Friday, March 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Review by George M. Thomas

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast.
At their heart fairy tales generally tend to function as morality plays – something that the audience can chew on while being entertained.

The animated version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, released in 1992, was no exception.  Its moral centered primarily around treating individuals – especially outsiders – with kindness and tolerance.

The live-action remake takes that little morsel and expands upon it and turns BEAUTY into a morality tale for a new century.  With a cast that might rival that of Broadway’s HAMILTON in the area of diversity, it embraces the idea of a world of tolerance, acceptance and universal love.

Much of the brouhaha that surrounds the movie will come courtesy of director Bill Condon’s admission that LeFou (played by Josh Gad), the sidekick to the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans), is gay. Dude has a man-crush on Mr. Vain that can be seen from Earth’s orbit for those aware of his sly little flirtations. 

Don’t be surprised if Condon’s version that screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos adapted from Linda Woolverton’s screenplay from the animated film, gets slapped around for its inclusionary overtones regarding diversity.

Who cares.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is visually sumptuous if a bit imperfect. The reality: it’s difficult to see a film that means so much to so many personally get a re-do that’s so jarring.  Much of that fact comes from knowing that the film is padded by close to 40 minutes over the original. 

That means we hear new music.  It means there are additional plot points.  And there are added twists and turns.  Ultimately, much of it, to Condon’s credit, works.

At least one of several new songs by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, Days in the Sun, blends perfectly with music from the prior film, so as to not be intrusive.

Even some of the added plot points – a backstory that explains what happened to Belle’s mother – works on some level.

However, the payoff and enjoyment in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST comes from how it understood and it explored humanity and the nature of unselfish love. Condon (no stranger to musicals via DREAMGIRLS) understands that ultimately he has to deliver a couple of things in the film – one being emotional heft.  When sticking to the source material, it's difficult not to lose oneself in the story.  When he ventures out of what’s familiar, that's when the cracks in the fa├žade appear.  Give him and his creative team credit for the courage to at least attempt it, though.

Secondly, those musical numbers had better be damn well near perfection. For the songs Be My Guest and Beauty and the Beast it’s a moral imperative. The former doesn’t disappoint.  The latter, however, has the misfortune of being adapted from one of the most iconic – and most beautiful - moments in Disney animation history.

Just as iconic for many: the character of Belle, the first Disney animated heroine who wasn’t just looking to be a guy’s appendage.  Belle had intelligence, spunk and a mind of her own.  Rebuffing Gaston’s advance was an easy decision for her in the film. To say they got it right by casting Harry Potter’s Emma Watson would be an understatement.  With all of those qualities and self-determination added she embodies the part and, yes, she can sing too.

Just as importantly she possesses the requisite chemistry she needs with The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Gaston as those two actors prove up to the task of putting their flourishes on classic, memorable characters.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST shows that the story still possesses the power to charm and teach on a subtle level.

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald
Directed by: Bill Condon
Running time: 129 minutes
Rating:  Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

(3-of-4 stars)

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