Beauty and the Beast
Bill Condon, director
Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos, script
Music by Alan Menken; most of the lyrics by Howard Ashman
Starring: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (LeFou), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Stanley Tucci (Cadenza), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Audra McDonald (De Garderobe)
Frank Rich called Disney’s animated feature classic Beauty and the Beast “the best Broadway musical of 1991.” It only took until 1994 for Disney to produce a live show on the Great White Way, with the Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) score embellished by additional Menken songs with Tim Rice’s lyrics. Like the film, the musical was a huge hit, remaining on Broadway until 2007. Now, in 2017, Disney has released a live action film version with the same score and story, accompanied by brilliant f/x and animation of the Beast’s beloved characters Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and the rest.
Disney took no chances with this new version of their billion-dollar franchise. Bill Condon, the director of Dreamgirls and scriptwriter of Chicago, was hired to helm the film. An all-star cast of character actors—Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, etc—has been brought in to voice the animated objects in the Beast’s castle. Kevin Kline has been cast as Beauty’s artist father. The sets for the castle and Belle’s village are evocative and beautifully detailed by a state-of-the-art technical crew.
About the only risk Disney took—and it wasn’t much of one—was casting Emma Watson as the Beauty. But Watson spent her youth emoting to special f/x “magical scenes” as Hermione in the Harry Potter series so dealing with Mrs. Potts and the Beast was hardly fresh terrain for her. The only question was, “does she have the charisma to make us believe her as Belle?” She does, of course: she’s absolutely fine as the Beauty to Dan Stevens’ Beast.
The classic story of a beauty civilizing a beast has psychological and archetypal resonances that go back to the dawn of time. Disney’s many versions of Beauty and the Beast will never be as mysterious and dark and gorgeous as Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la bête. But it’s hard not to be moved by the tale—and as a former bookseller, I can’t help but loving Belle falling in love with a Beast because he has a great library, even if he hasn’t read the books in ancient Greek.
Should you see Beauty and the Beast? “Mais bien sur,” as they would say in Belle’s village. But remember to bring a kid along so you can pretend you’re only seeing the film out of familial responsibility.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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