Title: Beauty and the Beast
Genre: Fantasy, Family, Musical
Director: Bill Condon
based on the tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Music: Alan Menken
Cinematography: Tobias A. Schliessler
“Would you love a monster?”, has become an increasingly moot question in our age branded by individualism and non-conformist viewpoint, so the answer would be: you betcha! How cool can be to tame a beast like that? Not to mention, his monstrous front aside, there nestling a genuine prince inside, that’s a bonus!
This Disney live-action revamp of the classic fairytale, directed by the workmanlike Bill Condon (DREAMGIRLS 2006 and TWILIGHT franchise, with occasional curveball GODS AND MONSTERS 1998), clings firmly to its 1991 animation in its storyboard and iconic songs, rendered altogether with a grandiose flourish could run rings around Kenneth Branagh’s CINDERELLA (2015).
The preamble musters efficiency and glimpses of royal pageantry with a more plausible premise (in the realm of magic, sky is the limit), a selfish prince (Steven) is transformed into a monster (and his servants into a clutter of objects) by an enchantress (Morahan), he must learn to truly love someone and get the reciprocal affection before time is running out, otherwise, him along with his hapless underlings will lose humanity for keeps. Then the narrative introduces our heroine Belle (Watson), a French village girl, who has a yen for reading and is an inventor herself (both are inadvisable hobbyhorses for womenfolk strait-jacketed by macho insularity), she is relentlessly pursued by Gaston (Evans), a bumptious village war-hero who doesn’t take no for an answer. When Belle’s father Maurice (Kline) is interned in the monster’s castle for stealing a rose (a gift under Belle’s request), Belle trades herself for her father, and inevitably develops a quasi-Stockholm syndrome to her captor (with the benevolent prodding from those anthropomorphic knick-knacks, among which a motormouth Ewan McGregor revels in sporting a wavering French accent as a candelabra). But when an exasperated Gaston knows about the existence of the monster, he convenes the village mob to assail the castle, there will only be one man standing between him and the monster, Belle is entangled in the scramble, but her feels powerless to stop the inevitable, until, yes, the magic moment after a poignant humanity-dissipating corollary. What a volatile enchantress!
The upgraded musical numbers are meat and potatoes to the allure of the film, highlights are BE OUR GUEST (a cynosure garnished with the most deliriously enchanting special effects), GASTON (Evans is so close to snag that Hollywood leading man status for a voluntarily outed gay actor) and Emma Thompson’s rendition of the theme song, a balm to one’s ears, it is beggar belief that she hasn’t been cast in a musical before!
Acting wise, the film is a bog-standard family friendly fare demands nothing taxing for its stellar cast, Watson is presentable but far from impressive, Stevens is understandably curbed by his overwhelming costume, even his voice is muffled as if emanated from a mask, only Josh Gad’s LeFou adds a nice (but overtly praised) touch of gay inclusivity.
Disney’s gargantuan ambition of transposing their animation repertoire into live-action by virtue of technique advancement, has been in full swing and proved to be not only viable but also massively lucrative, the only gripe is they could be more gallant in its story-telling (different angles, re-interpretation, reflecting current perspective, et al.), but at the same time, one cannot help but wondering does this trend flag up an overlooking threat to the popularity of animation filmmaking, a food for thought – when CGI anthropomorphism can seamlessly meet the demands, what will audience (in particular, grownups) prefer, a more realistic context or a self-conscious other-worldly dimension?