ryan hill reviews: beauty and the beast

Maratheater thursday

An Enjoyable BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Doesn’t Measure Up to Original


The original Beauty and the Beast was part of Disney’s animation renaissance in the early ‘90s, which also included The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and culminated with The Lion King. It was an amazing run and naturally has become part of Disney’s obsession with wringing billions more from these films by making them live action. Cinderella and The Jungle Book have already gotten the live-action treatment, and now it’s Beauty and the Beast’s turn in the spotlight.

Emma Watson plays Belle, the “beauty” to Dan Stevens’s “beast.” The rest of the cast is equally impressive, featuring Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as Lefou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere—aka the horny candelabra—Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth the cranky clock, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the tea pot, and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza the piano.

It’s clear the entire cast is having a blast acting in a live action Beauty and the Beast, especially the villains. Evans and Gad gleefully chew up every scene and musical number they’re a part of, and you can almost see the two burst into laughter once director Bill Condon yells, “cut!” As much as Beauty relies on nostalgia to pull in audiences, the cast was drawn in by the same thing.

Watson might be hit and miss in parts, but she proves more than capable of taking the reins of such an iconic Disney character, infusing Belle with an independence not typically found in a film like Beauty. At some points Watson seems to strain under the weight of ensuring such an iconic character remains steadfast and independent, but she makes for a fine Belle.

In both versions of Beauty, Belle is a bookworm living in a small French village that’s “small minded” and sexist, believing that women should only tend to normal housework and chores, but thanks to Watson, the live action version of Belle goes even further. She teaches a girl to read, much to the chagrin of her father, and even invents a device that makes washing clothes easier, which would benefit the entire village… until the town’s menfolk destroy it. On top of that, Gaston is hellbent on marrying Belle, to the point where it gets creepy. Once she finally meets the Beast, it’s almost a welcome respite from the village.

This live action version of Beauty has a lot more going on than the original animated feature. The film wisely changes the Beast’s backstory, making him an adult when he’s cursed, instead of a small boy. That’s awful, cursing a kid to live as a beast unless he finds love. It’s one of the few things this live action version improves upon the animated film. The rest are very hit and miss, or a complete non-issue, like the gay subplot.

The biggest criticism of Beauty and the Beast – from those who haven’t even seen it – has been the revelation that Lefou is gay. It’s angered some to the point of boycotting the film, but there’s nothing to it. This is a PG-rated Disney movie. It’s ridiculous to think Beauty features Lefou running around, kissing every guy that comes his way. The subplot consists of a few cursory glances, insinuations, and two men smiling at each other. That’s it. Nothing to be up in arms about.

Improving upon the animated version of Beauty and the Beast was an impossible task, and one that the live action version doesn’t even bother with. Instead, it revels in the song numbers—which soar under Condon’s direction—the lush costumes, and the gorgeous production design. If Beauty put half as much effort into everything else, it would’ve made for a great companion piece alongside the animated original instead of a somewhat entertaining family film that will make a bazillion dollars by virtue of the fact that it’s Beauty and the Beast.