The VHS tape of “Beauty and the Beast” ( 1991) is still on my cellar shelf even though we no longer have a recorder. I love this animated film, and I don’t wish to let it go. It was the first animated movie to be Oscar nominated for “Best Picture”. Disney’s up-dated ” Beauty and the Beast” (2017) will have its next generation of fans, too; but, it is hard for me to get used to its mixed animation. The new musical numbers by Alan Mekin and ,this time, Tim Rice add only length without enhancing the tale. And, it is Angela Lansbury’s voice as Mrs. Potts, that I hear when I start humming ” story old as time…”. Given these disclaimers, I came home from my latest movie-theater viewing as happy as a seven-year-old.
The current re-do is lovely, so worth seeing, and a smash hit for Disney. Who wouldn’t love a romantic, Parisian legend where provincial life is expanded through books and love is taught as something to hold on to? Throw in lessons about beauty being inside, too; and we have a magical banquet and a few sensuous scares. Turrets, garrets, and cages all confine, but spell breaking and freedom are won.
There are few changes in the dialogue, and the script stays almost identical to the award winning 1991 version. Scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos add “Never going to happen, ladies” and having a “fearless mother”, and ” hero-time” as linguistic twists for the times. The line getting the most press is Josh Gad’s . As Le Fou, his “You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley, and they will tell you which team they prefer to be on.” caused one intolerant country to squeal, and one section of the populace of Alabama to recoil. For my part, inclusiveness makes all the merrier.
Added vignettes like the bibliophile Belle ( Emma Watson) praising a young girl beginning to decode words is praiseworthy. Reading teachers need every boost they can get. The fact that books truly allow one to escape is further underscored when the Beast tells Belle that his library is hers. Belle asks her captor, ” Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?” The Beast understands that the wiser he becomes the more unsure he finds himself. Could he be Shakespeare’s ” winged Cupid painted blind” ?
Gaston ( Luke Evans ) has a meaner spirit in this version. Yes, he is narcissistic, but not quite the buffoon. He steps heedlessly on cabbages and throws mud-splatters on pink-frocked hopefuls, yet his line, ” A great hunter doesn’t waste his time with rabbits.” points to a more strategic planner of the ” me first” variety.
After a rather “spoon-fed” beginning where Audra McDonald’s operatic voice gives way to the prince’s transformation, we see our beast slashing out at his princely portrait in symbolism like Dorian Gray. Saws like ” You can’t judge people by who their father is” and ” People say a lot of things in anger. It is our choice to decide to listen” are adages for our times. Mrs. Potts ( Emma Thompson) and her son Chip ( Nathan Mack ) serve up lots of these aphorisms. “Learn to control your temper” is another didactic lesson.
The irony in the script is more fun. When the question of love is broached, we are given, ” You will feel slightly nauseous.” When Gaston is overwrought, his side kick Le Fou says, “Breathe breaths, Gaston”, “Breathe happy thoughts; Go back to war”. Many will recall “show me the meat”, as Gaston yells ” show me the Beast” in the same incantation. These writers are having fun!
Director Bill Condon gives Belle’s father, Maurice, ( Kevin Kline) lots of play. Kline looks the part, but his singing is weak. Still a caring father, who adores his daughter, Kline is always welcome on the screen. The backstory grounds us with a touch of sadness and sacrifice. The other man in Belle’s life can belt it out. Dan Stevens’ Beast’s voice is deep and sonorous. I loved both the bathing Beast and the slurping soup animal. His song ” Come wake me up” seemed rather lusty.
Fear and fighting play a larger part in the newer version. The wolves are terrifying and the Beast’s leaps from rampart to rampart are heart-stopping. I can see young children on their parent’s laps. The use of psychological fear is well mapped by the tally-ho of villagers’ torches. The Gaston and the Beast face-off is more action-packed than the original, and Gaston is meaner. He shoots the Beast twice. Gaston is more than vain; he is a liar exemplar, who tries to kill his competitor.
On the more joyful side, the culinary cabaret with all its accoutrements delight. Luminere ( Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan ) as candlestick and mantle clock are engaging. Their ormolu glistening, both are dusted by the cleaning cockatoo ( Gigi Mbatha-Raw), with the wonderful name, Plummet. Silver trays transform into spotlights and all proudly present quite an animated showcase dinner. Furniture dances and chifforobes and barking footstools help welcome and celebrate. “Be our guest” becomes the loveliest of words. And, ” Here ‘s a thought: There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”
Little girls will be twirling lovingly for another two decades! And everyone will remember that the sun rises in the east. Enjoy.