NEW YORK (CNS) — Disney’s live-action adaptation of its beloved 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” arrives in theatres amid a swirl of controversy over the updating of one of its characters into an openly gay man.
The decision of the studio, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”), and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos to reimagine LeFou (Josh Gad), sidekick of the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans), as Disney’s so-called “first gay character,” is, to some, regrettable.
LeFou's amorous advances to Gaston, proud display of a bite mark from Gaston on his stomach (due to “wrestling”), and ultimate dance in the arms of another man will raise some eyebrows.
Admittedly, many grown moviegoers will take the portrayal of LeFou’s gay identity in stride. “Beauty and the Beast,” however, is a must-see film intended for children. The clear intent to make a statement with the character in question has prompted Catholic News Service to issue a "limited audience" rating.
The caution notwithstandig, the film is largely an imaginative and engaging work with an arresting visual style. An old-fashioned Hollywood musical at heart, it brims with familiar songs by Alan Menken and whirling dance sequences worthy of Busby Berkeley.
Like the cartoon, this film is loosely based on the 1740 fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The eponymous lovely, Belle (Emma Watson), is a spirited maiden in a French village who longs for excitement.
“I want adventure in the great-wide somewhere,” she warbles. “I want so much more than they’ve got planned!”
Be careful what you wish for, dearie. No sooner does she spurn the advances of the vain hunter Gaston than Belle winds up imprisoned in a haunted castle, having swapped places with her kidnapped father, Maurice (Kevin Kline).
Enter said Beast (Dan Stevens), a.k.a. The Prince. We learn in an extended prologue that this handsome royal was transferred into a horned (but infinitely more dapper) version of Chewbacca from the “Star Wars” franchise by Agathe (Hattie Morahan), a local enchantress, as punishment for his selfishness.
Agathe’s curse extended to The Prince’s staff, who became not furry creatures but household objects. These exceedingly loquacious items include Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a stuffy mantel clock; Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a dancing candelabra; twirling feather duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), a motherly teapot, and her cup of a son, Chip (Nathan Mack); and musical duo Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), a harspichord, and Garderobe (Audra McDonald), a wardrobe.
Only if Beauty grows to love the Beast will the spell be broken, which seems a very long shot for this odd couple. A courtship ensues — with a nice lesson on looking beyond outward appearances for true love — until a vengeful Gaston raises an angry mob to kill the Beast, casting doubt (for newcomers, at least) on a happy ending.
Young children might be frightened by several dark moments in the movie, including attacks by wolves and Gaston’s violent assault on the Beast’s castle.
The film contains a few scenes of peril and action violence, and some sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited audience, films whose content some may find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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NEW YORK (CNS) — Faceless executives at corporate headquarters are never crueler to the field office than in “The Belko Experiment” (Orion), a poorly conceived drama that was probably intended as an allegory before wallowing in meaningless gore.
It’s simplicity itself, at least. It’s terror, set in the Colombian field office of the Belko Corporation, a non-profit with a vague mission of helping other companies hire American workers.
One morning, there are armed guards who send certain employees away. Right after that, thick metal screens cover the windows, all doors to the outside are locked, and an announcement on the public-address system proclaims that the staff must kill two of its own in the next half-hour, or others will die.
And they do, since the little computer chip embedded in everyone’s scalp — supposedly a deterrent to kidnapping — can explode, enabling push-button slaughter with extra splatter.
After that, another announcement orders the staff to kill 30 of their own in order for the rest to survive, and full-scale panic and treachery set in. Conveniently for the plot, the building holds a weapons cache, and Barry Norris, the boss (Tony Goldwyn) turns out to be more than willing to rank everyone in terms of value to the company.
Director Greg McLean and screenwriter James Gunn orchestrate a swift descent into screaming, shouting and the kill-or-be-killed ethos after that, with no real moral in place. Caged humans behave like caged animals, but this is hardly revelatory.
The film contains gun and physical violence, continuous gore, and pervasive rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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