lyrics) and Alan Menkin with additional songs by Tim Rice.
The 2017 live action version features songs from 1991 movie and the Broadway stage version plus new songs and a lavish setting that is purported to be the most expensive ever at $160 million.
Former child actress Emma Watson plays Belle, the Beauty of the title. We watched Emma grow up in eight Harry Potter movies, starting in 2001 when she was 11. She is now a woman of 26, but she still looks like a teenager. Contrasted with hulking Dan Stevens as the Beast she seems fragile and delicate.
Belle is a bookish girl who lives with her widower father Maurice (Kevin Kline) in a small French village. The bookish aspect of her personality is played down in this movie version, written by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopulos (“Hercules”) and directed by Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”). The heroic and courageous character of Belle is played up.
This comes into play when Maurice gets lost in the woods and ends up at the Beast’s castle, where he is imprisoned. When Maurice’s horse turns up riderless in the village, Belle hops on him and gallops off to face the Beast herself.
As in the traditional tale, the Beast is really a Prince who has been cursed by a witch, who has also turned his servants into animated household objects. This is where the Disney movie really shines thanks to CGI animation that offers much greater expression than the costumed stage version. The A-list cast includes Ewen McGregor as Lumiere; Ian McKellan as Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts; Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe; Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette.
Some people have been upset by the implied gay vibrations of LeFou (Josh Gad) for his best friend Gaston. It is really much ado about nothing. Gad is funny and adoring.
Luke Evans’ Gaston is a huge improvement over the cartoon and the stage show. He is much more virile and menacing in this version, which underscores the courage of Belle and the self-sacrifice of the Beast.
I wasn’t thrilled to see yet another version of this time-honored fable about the triumph of love over physical appearances, but I was pleasantly surprised. You may be too.