For fans of the 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast (and, my goodness, there are a lot more of those people than I ever realized) the new live action version should certainly satisfy any of those Beast hunger pangs that have been stirring for the last 26 years. (The thing I remember most from that period of time was that the Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson version of the “Beauty and the Beast” song was unavoidable. It was just everywhere. It really was amazing how a pop song used to be able to blanket the landscape with movie promotion. Also, just by writing its title, I now have it stuck in my head.)
My biggest takeaway with the whole Beauty and the Beast story is that there are a lot of overreactions. Everyone overacts to something. Sure, Prince Adam (here played by Dan Stevens) is a jerk to the enchantress who is dressed up like an old woman. But the spell she casts on him, turning the prince into a beast, and turning his friends and employees into inanimate objects, seems like an overreaction. (Also, his friends seemed to get the worst of the deal. I’d much rather be turned into an insanely strong and agile lion-human than turned into a talking teacup. Of all the people cast with a spell, he seemed to get the best option – which doesn’t really seem fair.)
Then when poor Maurice (Kevin Kline) tries to take a rose from outside the Beast’s castle to bring back home to his daughter, Belle (Emma Watson), the Beast sentences Maurice to life in prison. See, this also seems like an overreaction. Belle then shows up to free her father, and then for her trouble she gets put away for life. Beauty and the Beast is like Pay it Forward, only with unnecessary overreactions.
Oh, and then there’s Gaston (Luke Evans), who wants Belle to marry him and is also just a walking, talking overreaction. “Oh, Maurice won’t approve of me marrying Belle, well I’m going to punch him in the face and leave him in the woods for the wolves to eat.” See, if everyone in this movie took a deep breath and talked about their feelings, a lot of this could have been avoided.
But, of course, that is the story. And after time, Belle starts to realize that the Beast isn’t all bad. In fact, when the Beast isn’t being ferocious, he’s actually… well, he’s kind of a sad sack. At one point he laments that when he enters a room the inanimate objects who used to be his friends stop having fun. Well, no shit. His arrogance got them all turned into household items. I suspect I wouldn’t have the fondest of feelings for the Beast either if I were living my life as a harpsichord.
As you probably already know, there’s one way around this curse: if the Beast can get someone to fall in love with him before all the rose petals fall off a magical enchanted rose, the curse will be reversed. But time is running out and Belle is probably his last chance. So you know, it’s a tale as old as time: Beast gives woman a life sentence in jail, woman realizes Beast isn’t so bad and it turns out they both like to read.
But, that’s the story (or the Disney version of the story, at least). And Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is a pretty faithful adaptation of that story. Granted, I would bet that people who love the animated film will like this quite a bit, but not like it as much. That’s a total guess, but there are a lot of factors at play and a big one is the fact that if you saw an animated film when you were 26 years younger than you are right now, it’s just probably going to mean more to you than a movie like this will today. But I also think kids seeing this story for the first time will appreciate it quite a bit. The cast is wonderful. The production design is beautiful. And the songs are still wonderful.
A lot has been made about Josh Gad’s Lefou being gay. Now that I’ve seen the film, I kind of wish this hadn’t leaked out because it’s a small part of the film and the stories make it seem like it’s a huge story point. I could see people reading about that plot point, then being disappointed that it’s not a larger part of the plot, because the stories that came out sure make it seem like it is. To the point that I kept waiting for when this would be addressed – and I waited a very long time.
There’s certainly nothing that new about this version of Beauty and the Beast (well, except it isn’t a cartoon anymore), but it’s a good recreation of a classic animated film that should leave most die-hards satisfied. In other words: When you imagine what a live action Beauty and the Beast movie would be like, the final product is probably a lot like what you think it would be like.
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