There is so much to enjoy about Beauty and the Beast. Of course the songs. Even the new songs—I'm thinking of you Forevermore, sung by Dan Stevens. Dan Stevens as the Beast. Surprising, sexy and sweet with an entirely swoonworthy reveal.
Emma Watson, while not the “gorgeous’’ Belle that Gaston proclaims her to be—but that’s the kind of overstatement you’d expect from a Trumplike Gaston—is more than just a lovely young woman, she’s as smart, as she is pretty. Resourceful—she invents a contraption to wash clothes while she sits and reads—loving, brave, independent and like you and I, immersed in a world of books.
Luke Evans is perfection as the narcissistic Gaston, Josh Gad comical and endearing as Le Fou, his adoring fan/friend/would be lover—unbeknownst to Gaston who only has eyes for himself.
Kevin Kline, the rare straight actor in the film—straight in the theater sense of the word, his part is not a singing role—sets up the tale as old as time beautifully. A loving father, he’d do anything for his daughter. Even stop to pluck a rose for Belle when he’s fleeing an enchanted castle, scared out of his wits by a talking teacup. That scene is one of my quibbles with the story, by the way. It’s hard to believe that Papa, as frightened as he is, would stop to pick a flower, but brush that aside, suspend your disbelief, remember Beauty & the Beast is a fantasy and move on.
The cast of characters trapped as objects in the castle, from Emma Thompson a standout as Mrs. Potts to Ewan McGregor as Lumiere were their wonderful best selves, their voices in concert with mind-blowing special effects as dazzling as their surroundings.
Not a fairy tale world, the designs are routed in real world 18th century villages and castles. Steeped in authentic details, I could almost feel the sun’s warmth on the stone steps leading to Belle’s cottage and was surprised to learn the village, modeled after French towns like Conque in the south of France, was built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios in England. The castle was inspired by the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley with interiors straight out of the Palace of Versailles.
The film has a strong message for young girls that women do not have to travel in a prescribed path—Belle was not at all interested in marriage and babies, she was looking for adventure in the big beautiful world out there—that a woman can and should travel her own path. And of course that keeping your eyes open to real beauty, the beauty that lives inside a kind heart and soul, is where true love lives.
The production design by Sarah Greenwood with accompanying set decoration by Katie Spencer are so central to the movie’s success in transporting the audience, I’ll be focusing on those elements in another post.