Friday, March 24, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A Timeless Tale

When Disney released the live-action Cinderella in 2015, I was sceptical. Why would we need a live-action re-imagining of an animated classic except as a corporate money-spinning venture? However, once I saw the movie, I sang a different tune. And thus, I found myself in the theater this week, excited to watch Beauty and the Beast come to life in truly glorious Disney fashion.

The top reason to watch this movie is Sarah Greenwood's production design. Every architectural swirl or elegant stick of furniture looks like someone put all their effort into perfecting it, and the result is a jaw-dropping fairy-tale world that is almost better than anything you could see in an animated film. The Beast's castle is simply magnificent, full of dark and twisty staircases and frivolous flourishes that make it look both foreboding and inviting in equal measure. Jacqueline Durran's costumes are similarly fantastic, and when Belle walked out in that yellow gown, I literally sighed in envy. I have never been the sort of person who wants to buy things they see in movies (OK fine, I did buy the One Ring), but oh what I wouldn't do to wear that dress.

The next reason to watch the movie is Emma Watson. I found her utterly bewitching throughout the film, and I am perplexed as to why people are being so lukewarm about her singing and/or acting abilities. As far as I'm concerned, it's a masterstroke of casting. Belle is a beautiful bookworm, and who better to play her than a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women who played Hermione Granger in eight movies and has lately been on a crusade to share literature around the world as part of her feminist book club? Personally, any character who falls in love with a library before she falls in love with a man is my kind of heroine, so I was thoroughly on board for this performance. Dan Stevens is also great as the Beast, though one can't help but think there must be an in-joke involved in making one of Downton Abbey's dreamiest men unrecognizable as a hairy monster for an entire film. Of course, his inner charm and wit shine through, which I suppose is the lesson I was meant to be learning from this story instead of lusting after Belle's wardrobe.

The supporting cast is fleshed out with voice acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor (as Lumiere the candelabra), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth the clock), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts the teapot), Audra McDonald (the wardrobe, Madame de Gardrobe), Stanley Tucci (the harpsichord, Maestro Cadenza) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette the feather duster), and real-life acting from Kevin Kline (Maurice, Belle's father), Luke Evans (impressively bulked up to play the detestable Gaston), and Josh Gad (Gaston's sidekick, Le Fou, the now-infamous "gay" character, who is causing an uproar for no discernible reason whatsoever). It's an impressive bunch and they all acquit themselves in fine fashion apart from some truly terrible French accents from Audra McDonald and Ewan McGregor (who is tolerable when speaking but becomes increasingly Scottish when singing). And when Emma Thompson starts to warble "Tale as old as time," you'll be hard-pressed not to get a little misty-eyed.

Beauty and the Beast isn't particularly innovative and is quite faithful to the original 1991 animated film. However, it does throw in more backstory for both Belle and the Beast, fleshing out their characters and giving us a better sense of why they turned out the way they did and why they are ultimately perfect for each other. The musical numbers are wonderful to watch but less wonderful to listen to - it can be difficult to make out the words so I would suggest you lean back and revel in the visual splendor instead. This is a movie that caters to your nostalgia but also lets you experience the story in a fresh and dazzling way. I have always been a fervent advocate of the black-and-white 1946 Jean Cocteau film, La Belle et la Bete, which was the inspiration for Disney's movie. But now in 2017, it continues to inspire filmmakers, and while some may choose to complain that we're merely getting multiple versions of the same story, I choose to celebrate the fact that we are getting multiple versions of a story that I will never tire of watching on screen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment