Disney’s Beauty and the Beast manages to overcome some unnecessary tweaks to the narrative to deliver a fantastic experience for all.
Not much about this story has changed. Belle (Emma Watson) is a book-worm who uses her novels as an escape from her mundane existence in her tiny French village. The town heartthrob Gaston (Luke Evans) desperately want to wed Belle (mainly because she’s repulsed by him). However, Belle wants just to be left alone. Her father (played by Kevin Kline) heads off to sell one of his inventions at a local market, but takes a wrong turn and is imprisoned by a beast (Dan Stevens). Belle tracks down her father’s captor and offers to take his place, and her dad is set free. What some might see as this end of Belle, it might be the start of something special.
Luke Evans was a fantastic choice to play Gaston. He was equal parts arrogant and childish. What made his portrayal of the most arrogant man in France so special was the smidge of humanity to the role. As Gaston is “wooing” Belle, he doesn’t understand how his moves don’t have the same effect it has had on many ladies. He comes off as hurt, but his hurt turns to anger rather quickly.
Ewan McGregor was a great pick to portray Lumière. While some have taken his issue with his less than perfect French accent, his character is meant to be eccentric, a showman, a lover, and compassionate person for which he pulls off in spades. If you are going to sit there and discuss “accents,” then this whole film is going to send you into a tizzy as most of the cast should sound French, and 3/4 of them sound English.
Bill Condon did a fine job staging some of the most important dance numbers in the film. His staging of “Be Our Guest” was fun, upbeat, colorful, and incredibly creative. The dance sequence with Belle and Beast while Miss Potts sings “Beauty and the Beast” was intense yet incredibly romantic. He could have taken the easy way out and had them do a simple waltz, but the number was not only period appropriate but had some difficult lifts. My personal favorite was the number “Gaston,” shot in a pub and one where Josh Gad (LeFou) showed off his musical theater savvy. Evans and Gad not only make this number fun, but execute many highly difficult dance numbers on top of the table.
How could you not appreciate the sexual ambiguity surrounding Josh Gad’s character LeFou? First off, if you are basing your decision to see this film on a report that this character is gay, then you are misinformed. Nothing in this movie gives you a definitive answer as to whether his character is a homosexual or not. Secondly, what does it even matter if he was? To just refer to his character by just his alleged sexual orientation demeans the character. LeFou is more of a comedic foil to Gaston and towards the second half of the film, his moral compass.
What Didn’t Work
Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos were both given the task of adapting Disney’s animated classic to its live action form. Chobsky is best known for his work in adapting The Perks of being a Wallflower and his partner Splliotopoulos is best known for writing The Huntsman: Winters War. I wished this writing team had picked up on the success of their predecessor Chris Weitz (the man who adapted Cinderella). Weitz maintained his focused on what he could do to enhance the narrative. Chobsky and Spilliotopoulos made little tweaks to the story with the purpose of making Belle appear more empowered. Why? Belle is plenty empowered, to begin with. Did I know why Belle’s father moved to a small remote village in France? Did we need a scene of her dying mother sacrificing to save Belle and her husband? Oh, Wait! Now that we have seen his mother being fearless, Belle is going to be the same. Chobsky and Spillotopoulos should have understood that they were caretakers of a popular narrative and focused on enhancing what was already there.
Beauty and The Beast overcomes the desires of a few overzealous screenwriters and delivers on many levels. If you are a hardcore Disney fan, seeing these iconic musical numbers executed in live action is astounding. If you are looking for a film that will entertain the entire family, you can’t ask for more than this.