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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

Emma Watson helps bring another animated Disney classic to life.

BeastWalt DisneyExperiencing Disney's new live-action Beauty and the Beast is like being held down and force-fed candy for two hours. Candy fans can take this as a recommendation, and lovers of blazingly well-made fantasy films and full-belt Broadway musicals will surely have a good time. I had a good time myself, up to a point. But the movie is possibly overstuffed with Disney's warm artificiality—the cozily cluttered interiors, the bustling village square, the broody castle, the vivid weather—and at the end you may feel bloated.

Like the phenomenally successful live-action Cinderella of two years ago, Beauty is a remake of an earlier Disney animated fairy tale—the Oscar-winning 1991 film of sainted memory. As you may know, that picture was translated straight onto Broadway for a 13-year run, and continues traipsing the world to our very day. Now this.

It must be said that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, and the last two Twilights) is just the man to imbue this very expensive production with maximum wow. His cameras rarely stop swooping among the singing, twirling dancers (or rising above to salute the overhead artistry of Busby Berkeley, or rushing up a flower-blanketed hill to gather some Sound of Music echoes). The songs, by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman or, alternatively, Tim Rice, will mostly be familiar to Beauty fans (there are four unobjectionable new tunes), and they're mostly knocked out of the park by the gusto-fueled cast.

The story is pretty much the same, too (it's been minimally adjusted for purposes of feminism and gay inclusion). Emma Watson is Belle, a young French woman longing for a more exciting life than the one she's living with her clockmaker father (Kevin Kline) in their tiny village. A pompous army captain named Gaston (Luke Evans) has his eye on her, but as his chubby aide-de-camp LeFou (Josh Gad) gently suggests, there's no way that union is ever going to happen.

On a trip out of town, Belle's dad comes upon a gloomy castle in a dark forest—the home of a prince (Dan Stevens) who was long ago cursed by a malevolent crone, and is now living out his days as a huge, furry beast. He will remain trapped in this form until he finds true love, or learns what love is, or…I'm not sure, really—something about love. Anyway, Belle comes to her father's rescue, and soon takes up residence in the prince's castle, which is filled with enchanted household furnishings—a talking teapot named Mrs. Potts (voice of Emma Thompson) and her son, Chip (Nathan Mack); a singing wardrobe closet called Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald); and a love-struck feather duster known as Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The chattiest of these ancillary characters is the comic-relief duo of Lumière (Ewan McGregor), a helpful candelabrum, and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a grumpy mantel clock.

So that's the well-known setup. Can Belle free the beastly prince from his curse? (Spoiler: yes.) Do the actors really sing? (Yes—well, they lip-synch to their pre-recorded tracks.) Do the old showstoppers—like "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston"—still stop the show? (Very much so.) So what's the problem?

As much fun as all of this is, I think there are two problems, both of them in the casting, one of them relatively minor. The performers are generally aces (especially Josh Gad, a member of the original cast of The Book of Mormon, whose manner is so broadly effulgent I couldn't tell whether he was supposed to be openly gay or simply the soul of old Broadway). But Emma Watson seems to me to be too smart and contemporary for this sort of big-budget fantasia. (Recall her sharp work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and This Is the End.) Was she attracted to this project by its slight feminist slant? (Belle is a big reader in an unspecified time in which women aren't supposed to be taught to read at all.) Surely it wasn't the money that drew her.

But Watson has an indomitable appeal. This is not the case with Dan Stevens, an actor of low-voltage charisma who may have had his most fitting role as the soft-mannered Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. His best work here is done by his elaborate Beast makeup—the furry face, the sweeping horns; even the flowing greatcoat helps hold our interest. At the end, when he's restored to his princely form—to the bland good looks of Dan Stevens, that is—it's hard not to hear in our ears the words of Greta Garbo after seeing the indelible 1946 French version of this story: "Give me back my beast," she (reportedly) said. The feeling of let-down—inevitably, perhaps—is here even more pronounced.

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Photo Credit: Disney

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  • BTS11||

    So Gaston is still the hero in this one right? or is it still the kidnapper beast or the stockholm syndrome belle

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  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Robin McKinley has written TWO fantastic novels based on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The first is BEAUTY. The second is ROSE DAUGHTER, which she admits is the book she wanted to write when she wrote BEAUTY, but lacked the experince. I recommend both, but ROSE DAUGHTER is the stronger of the two, in many ways.

    Amd no, I won't say why. Read the damn books.

  • Feminist Killjoy||

    Seconded! Though I can't decide which one I like best, though the spoilery reason I think you mean may push Rose Daughter to the top, there's just something surreal about Beauty. And there's a deleted scene in the '91 Beauty and the Beast that I'm sure was a nod to McKinley - the library has books not yet written in it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    HOMOSEXUAL CONTENT ALERT. Why was this review not outfitted with a trigger warning for those of us yokels still here at Reason? The bestiality I am of course okay with, but homosexuals in a Disney production? I can only assume this whole film is a deliberate slap for our president.

  • DanO.||

    John hardest hit.

  • Longtobefree||

    ABC, not Disney.

  • Free Society||

    It's a pilot program. If the gays in Beauty and the Beast goes over well enough, they'll have Elsa scissoring in Frozen 2.

  • Radioactive||

    really operating in the margins for those few extra tickets...wonder if the all the LBJIRASXWS tickets make up the those red staters staying away, or is it a wash?

  • But Enough About Me||

    . . . Elsa scissoring in Frozen 2 . . .

    {swoons}

  • Brandybuck||

    While I'm prudish enough to refuse to see any movie that has slo-mo closeup gay anal sex, Disney or not, I remain confused as to why hordes of right thinking parents aren't pulling out their fainting couches at the thought of Emma Watson playing tonsil hockey with a hairy Bison.

    I guess as long as the bison is male it's okay...

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Her next big role is as a priestess in "Gilgamesh: The Movie".

  • XM||

    The "gay moment" was spread around the internet like wildfire weeks ago. Malaysia has already banned it.

    I'm not going to watch garbage films where characters are arbitrarily turned gay just for that artificial moment. I didn't watch the female reboot of the Ghostbuster either.

    BTW it's official now - there are slightly more gays in movies and films than Asians of any kind. And most of the gays are either white or good looking.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    an unspecified time in which women aren't supposed to be taught to read at all.

    I keep saying that was a mistake.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    TIWTANFL

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The story is pretty much the same, too (it's been minimally adjusted for purposes of feminism and gay inclusion)

    Of course it is. Because the dark ages of 1991 was such an un-woke time. Women were kept barefoot and pregnant, and gays were hunted for sport. /sarc, obviously

  • Radioactive||

    not really all that much sport, the outfits made them standout, not blend in...

  • Radioactive||

    you could bag your limit in a couple of hours...

  • Longtobefree||

    So is this a movie, or a political manifesto? Or is there a distinction any more?

  • Free Society||

    The major fault of this movie is undoubtedly the presence of Emma Watson smearing her smug all over he screen.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Word is that they had to turn the Auto-Tuner up to 11 to make her "singing" acceptable.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Not to go Full John here, but isn't Belle supposed to be a little more, well, curvy? I mean she's known for wearing that low-cut dress. Do they use CGI or a body double?

  • Brandybuck||

    I have to note that the gay character is NOT the hero. And in fact is in love with the bad guy. Not bold enough, Disney! Not bold enough! What the world needs is a Gay Disney Princess! A proper fluid-curious Prince who achieves his dream of being a Princess! Who goes to the ball [sic] in a proper pink princess petticoat! And a supporting cast of animated sex toys! A dancing dildo named Derriere and his partner Lubiere, the tube of lube.

  • Radioactive||

    BRAVA!!!

  • colorblindkid||

    "it's been minimally adjusted for purposes of feminism and gay inclusion"

    You forgot about race.
    There are a surprising amount of black villagers and interracial relationships for 18th century France.

  • Wolf 359||

    I'm really tired of my stories being jacked up with all sorts of artificiality too. I mean what's up with all of that witchcraft? It isn't real, and is an affront to God. Almost no one in that time frame would have access to the level of hair care and styling that movie showed every character having.

    Last but not least, never in my life have I seen that much singing and dancing in a normal conversation.

  • Alexandria Noelle||

    Unspecified time? Belle's mother died in the plague of 1720-22. That was shown. This movie takes place in about 1740, and aside from one asshole in town snarking at her about teaching a girl to read, we have no reason to think every other woman is illiterate.

    What we got wasn't a feminist version of Belle, no matter how much they say they wanted to play it up. Our intro to her was a PITA who was walking all over where the other women did their laundry, and then took over the town's shared water supply so she could do her laundry in their drinking well. She lost her mother as a baby, yet it's uncomfortably clear that that's almost all she ever thinks about, and it makes her and Maurice look like they can never really be happy. Maurice was an idiot who could have been intelligent, but he couldn't fix clocks without Belle being the one to tell him what he needed. When the branch fell in the road on his way to town (which was literally just step from their front door since they now live IN town), instead of moving it, he decided one road is as good as any other, and takes the one to the castle. He invites himself to eat the Beast's dinner, and Beast actually watched Maurice leave, and only captured him when Maurice decided to stop his horse, get off, and spend a minute picking out a rose to pick. Belle didn't teach the Beast jack. He's better-read than she is. She re-read the CHURCH's same 10 books, while he read every book in his library except the ones written in Greek.

  • Cloudbuster||

    I'm done with Disney. Using classic fairytales and kids movies to push the gay agenda wasn't the last straw, though. The way they pimp out the poor kids they exploit on the Disney channel was -- every year or two they chew up and spit out another Britney Spears, Vanessa Hudgens or Demi Lovato.

  • Ben Hogan||

    The Apple iPad Mini 5 is perhaps one of the most awaited phablets in 2-017 with the upcoming device slated to incorporate almost all major technical advancements by Apple today. The device, which is expected to feature at the MWC 2017 event in February also stands out from the rest owing its proposed new moniker, which might have it called the iPad Mini Pro ditching the Mini 5 moniker.

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  • driving directions||

    I will go to the cinema and watch this movie, I am enthusiastic!
    driving directions

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