Raleigh, N.C. — Disney seems to have righted the ship when it comes to live action adaptations of their beloved animated movies. Let’s exclude 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, since that was based more on Lewis Carrol’s novel than Disney’s 1951 movie.
In 2014, the Mouse House released Maleficent. Critics and the moviegoing public were both largely divided on it, but make no mistake it is an awful movie. In 2015, Disney brought us Cinderella. It wasn’t wonderful, but it was a vast improvement. Last year we got The Jungle Book, which was great.
Now, Disney is treading on interesting ground. This week, it releases it’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which is based on a movie that nearly every mother (and most fathers) in the audience will remember going to the theater to see for the first time. No bones about it, the stakes are certainly higher for Disney than with any of Beauty and the Beast’s three predecessors.
There’s plenty you will recognize from the original movie. Hell, the first trailer was nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 1991 animated trailer. There is also a more robust soundtrack and certain scenes and themes that are expanded on. For instance, the animated version starts with still pictures of the Prince’s encounter with an enchantress that cursed his castle.
In this version, we see that play out. Director Bill Condon really plays on the decadence and garishness that defined France before its revolution. The Prince is played by Downton Abby’s Dan Stevens, a cross between David Bowie and Mr. Burns in that episode of the Simpsons where he hires Homer as his “prank monkey.”
Also, for some reason we spend a lot of time throughout the film with the Enchantress (Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Hattie Morahan). For the life of me, I cannot figure out why. The character isn’t interesting at all. She just shows up occasionally to look wise and offer people tea.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Beauty and the Beast is at its most fun during the musical numbers. Like I said, the soundtrack gets messed with a bit and so do the visuals. There are songs and verses new to those of us that have never seen the Broadway play. The change that stood out the most to me was that Gaston no longer sings the wonderful line “and every last inch of me’s covered with hair” in his eponymous song.
I have a theory as to why that is. Gaston is played by Dracula Untold star Luke Evans, who is undeniable a handsome devil. My guess is given current male body hair trends, anyone beautiful enough to play Gaston is either fully shaved, waxed or naturally hairless and filmmakers weren’t willing to devote the necessary time needed for the surgery or inaction that could change that fact.
Another noticeable change in a musical number is visual, not sung. In the animated film we are introduced to our heroine during the “Bonjour” sequence. The same is true of this movie. In the original, the village sings about Belle being odd based largely on the fact that she can read, or at least that is what we are supposed to believe. In the live action version, there’s no room for doubt that literacy is what makes Belle an enigma to her fellow citizens.
How do I know? Because Condon didn’t include the scene that does call Belle’s mental health into question. Go back and rewatch the original. After the old man tells Belle she can keep the copy of her favorite book she has borrowed over and over again, Belle leaves his store and immediately begins explaining the plot of that book to a sheep. I swear this happens in the cartoon.
So how is everyone in the cast? Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that Emma Watson makes a wonderful Belle. Luke Evans is a very good Gaston. Ian McKlellan is a great Cogsworth, although this version of Cogsworth kinda looks gross. Ewan McGregor’s French accent makes him sound like Jon Lovitz when it comes time for Lumiere to sing “Be Our Guest.” Dan Stevens is fine as the Beast I guess, but that role is really more about the makeup and visual effects.
Alright, let’s get to what you really want to know. How gay is LeFou? The director said in a recent interview that he had decided to firmly establish what the cartoon only hinted at - that Gaston’s sidekick/greatest admirer is probably in love with him.
Josh Gad (who is a Disney vet, having provided the voice of Olaf in Frozen) is an absolutely perfect LeFou. He establishes very quickly that the character can’t decide if he wants to make out with Gaston or murder him and wear his skin. There is honest longing in the way he talks about wanting to spend time with Gaston away from those pesky women and pure annoyance on his face whenever Gaston flirts with Belle. But if you’re looking for the big “We’re here! We’re queer! We will not disappear!” moment, you will be disappointed.
That’s kind of the problem with Disney having announced that LeFou would be their first character with a gay storyline. The expectations far exceed the payoff. Had they left it a surprise (because there is a very small moment where we see LeFou begin to accept who he is) we are talking about this as a great moment for Disney and diversity on screen.
One more quick thing that annoyed me. There’s a scene in Belle’s bedroom where Lumiere (who if you don’t know, is a candlestick) is covered in dresses and colorful fabric and somehow none of it catches on fire. Okay, that’s it. I’m done complaining.
Beauty and the Beast is an absolute feast for the eyes. The “Be Our Guest” sequence in particular looks like something out of a Disney theme park attraction. The choreography in large ensemble numbers is perfect.
I was a Disney kid. I mean, I still am really. I was prepared to be disappointed with the first live action adaptation of a movie from the golden age of my tween years, but I wasn’t. I may have been a little annoyed with the way the LeFou storyline played out, but overall Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful movie.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.