Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline
(PG, 129 min.)
Genre: Drama, Musical, Fantasy, Romance
“If she is the one who'll break the spell, you must finally learn to love...” Lumiere to the Beast
Disney still knows how to do it. To make a movie for the whole family. One that dazzles and delights, makes you laugh and cry, and more than happy to hand over the cash to see it on the big screen.
Part of the reason is that so-called family films have resisted the social engineering Hollywood applies to adult fare. Children’s films are among the best today. They keep to the old standard, to teach and delight.
While most so-called adult fare seems subsumed in some combination of politically correct nihilism, crass vulgarity, exploitive violence, and dumbed down source material. We used to have literature as our sources, with greats like John Steinbeck and William Faulkner helping translate their works to the big screen.
Now it’s more likely Marvel Comics and endless new and definitely not improved remakes. Maybe the new Kong is excellent, but this critic just couldn’t stomach yet another lavish recycling of a product that has never bested its 1933 original.
Nor could I motivate myself to see the latest X Man creation, Logan, though just about everyone says it has merit. Much as they work to instill depth to it, the whole franchise is still based on comics intended for teenagers at best.
Yes, Beauty and the Beast is a remake, too, but at least it has classic material, a fable that has endured through the centuries, and it shows off technical innovation that allows the magic once confined to animation to shine in live action.
Don’t let your eyes glaze over when I praise Beauty and the Beast’s production values. The songs are wonderful, with real quality voices, not the tentative ones that seemed to charm all the fans of La La Land. Emma Watson as Belle actually does her own singing and she is quite good. Audra McDonald, who plays Garderobe, began as an operatic vocalist, and though under a cursed existence as a French armoire in the film, her exquisite singing makes that wooden wardrobe resonate as a full-fledged human.
Attention to detail enhances every scene, whether in the small village alive with color, the wolf attack in the frozen woods, the dark enchanted castle, the raucous song and dance in the town pub, or the witty repartee among the enchanted servants and guests of the Beast, now reduced to living as antiques.
The comic wit is as light and delightful as a soufflé. Much of it is between Lumiere ( Ewan McGregor), the Beast’s butler now transformed into a candelabra, and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), the stuffy head of the household staff now an antique clock.
“A broken clock is right two times a day, Cogsworth. But this is not one of those times,” Lumiere tells him.
There’s also the time when Cogsworth becomes a full human again and sees his somewhat homely wife:
“Someone turn me back into a clock please!”
Gaston (Luke Evans), the vain ex soldier who pursues Belle, possesses a narcissism that is over the top. And the film plays with us as it reveals it.
“You are the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen…” he says, and we assume Gaston is addressing Belle. Then the camera shows Gaston speaking to his image in the mirror. “And no one deserves you,” he purrs.
Beauty and the Beast also teases us with sly hints of other classic musicals, whether it’s a scene of Belle gazing at the mountains that recalls Julie Andrews about to sing “The Hills are Alive to the Sound of Music,” or Lumiere the candelabra dancing in some puddle just like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.”
But what really makes the film is the joy in our hearts at the well-deserved happy ending for almost everyone. All may not be well in our world, but for a few hours at least, it is in theirs. That’s what those classic musicals did for us throughout the Depression and war years, and it does it again in these perilous times.
Belle lives a simple life with her devoted father, who repairs clocks and other small objects. They have a small garden, a few chickens, and a town square decked out with market goods of all kind.
This French Pot au Feu or “Pot in the Fire” is just the thing to simmer over their little fireplace. And it comes from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.
Pot au Feu or “Pot in the Fire”
French Boiled Dinner
In this traditional recipe, the roast or poultry is stewed in its own broth with herbs, spices, and a healthy crop of vegetables. When done, the beef and vegetables are served separately from the broth, which is served steaming hot as a first course.
One pot and no risk of burning the dinner if the case Belle gets her head lost in a book! A perfect supper for a household of modest means.
1 1/2-pound beef boneless chuck roast
1 marrow bone (optional)
8 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 1/2 pounds chicken drumsticks
10 to 12 small carrots
10 to 12 small onions or 3 large onions, cut in fourths
3 medium turnips, cut into fourths
4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Place beef, marrow bone, peppercorns, 1 teaspoon salt, the thyme and bay leaf in Dutch oven. Add water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add chicken; cover and simmer 1 hour longer.
Add carrots, onions, turnips, and celery; sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover and simmer until beef and vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove chicken and vegetables to warm platter; slice beef. Strain broth; serve in soup bowls as a first course.
10 to 12 servings.