BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Runtime: 129 mins
Australian release date: 23 March 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney on 6 March 2017
Let’s face it, a musical based on the premise of a beautiful young woman falling in love with a ‘beast’ is the kind of fantasy that Walt Disney Pictures does particularly well, as exhibited by its highly-successful 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. In this new live-action/digital version of the 1756 French fairytale (which itself was based on an even earlier book), the versatile director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls / Gods And Monsters) has lit up the screen with an extravaganza that must be seen to be believed. From the first moment the fireworks erupt over the Disney logo, Condon succeeds in taking his audience on a 129-minute ride that is simply (sorry) enchanting!
In a castle somewhere far, far away, a young self-centred prince (Dan Stevens) is throwing a lavish debutante’s ball when he is visited by an enchantress disguised as an old crone, who asks for shelter from the storm raging outside. When the prince refuses her request he is cursed and turned into a fearsome beast while the other inhabitants of his castle are transformed into household objects. The sorceress throws him a lifeline, however, leaving behind a rose as a symbol of his possible redemption, for if the Beast manages to fall in love and the feeling is reciprocated before the rose’s last petal falls, he will be returned to his former self. Appalled by his fate and convinced no-one could ever love him in his hideous guise, the Beast shuts himself away in his castle, removed from the human world.
Cut to the nearby village and we are introduced to the lovely young Belle (Emma Watson), a bookworm who’s bored with her provincial life and is being pursued by the local ‘catch’, the egotistical oaf Gaston (Luke Evans), who comes complete with a sidekick, the adoring LeFou (Josh Gad). It’s evident that LeFou’s affections are geared towards Gaston and his campy persona provides a comic addition to the script (Condon is on record as saying that this is the first time an openly gay figure has appeared in a Disney film). When her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes missing on a trip through the forest Belle sets off in search of him, only to find him held prisoner in the Beast’s castle. She confronts the Beast and ends up swapping places with Maurice, which sets up the opportunity for a budding romance with her captor when the pair realise they have much in common. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?
Beauty and the Beast is much more than just a simple fairytale. It has been suggested that the modern versions can be seen as an allegory for Aids and that the first gay Disney character is a symbol of tolerance and acceptance, but then it’s also been labelled as a feminist tract. Pick whichever suits your fancy as each idea bears consideration. However, just as important is the technical feat this film achieves. Sarah Greenwood’s production design is simply stunning and supported by the most elaborate costumes by Jacqueline Durran. The principal characters are all pitch-perfect and Watson and Evans work well together, admirably supported by Gad’s antics. The ‘inanimate’ objects are a delight, particularly Cogsworth the Clock (In McKellen), Chip the teacup (Nathan Mack) and Lumiére the candelabra (Ewan McGregor). All are beautifully captured by Tobias A. Schliessler’s glowing cinematography. And let us not forget Alan Menken’s and Howard Ashman’s wonderful songs. Move over La La Land for here comes a real old-fashioned musical that will enthral audiences all the way to the Academy Awards, where it’s bound to be a winner. As we go to press, Beauty and the Beast has already waltzed its way to the top, breaking box office records around the world. Magic!