Bill Condon’s “Beauty And The Beast” Reviewed
Howard Ashman wrote the lyrics to Disney’s animated version of “Beauty And The Beast” from 1991, the blueprint for Bill Condon’s (who hasn’t been seen since the second Twilight movie) Disney’s live action version, released last Friday. Ashman died of complications from AIDS at the age of 41, a week after the animated Beasty came out to a mix of raves and less raves. He had claimed before his death that he saw the Selfish Prince cursed by a witch into the form of a beast, redeemable only be true love, a metaphor for the AIDs sickness. If you want to see the price of Reagan’s barbarism look at the devastating loss of Ashman as yet another loss you can put at his feet.
Condon’s “Beauty And The Beast” is visually beautiful, musically misses any great voices, and emotionally vapid, it is a good time but no more. Still, it includes Le Fou being secretly in love with the brutal beast bully Gaston, and somewhere in there is the sweetness one expects from Disney. The problem is both of the leads aren’t very good. Like Jean Marais before him, Dan Stevens is not a great Beast after he transforms back to the Prince, he is a wimp. But unlike Jean Marais, he isn’t very good when he is a beast either. There is something stilted and unromantic about the beast (the best like is at the end, where Belle asks how the Prince would feel about growing a beard), or perhaps it isn’t the beast but the Belle.
Emma Watson is so limited, you adds layers of solipsism not written into the book read Belle, she had a similar problem in Harry Potter: the little girl at the beginning of the movie was too clever, and perhaps that was a form of feminism, it came across as ill tempered.
The actual fairytale, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, is a variation on Cinderella (written in 1697), with the add fillip of the Beast and the additional class differential (it starred what was at least apparently, the middle class). But it speaks to the ages, rewritten and remade over and over again. This version seems to have no inner differences, neither beauty nor beast are specifically interesting and the movie is held by the Palace help who make interesting household items. What the household appliances did to deserve it is a different matter. What saves the movie is what saves the animated version: the set pieces, a terrific how did they do that “Be Our Guest” and an uproarious sexually ambiguous “Gaston”. But the heart of the movie, the romance, isn’t great and their dancing where they first fall in love isn’t the magic it should be.
Bound to be a hit, it is miscast and lacks the true soul of a fairy tale. While it is good enough, it isn’t classic Disney (some people claim the cartoon wasn’t either -I think it was saved by the glorious score). Having said that, I’ve been known to take awhile to warm up to these things (I didn’t like “Sorcerer’s Stone” first time I saw it). For now, it doesn’t click.