Beauty and the Beast (2016)

A review by Nalini Haynes

Belle (Emma Watson) lives in a village in France, wandering around with her nose in a book and being abused for teaching another girl to read. She lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), a Geppetto-type who takes a clockwork diorama to market to sell. Belle asks him to bring a rose back.

Gaston (Luke Evans), an arrogant bully living in the village, pursues Belle, ignoring her rebuffs because he’s too busy admiring himself in mirrors to notice.

Maurice is waylaid by the forest — a tree falls, closing one path and opening another — to find himself in the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle. Maurice stays the night then takes a rose for Belle as he leaves. The Beast is furious so imprisons him for theft.

Belle comes searching for her father and willingly takes his place in the cell. The animated furniture and ornaments free her in the hope that she will fall in love with the Beast. They promote romance.

Beauty and the Beast is a remake of the animated  Disney movie so the story is very similar if not the same. (I’m sure CJ Dee could comment at length on any discrepancies).

While many versions of the story are very rapey — and Gaston is appalling even in this version — I applaud the fact that the Beast does not seek to imprison Belle. He imposes a harsh sentence on her father for theft; Belle wilfully takes her father’s place; the Beast does not free her (at first) but at no time does he try to make her fall in love with him nor does he keep her prisoner for the sake of herself or her gender. Nor does Belle’s father bargain to sacrifice his daughter.

Romance blossoms over a shared love of books, enhanced by the most gorgeous and enviable library. Beauty and the Beast promotes literature, even referring to Shakespeare. I hope this encourages a new generation of readers.

Gaston is absolutely appalling, a shallow villain whose vanity, narcissism and shallowness is a vehicle for humour. If only all people of his ilk could meet Karma when she’s feeling bitchy.

You may have heard the furore about the queer couple in Beauty and the Beast. Blink and you’d miss it: an adorable couple take to the dance floor. How dare Disney include a nod to equality? Next they’ll have female leads. Oh, wait. (Beauty and the Beast, and all who applaud inclusion, give me hope for the human race.)

The crowds include lots of coloured people and a good proportion are women.

Beauty and the Beast is a musical combining the best of Gilbert and Sullivan with a more contemporary sound; I think I need the soundtrack.

On the downside, there is an obsession with beauty in the story that is not really challenged. The Beast is punished for rejecting an old hag who was a beautiful enchantress in disguise. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him because he had a rough childhood but he falls in love with beautiful Belle in gorgeous surrounds. I can’t help but think of this video challenging movie tropes and public perceptions of disfigurement.

The cast is impressive with Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dan Stevens (Legion), Ian McKellen (Lord of the Rings, X-men), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Dune), and so on. The acting is convincing, drawing the audience in even though the story is ancient, adapted from the Bible (and possibly other religions and mythology).

It’s a shame that the frame rate is so low that the image blurs when the camera moves and, to a point, when the camera is still but characters move. If you’re going to spend so much attention to detail and put so much effort into special effects, use a decent frame rate so the image is crisp and clear.

An absolutely sumptuous presentation featuring gorgeous clothes, detailed landscaping and period decorative interiors, Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes although the blurry image disperses detail and smudges some of the scenes. However, I enjoyed this movie in spite of my reservations about remakes. Recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans

Beauty and the Beast