MOVIE REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

a smart, independent woman sticking with a partner who’s prone to unpredictable bouts of violence…

The three of us saw Beauty and the Beast on the marquee of the Madison Theatre, not too far from our house. I’d seen the 1991 animated film when it was released, though not since.

Still, I was ambivalent about seeing the live-action adaptation. I feared that it would be, in the words of one critic, “a straightforward retelling of the original, with a few cosmetic changes tacked on to make it look like something else.”

Not so, IMO. Some old songs were in, including one of my favorite Disney villain songs ever, “Gaston,” – Josh Gad’s sycophant is used well here – but other tunes were switched out, making it aurally satisfying.

Maybe it was getting to hear six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald sing very early on, but I bought into the magic almost instantly. Then I got to enjoy Emma Watson in a role other than that of Hermione Granger. There was a dinner scene between the principals which reminded me of some Esther Williams film.

Somehow, I was more intrigued by her rejection of Gaston (Luke Evans) here than in the animated version. This Belle was more clever, with her back story better explained, including her relationship with her father (Kevin Kline) and late mother.

Now, an article in Sojourner points to a fundamental flaw in Beauty and the Beast, and worse in its predecessor: “[It] still ends with the heroine finding her prince charming, the titular Beast, in a way that isn’t entirely healthy. Their relationship starts out with her being held captive in his castle…

“It would take a monster overhaul to fix what’s always been the central problem of this story — a smart, independent woman sticking with a partner who’s prone to unpredictable bouts of violence… That uncomfortable aspect [is] a problem that added musical numbers won’t solve.”

The piece isn’t wrong. Yet I choose to appreciate what joys the film provided. Hearing Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and Ewan MacGregor, then seeing them at the end. The one thing I will note is that, in seeing [spoiler?] the Beast (Dan Stevens) transformed to human form, I’d gotten so intrigued by the look of his alter ego that the prince appeared pretty bland.

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