Don’t judge a book by its cover.
That’s the overarching theme of Disney’s live-action retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” But in recent weeks, controversies surrounding the PG-rated fairy tale seem to be just that — judgy.
First there’s star Emma Watson, who plays the heroine Belle, and her Vanity Fair photo shoot that showed off more skin than naysayers could take. Then, there’s this fascination with henchman LeFou (Josh Gad) being gay.
Neither of which should distract audiences from going to see this tale as old as time that manages to teach children about tolerance.
In the first scene of the film we are whisked off to a castle where the Prince is holding a lavish ball with — gasp — multicultural dancers in beautiful attire. In fact, the hallmark throughout the film is transforming the white-washed animated version into full color with a multitude of interracial couples. Isn’t it a sign of progress that this point isn’t a controversy at all?
For Disney fans, the biggest spoiler alert is that the plot hasn’t strayed from the 1991 animated version. For the uninitiated, Belle is a bold, independent young woman in a provincial French village who would rather read books than be swayed by the brute of a suitor Gaston (Luke Evans). Her father, Maurice (a delightful Kevin Kline), ventures out and is held captive by a Beast (Dan Stevens) in a castle. Belle willingly trades her life for his freedom and begins a strange yet exciting relationship with her monstrous host.
Children will enjoy the live animations of the castle’s help, including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson). As well as the intricate and whimsical musical displays of such fan favorites as “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston.” There are also three additional songs that complement the original soundtrack, including a touching ode, “Forevermore,” sung by the Beast.
The attention to detail in this film is exquisite, from the gold flakes on Belle’s ballroom gown to the “Fantasia”-like theatrics of the “Be Our Guest” feast. All of the acting heavy hitters truly bring those inanimate objects to life.
As for LeFou, keep in mind his name means the fool in French, and the animated version clearly states his admiration of Gaston in song: “There’s no man in town as admired as you/You’re everyone’s favorite guy/Everyone’s awed and inspired by you/And it’s not very hard to see why.”
There’s no doubt that tons of children will head to this movie dressed up as princesses and princes wanting to emulate what they see on the screen. And if the message they learn is that love is patient, kind and tolerant, there’s no reason to judge.
Beauty and the Beast
☆☆☆1/2 (out of five)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad
Rated: PG (for some action, violence, peril, and frightening images.)
Running time: 129 min.