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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Standing Ovation

Within ten minutes of "Beauty and the Beast" 2017. I wanted to rise from my seat and applaud. Within twenty minutes I had laughed, gasped, and been wowed. I can't say "go see it." You will see it. It's going to be a classic.

I saw a ten a.m. matinee, thinking that I'd avoid the crowds. No way. The theater was full. Some little girls were dressed in fairy tale gowns. In spite of the film's length, I didn't see anyone bail – no one left the theater and never returned. When the film ended, the audience broke out in applause.

I love watching lots of money and talent explode on every inch of my visual field. "Beauty and the Beast" slathers on the money *and* the TLC. Someone took the time to paint roses on the lintels of a cottage, and to costume Belle in bloomers so she can ride a horse, and to wrinkle the noses of the CGI wolves when they growl.

"Beauty and the Beast" feels very much like a fairy tale. It has the plot conventions and morality of a fairy tale. The wolves menace when menacing wolves are needed to move the plot along, and they are nowhere to be seen when Belle needs to ride through that forest without being interrupted. This is how fairy tales work. They have their own logic. A peasant crone entering a rich man's house, begging for alms and being refused – that is the classic spark of a witch frenzy, or a curse.

Watching Emma Watson delighted me just as watching Julie Andrews in films like "Mary Poppins" and "Sound of Music" once did. Watson is an intelligent, dignified, decent human being and that comes across in her every move. She's never the dumb blonde, never the shrinking violet or damsel in distress, never the flirtatious coquette who has nothing to recommend her but her curves. She inhabits the role of a smart, inquisitive, integral human being.

Twinkly-eyed old pro Kevin Kline is a favorite. Ewan Macgregor somehow manages to turn on the charm even as he is nothing more than a CGI candlestick. Emma Thompson imbues a "there, there now" maternal instinct into a Cockney teapot, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, and Ian McKellan are more jewels in the cast.

You can practically smell the testosterone coming off of Luke Evans as Gaston. He's both funny and menacing, just handsome enough and just oily enough.

The few complaints I have with this film I had with the animated version as well. I wish there were more time spent building a relationship between The Beast and Belle, and less time spent on chase and fight scenes, but I recognize that this is primarily a film for children and kids don't want to watch the kind of subtle interaction and tender moments that Jean Cocteau depicted in his live action, adult-oriented 1946 "La Belle et la Bete."

I do think that Gaston is an anti-male character. Gaston is not just a bad guy. He's an indictment of traditional masculinity. But that's a whole 'nother essay.

I do wish we had had more time with The Beast generally. Dan Stevens is a very good looking man. I wanted more of him, both before and after transformation, and more of The Beast. But you can't have everything. For that, there's fan-fiction, and there's a lot of it on the web.

About the protests. LeFou casts yearning glances in Gaston's direction, and there is a very brief shot of him dancing with another male character. And … that's it. *All* the movie does is remind us that there are gay people among our friends, neighbors, and fairy tale characters. There is nothing graphic or inappropriate for children. In fact, most children won't even notice LeFou's orientation. I'm not even sure I would have, had I not read articles about protests before going to see the film.

Too many Christians are willing financially to support violent, misogynist, and graphic films, TV shows and video games. If you liked the violent movie "Logan," if you voted for a man who speaks about grabbing – ahem – if you laugh at contemptuous humor, and yet you protest this lovely film, you need something that this movie provides – a magical mirror. Not so you can see far away, but so you can see yourself. 

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