BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. US, 2017, 128 minutes, Colour. Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Hattie Morahan, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Mack, Gugu Mbatha Raw. Directed by Bill Condon.
Lovers of fairytales and, especially, those who love the 1992 animated version of Beauty and the Beast, know the characters and the plot very well indeed. Soon after the release and success of the animated film, Disney included it as part of their live-action entertainment at Disneyland and Disneyworld and adapted it for the Broadway stage. With the success of live-action versions of fairytales, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast is ideal for this kind of cinema treatment.
It looks as though the Disney executives were not wrong with the immediate box office success of this version.
Immediately we are introduced to the Prince (Dan Stevens), living the lavish life, with many courtiers, opera singer and piano accompanist, but arrogant and self-centred. An old woman comes begging hospitality and he sneeringly refuses it, the enchantress then transforming him into the Beast and freezes his castle, warning him that when the last petal falls from a rose, there will be no chance for change or redemption.
Transition to the town of Villeneuve, and the well-known song that welcomes Belle into the story, moving through the markets, the streets, the busy activity of all who are selling, buying, watching – a large ensemble chorus. This really gets us in the mood, especially if the song is familiar from the past. And Emma Watson proves herself charming and lovely.
Then we are introduced to Gaston (Luke Evans) and his assistant, Le Fouo (Josh Gad). At one moment, Gaston is glimpsed gazing at someone with words of love and affection – the audience then seeing it is his reflection in the mirror! Another tone is set. The contrast is with Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), sitting at home mending things, going to the market, getting lost, discovering the Beast’s Castle and, rather upset (although they are very comic characters) by the talking candlestick, clock, teapot… He picks a rose to take to his daughter and is taken by the Beast and imprisoned.
When his horse returns home, riderless, Belle mounts it and goes in search of her father, confronting the Beast, putting herself in his prison, having him release her father.
The very nice part of the story is how Belle responds to the Beast, thinking to escape, responding to some courtesy, discovering his library and discussing Shakespeare, drinking her soup from the plate in sympathy with him, taking walks, talking, getting to know each other, building up to a ballroom sequence for two.
In the meantime, we are treated to all kinds of funny dialogue and antics with Cogsworth the clock, Lumière the candles, and Mrs Potts. And they all sing Be our Guest.
When Maurice tries to get the townspeople to go to save his daughter, they mock him with disbelief about his stories of the Beast, Gaston offering to save the day but, feeling thwarted, abandons Maurice to the wolves.
While the townspeople start a vicious siege of the castle, once they get in it is much more farcical as all the crockery and furniture become very involved in getting rid of the attackers. Gaston confronts the Beast – to his great disadvantage! But love overcomes everything, the enchantress reverses her spell, the crockery and furniture all become their real selves again – and the forms of Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha Raw.
What else to do but have a dance with Mrs Potts reprising the very popular theme song, a tale as old as time…?
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.