3.5 stars. Rated PG, for fantasy violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.17.17
This is a curious beast.
|Try as she might, Belle (Emma Watson) cannot dissuade Gaston (Luke Evans) from|
attempting to win her hand in marriage. Sadly, this dynamic will become quite
uncomfortable, once Gaston becomes vengeful.
Every frame of director Bill Condon’s film looks terrific. Sarah Greenwood’s production design is breathtaking, from the gingerbread quaintness of Belle’s adorable town of Villeneuve; to the Lovecraftian opulence of the Beast’s labyrinthine castle, with all of its brooding corridors and shambling minarets; to the darkly spooky, wintry forest that separates the two.
Visual effects producer Steve Gaub seamlessly integrates the live-action characters with their enchanted comrades, and the voice acting is superlative: Ewan McGregor as the ever-gracious candelabra, Lumière; Emma Thompson as the kindly teapot, Mrs. Potts; Ian McKellen as the blustery mantel clock, Cogsworth; Stanley Tucci as the defiant harpsichord, Maestro Cadenza; Audra McDonald as the operatic, overly enthusiastic wardrobe, Madame de Garderobe; and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the coquettish feather-duster, Plumette.
The primary characters are equally well cast, their performances admirably suited to the story’s fairy-tale atmosphere. Luke Evans steals the show as the arrogant, boorish Gaston, determined to wed Belle by any means necessary; the always impish Josh Gad — apparently Disney’s new secret weapon — gets all the best lines as Gaston’s snarky sidekick, LeFou.
Kevin Kline is sublime as Belle’s doting father, Maurice: a role that easily could slide into cliché, with all of the aging gentleman’s quirks, eccentricities and easily flustered nature. But Kline surmounts such stereotyping with a persuasive blend of dignity, devotion and vulnerability; he sets a new standard.
It’s difficult to determine how much credit Dan Stevens deserves, as the Beast, given that he’s completely concealed beneath Jenny Shircore’s extraordinary make-up. But we’re seeing plenty of evidence of Stevens’ extensive acting chops, on TV’s Legion, so I’m willing to believe that he deserves plaudits for the credibility of the Beast’s complex emotional swing. And Stevens certainly does a lot with his eyes and voice, giving us the very definition of a tragic, doomed character.
And then there’s Belle, the story’s anchor, played with pluck, sincerity and resourcefulness by Emma Watson. Belle is delightfully bookish and ingenuous as the story begins, and yet bold enough to reject Gaston to his face; Watson’s early scenes with Evans are marvelous, as Belle struggles to remain polite while her eyes convey utter disgust for this boastful creep.