'Beauty and the Beast' gussies up a fairy tale
By Martha K. Baker
The Disney live-action adaptation of the Disney animation depends on computer-generated imagery. Most viewers do not know Jean Cocteau's 1946 version or Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's original story, but they surely know Disney's animated version or the recent stage play.
For fans of sparkles and reveals, the other versions may not matter. Fans of Alan Menken's music may not care about the source material either. In being its own version, this one tries very hard by adding a bit of new music and by casting stars recognizable by voice or bearing.
Emma Watson, Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, plays Belle, the Beauty, rather woodenly. St. Louisan Kevin Kline ploddingly plays the watch-maker, Belle's protective father. Emma Thompson plays and voices the tea pot with Ian McKellan's voice as the clock and Ewan McGregor's as the candelabrum. Playing the unbelievable Beast is Dan Stevens, familiar from his two years on Downtown Abbey.
And playing the arrogant, evil, narcissistic Gaston, terribly reminiscent of D.J. Trump, is Luke Evans. Gaston's dog's body is Josh Gad, and of all the actors, it is Gad who finds nuance in his role.
The story includes a castle, thrust into darkness by a curse, and a beastly prince, who must be loved by a beautiful woman in order to have the curse lifted. Belle is that woman, but Gaston, confidence man, insists she is his. Also cursed are the tea pot, the wardrobe, whose songs are resounded by Audra McDonald, and the candelabrum.
Tobias A. Schliessler's cinematography, aided by drones, shines forth from on high whether over dances or the land. Jacqueline Durran's fairy-dusted costumes are fabulous. But, most of all for the fairy tale, the moral holds true that love transcends looks.