Beauty in the ‘Beast’

A shoutout to the new film version of “Beauty and the Beast,” which proves you can build on previous iterations and make something that is related but individual.

Of the three Walt Disney versions using Alan Menken’s score – which also include an acclaimed animated movie and a Broadway musical – this latest interpretation is by far the most adult (although kids will still enjoy it).

There are new songs and new dialogue and scenes that fill in the Beast’s and Belle’s backstories. But most of all, there is a depth of feeling that makes this superb adult entertainment. Much of this is due to the cast of actors who sing (as opposed to singers who act. Audra McDonald, as Mme. Garderobe, alias the coloratura Wardrobe, is the only classical singer in the bunch.) Nonetheless, these singing actors – including Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza – are a revelation. The CGI is transporting without being obtrusive; the production and costume design, Mozartean – in short, sublime.

The leads are particularly strong, with Kevin Kline taking Belle’s inventive father, Maurice, beyond the stereotyped eccentric and Luke Evans finding the beast in the arrogant male beauty who is the villain Gaston.

As Belle, Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame is terrific – courageous to the point of defiance, compassionate and intelligent, with a beauty that you don’t notice immediately – the best kind.

Dan Stevens’ beauty – he was Downton Abbey heir Matthew Crawley – is, on the other hand, not to be denied and mostly hidden under horns, claws and fur. All except for his expressive blue eyes, which help him locate the humanity in his bestial character. If Evans finds the beast in Gaston’s beauty, Stevens finds the beauty in his Beast.

As for the tempest in the Mrs. Potts’ teapot over Gaston’s sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) being portrayed as gay, the interpretation merely underscores the fairy tale’s theme of tolerance for others as a key to transformation.

For more on “Beauty and the Beast” and my take on the fairy tale as gender fantasy, see my essay in WAG magazine.