Beauty and the Beast | reviews, news & interviews
Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast
Disney's lavish modern reboot still enchants
This is, as the voiceover has it, “a tale as old as time” – or pedantically one that goes back to 1740, when the French fairytale was first published – so maybe it was time for a modernising reboot. The stars – Emma Watson as Beauty and Dan Stevens as the Beast – have been keen to dismiss any psychology 1.01 readings of this Beauty and the Beast as a presentation of Stockholm syndrome, but the film’s makers, Disney, have been more than keen to trumpet it as having the first openly gay character. Of the latter, more later.
So what is it? Well, foremost it’s a wonderfully lavish live action/digital effects animation retelling of the tale, with the film bookended by lengthy song-and-dance scenes. In between, the tale is told with no great urgency but a lot of wit, both in the script and the animation of the humans cursed to live in the Beast’s castle as his helpmeets. They are all trapped until true love releases them and the Beast, after being cursed by an old woman whom the young, charmless prince (Stevens) denied refuge to on a dark and stormy night.
When young Belle, an independent young woman who lives with her widowed father (Kevin Kline), comes into his life, will true love win the day? Under director Bill Condon, with a script by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, Belle's bookishness is underlined (she’s the only girl in the village who can read) and it’s books that Beauty and the Beast bond over.Watson gives Belle a nicely determined air, and she’s not simperingly silly in this version – "I'm not afraid," she tells her father after she tricks him into taking his place as prisoner in the Beast's castle – while Stevens, under all the make-up and prosthetics, is a memorably haunted and melancholic figure.
The supporting cast are very good. There’s some fine interaction between Belle’s admirer (when he’s not admiring himself) Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad, both pictured above); while the animations – Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock, Ewan McGregor as Lumière the candelabra and Emma Thompson as teapot Mrs Potts – are often laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps because we can't actually see them on screen, they all outrageously ham it up. The actors all get their moment as humans (after the curse has been lifted) in the final set piece, when it all ends happily for everyone, except the dastardly Gaston of course.
The original songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken still enchant, and I’m sure only BATB obsessives will be able to tell the difference between them and those added by Menken and Tim Rice.
And to the “gay” character; well, it’s a kerfuffle over nothing. LeFou is certainly camp, but then so is the rampantly heterosexual Gaston, all preening manliness and slapping of thigh in best panto tradition in the song-and-dances numbers in the tavern. LeFou’s blink-and-you-miss-it dance with a male courtier in the final scene is hardly transformative. But politics - real or imaginary - aside, this is a fine entertainment.
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