Beauty and the Beast

Walt Disney might have left us but his genius lives on as seen in this delightful film.

Beauty and the BeastEvery once in a while a film exceeds its lavish praise. Director Bill Conden’s Beauty and the Beast is one of those special films.

While we all know the plot, this is really a love story between a selfish prince who morphs into the “Beast” and a bookish village girl who finds intellectual pursuits to be a key element of a meaningful life.

While Dan Stevens does a superb job bringing style and emotion to the Beast, this film belongs to Emma Watson. Coming off her memorable performances in the Harry Potter films, she brings a presence rarely seen on the big screen. Dedicated to her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and yearning to learn what caused her mother’s death, she challenges male authority in her small town with her devotion to reading and a bit of scientific innovation. And though her singing has been dismissed by some critics, I found all of her songs to be warm and engaging.

However, I must also note that this is one of the few films that belongs to the villain and his loyal assistant. Luke Evans does a masterful job as Gaston, an egotistic narcissist who believes Belle should be his wife simply because he says so. While the name of this film concerns both beauty as well as a beast,  Gaston has never seen a more exotic beauty than the reflection he sees when looking in a mirror.

Josh Gad is repeatedly hysterical as Gaston’s loyal, befuddled aide LeFou. Ironically, though countries like Malaysia have banned this movie because of some minor homosexual moments involving LeFou, I must admit that I failed to even see it. Any criticism on this subject is undeserved.

What makes this film so special are the scenes in the Beast’s castle. With contributions from an historically significant supporting cast that includes Emma Thompson, Ewen McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellam and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, all of his loyal employees were changed from humans into talking furniture and other household accouterments. Importantly, they learn to love Belle long before the Beast opens his own heart. While they are all destined to become household implements if the Beast doesn’t find true love before a magical red rose loses its last petal, they all bring a dramatic force that will leave you a bit teary eyed.

I have a sarcastic female colleague who dismisses this film as little more than a suggestion that all women should simply close their eyes and love a violent man long enough, as any leopard will change his spots. However, I strongly feel that she missed the point. If Belle saw success as nothing more than marrying a wealthy, egotistical man with the intellect of a sponge, she would never have rejected Gaston. Furthermore, she only embraced the Beast when she discovered something powerful and meaningful lurking under his physical appearance.

Not a bad lesson for anyone. And with that said, find a way to see this film, and rediscover the kid lurking inside you.