Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘Beauty (and Brains and Bravery) and the Beast’

Downton Abbey fans will also enjoy Dan Stevens (the romantic, ill-fated Matthew Crawley) as the eponymous Beast. His piercing blue eyes shine through prosthetics and fur, and his vocal performance is more subtle and nuanced than the original film’s Robby Benson (who had been a teen heartthrob in the 1970s). The transition from monster to man is nicely handled as the Beast slowly acquires table manners and personal hygiene, and becomes more princely in his carriage. A new song “Forever More” offers insight into his struggles and is particularly beautiful sung again by Josh Groban during the movie’s final credits. I think we can safely assume that Alan Menken and Tim Rice will be the team to beat for Best Original Song come next awards season. My only issue with the Beast was that, at times, he seemed a bit too computer-generated. (Of course, this presented no challenge for Watson. She cut her teeth acting with three-headed dogs, trolls, dragons, and a house-elf named Dobby.)

Luke Evans is undeniably handsome and strong as Belle’s would-be suitor Gaston. A musical theatre star of London’s West End, Evans is more familiar to American audiences for supporting roles in films like The Girl on the Train. Here, he’s a Disney villain you’ll love to hate. Oscar-Winner Kevin Kline adds panache to the role of Belle’s father Maurice (it helps that the movie gives him a rich new backstory). And, all of the enchanted castle’s furnishings are brilliantly brought to life by venerated stage and screen veterans. Along with McDonald, Stanley Tucci plays (literally) a pianoforte; Ian McKellan is the clock Cogsworth; Ewan McGregor shines (yes, also literally) as singing/dancing candelabra Lumiere; Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the coquettish featherduster Plumette; and the always wonderful Emma Thompson is housekeeper-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts. The entire cast is a delight. In fact, my only criticism would be that there is so much happening on the screen at any given point, that you’re bound to miss something in your first viewing. (Then again, isn’t that intrinsic to Disney’s marketing mission? Delight each new generation so thoroughly that they feel compelled to watch their favorites again and again . . . and again?)

A final terrific member of the cast is Josh Gad (the lovable Olaf from another Disney megahit Frozen). I’ve left him for last because his role as Gaston’s trusty sidekick LeFou has sparked controversy. In the 1991 animated feature, LeFou clearly idolized his lord and master. In this new movie, it’s suggested that he has the hots for him too. The inclusion of “Disney’s first gay character” has led to the film’s being boycotted by some theatre owners. After hearing a number of news stories about it, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the subplot itself (if you can even call it that). It certainly isn’t prominent or preachy, and is played for fairly subtle comic effect.

It’s a bit funny to think that an implied attraction between two consenting adult, human, fictional characters is a problem in a movie that pretty much romanticizes bestiality. I’d rather focus on the powerful message it sends to little girls like my niece (and my daughter, now an out-of-state college freshman, but the person I am most looking forward to taking to this movie when I see her next month). Bravo Emma Watson, and bravo Disney.

Then again, if LeFou’s infatuation is actually a conscious move toward inclusion, all I can say is more power to the House of Mouse. By changing with the times, Disney is enchanting a whole new generation — not to mention its parents and grandparents.

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