This beast second best

1991’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature nominated for an Oscar and unfortunately, this latest version is destined to remain second best.

Make no mistake, the current live-action version brought to you by director Bill Condon (Dream Girls) is an entirely competent piece of film making, but there is a distinct lack of heart amid the many visual spectacles that is difficult to pinpoint.

Emma Watson (Harry Potter) is a smart and plucky Belle, the no-nonsense book worm who loves her father and isn’t afraid to stand up to the Beast. She is at her best in the opening number when strolling through the town and thwarting the attentions of Gaston.

Once she arrives at the castle, she seems to lose her spark and become much more reactionary to events.

Watson is an intelligent and lovely actress with a surprisingly good singing voice. Her reaction at seeing the library for the first time is convincing, but it would have been nice to see her inventive nature spark some more interaction with the household characters.

There is a great song called Home in Beauty and The Beast, The Musical, which was omitted from this film although an instrumental version was played in the moment where she would have sung it. It would have been better to allow her to sing it as the lyrics reveal a lovely character development in Belle which was then missing.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is convincing as The Beast. We get a glimpse of his former arrogant handsomeness and those blue eyes pierce through our hearts even as he is covered in fur and latex monstrousness.

In this version, they have given Beast a solo after he allows Belle to leave the castle to return to her father. It’s a nice moment that allows us to have a peak into his turmoil.

A scene that doesn’t accomplish its goal is the new convention of allowing Beast and Belle to travel anywhere in the world she wants. She chooses the Paris room where her parents lived when she was an infant and where her mother died. The side-bar story only muddies the water and slows down the action.

It’s a big cast and there are a few outstanding performances of note: Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) is touching as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric father.

Luke Evans (Fast & Furious) is marvellously virile as the bulging, biceped Gaston who turns from wooing heartthrob to leader of a lynch mob.

Gosh Gad (Frozen) is fantastic as LeFou, Disney’s first openly gay character. Much has been made of this in the media but it is so subtly hinted at, one wonders what all the fuss was about.

Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) does a commendable job as Mrs. Potts and the title song Beauty and the Beast stands up to the legendary Angela Landsbury version.

Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge) is excellent as Lumiere and he nails the vocals in the whirlwind production number Be Our Guest.

Audra McDonald is an opera star who shines as Madame Garderobe and whose vocalizing is a real standout in the closing number.

There are a few barriers that this film breaks through from sexual orientation to mixed marriages. It is encouraging to see Disney step so boldly forward in 2017.

The film is opulently beautiful and provides a lovely 129 minutes of escapism, but it ultimately fails to be a “tale as old as time."

I give this film 4 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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