by Susan Ellingburg | A delightful live-action retelling of a much-loved story, Beauty and the Beast looks like a picturebook come to life with music and dancing. Yes, there is controversy over the perceived sexual orientation of a minor character, but remember the moral of this tale: you can't judge a book by its cover. 4 out of 5.
It's a tale as old as time: Boy (Dan Stevens), a bad-tempered prince turned snarling beast—meets Girl (Emma Watson), a book-loving dreamer who doesn't fit in her rural village. They're thrown together by chance (or design). If they can make this relationship work before time runs out, a whole castle full of people living under a curse will be saved. If not… nobody gets to live happily ever after.
Like the live action version of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast is rather gorgeous. The village is beautifully picturesque; the castle a delicious crumbling ruin. The Beast's appearance is nicely done, too. He's "other" enough to be not-human, but still able to express enough emotion to be appealing, even through the fur. All the enchanted characters look great; they’re exactly as you’d expect “real” versions of their animated selves to look. The cast is star-studded and full of charming performances, but I'd like to give a shout-out to Stanley Tucci, whose Maestro Cadenza gives the best piano performance ever (the best performance by a piano, that is). Speaking of the cast, if you're not in a rush at the end there's quite a nice curtain call which helps match up voices of the enchanted castle inhabitants with their real life faces.
Some of the musical numbers involve complex spinning geometric patterns reminiscent of Busby Berkeley numbers from those old Hollywood movies. It's pretty and all, but too much of a good thing. As one dizzying scene went on and on I briefly wished for Dramamine. Littles who are prone to carsickness may find those moments too much to handle. Watson was a little laid-back for my taste; she's smart and sweet and pretty but her Belle occasionally comes across as a little absent. Maybe that was her take on the character's distracted air. I was a little disappointed in her iconic yellow ball gown, too. It didn't have quite the pizazz of its animated counterpart. And was there a pocket in that billowy skirt? She had the mirror, she didn't have the mirror, she had the mirror again… in other words, continuity fell apart a bit in later scenes.
I could have done without quite such an effeminate take on LeFou (Josh Gad). While LeFou is meant to be a counterpoint to the uber-macho Gaston, is it really necessary for him to go that far? (See Cautions below for more on the much-hyped "gay moment" of Beauty and the Beast).
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Let's set controversy aside for a moment and look at the real message of Beauty: that it's not what’s on the outside that counts. Or as 1 Samuel 16:7 puts it, "people judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Most of these characters judge each other by what they see. The exceptions are the enchanted servants, who encourage Belle to look beyond the Beast's appearance and bad temper, because they know deep inside he is worth saving. Given that his behavior is the reason they are no longer human, that's quite a model of forgiveness. You could also look at the story as an example of grace offered to sinners—the Beast was given a second chance, after all.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
- Language/Profanity: An enchanted character says the spell "damned us all."
- Sexuality/Nudity: There's a lot of controversy about the "gay scene," which director Bill Condon (Mr. Holmes) described as "a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie." When he says "moment" he's not kidding—blink and you'll miss it. Here's what I saw: There's LeFou, who does appear, shall we say, unclear about his orientation. Condon said LeFou "one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," though to me it came off more as adolescent hero-worship than anything else. Does LeFou want a romantic relationship with his idol? Possibly, sometimes, maybe. Does he realize that? Not necessarily. Is that relationship consummated on-screen in any way? No. In other news, three villagers involved in a fight at the castle are pitted against the enchanted wardrobe, whose line of defense is to dress them as women. Two are horrified to find themselves in girly-wear; the third is delighted. We see his reaction for a heartbeat then he's gone. Much later, at a ball, in one of those complicated dances where everyone swirls about changing partners, two men find themselves dancing together and appear pleased about it. This, I believe, is the "gay moment" in question. The whole thing lasts maybe two seconds and is inconsequential to the plot.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: There is quite a bit of peril in Beauty, with several moments that are pretty intense. The Beast has a mighty roar and violent tendencies that range from snapping at his servants to fighting off a gang of wolves. Those wolves are vicious, fierce, and prone to attack. The Villagers vs. Castle Inhabitants battle is more funny than anything, but Gaston taking shots at the Beast—and the dramatic rooftop battle, with injuries and long falls—will get hearts pumping.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Some scenes are set in a village tavern, where drinks are served.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Romantics, Disney fans, bookworms, and lovers of old-school musicals.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Haters of musicals, those who don't like fairy tales, and viewers who will be so offended by a gay(ish) character they won't be able to see anything else.
Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon, opens in theaters March 17, 2017. It runs 129 minutes and stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kevin Kline.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).