Beauty and the Beast feels familiar as it retells tale as old as time
If there’s any one obvious detail in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast, it’s that it looks and sounds the same as its original, only fancier and louder.
One of the movie’s high selling point was its star-studded cast featuring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the lead roles, with Luke Evans playing the arrogant villain, Gaston.
Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw completed a decent ensemble.
Rehashing the famous story would seem redundant as the movie sticks to the core of the original animated feature, but for the odd person out who doesn't know, it is based on the fairy tale by French author, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont.
The tale tells the story of an ingenious French girl who is bored with the dull routine life of her small provincial town and wants more than it offers.
She soon gets her wish when her father is unreasonably imprisoned by a beast who lives in an enchanted castle that’s shut off from the rest of the world, and she offers herself to be prisoner in exchange for him.
The events of the first act leads the way to what is one of Disney’s most iconic love stories.
Beauty and the Beast excels due to its music more than the other elements in the story. It is near impossible to love the movie without its incredible music score.
The music serves as a window to the deepest parts of the characters when they're happy, sad, reflective, or just having fun.
Director Bill Condon admitted that the movie’s original score was why he ever entertained the idea of getting on the project.
If there’s any one obvious detail in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, it’s that it looks and sounds the same as its original, only fancier and louder.
Emma Watson, as Belle, effortlessly assumes the life of the beautiful young French girl who is a bibliophile and quite adventurous in ways that all the other villagers consider very abnormal.
The movie’s first score, "Belle", underlines the young maiden’s struggles as she colours outside of the lines that her society has set for her. She laments the limitations of her society and craves for one that doesn’t suck so much life out of her.
The character of Belle is an interesting choice for Watson, a proud feminist, to play, especially since she had to turn down the lead role on the multiple award-winning La La Land to focus on the movie.
Belle reads a lot of books, she thinks wildly as an inventor, and is quite capable of making her own decisions; all things that are apparently not expected of a woman in the movie’s 18th century France.
The villagers resent her for her 'strange', 'funny' behaviour and even openly antagonise her when she tries to teach a little girl how to read.
Belle’s biggest worry in the village is Gaston, an arrogant war veteran who is smitten and wants to marry her by any cunning means he can device.
Gaston is the stereotypical alpha male who doesn't see Belle as an equal, but as a trophy wife to add to the collection of animal trophies he mounts on his wall.
It is quite easy to understand why a girl like Belle repeatedly turns down his aggressive proposals as that kind of relationship would be unhealthy for her, or anyone else.
Watson is sweet when Belle needs to be, and stern when the occasion calls for it without letting either trait define her character.
She portrays her resentment of Gaston with impressive subtlety as she looks uneasy any time she's in close proximity with him.
Evans' portrayal of the boorish Frenchman is one of the movie's high points as he huffs and puffs around the village trying to lay claim to anything that catches his fancy.
He flows nicely with Lefou, his flamboyant companion whose altered character trait has caused a lot of controversy for the movie.
The two are involved in two of the most energetic songs in the movie ("Gaston" and "The Mob Song") and they deliver the sort of electrifying sound that the movie needs.
Dan Stevens doesn't disappoint as the titular Beast.
As in the animated version, the Beast is a bratty Prince who is unkind to an enchantress disguised as an old haggard woman seeking shelter, who condemns him to live his days as a Beast until he can find a place for love in his heart and be loved in return. His entire castle is also enchanted so that his servants turn into household objects.
Cogsworth, Lumière (the one character who actually speaks like a Frenchman), Mrs. Potts, Plumette, and Chip form a very good supporting band that carry the movie in the events that transpire in the Beast's castle.
They even get to perform one of the most popular musical sequence in the movie, "Be Our Guest".
The brains behind this remake had promised the movie is a remarkable recreation that improves greatly on the 1991 movie. It's debatable how well the movie delivers on this promise.
The movie toes the line of its original almost to the point of irritation, but it delivers on a few new details that are refreshing even if some of it feels ordinary and/or exploitative.
It is 45 minutes longer than the original as it tosses in a couple of hammy, cliche Disney back stories, as well as three new musical scores, with the Beast finally getting his own solo performance.
The Beast is also more well-read here so that book connection pays off beautifully between Stevens and Watson when he shows her his library.
Also, one of the flashback back stories in the movie casts a whole new light on the character of Bell's father, Maurice (Kevin Kline).
It makes you care about him not just because he is the father of the pretty girl you are rooting for, but as a standout character that’s worthy of empathy for his own past scars.
The flashback also deepens his relationship with his daughter as Kline shares standout scenes with Watson.
In the end, Belle and the unnamed Beast still get their happily ever after to the rendition of the original Beauty and the Beast song, this time by the duo of Ariana Grande and John Legend.
The movie is a celebration of an unusual love story that probably should make people feel more uneasy than the controversy that heralded the movie's release.
Prior to its theatrical release, Condon dropped the bombshell that one of his major changes in the new movie is a gay Lefou, effectively creating Disney's first openly homosexual character.
This revelation was welcomed with a huge outcry that led to the movie's ban by Malaysia's Film Censorship Board in the country, and it was also banned in some American theatres.
The move appears as nothing short of a distraction because Lefou's sexuality doesn't contribute anything meaningful to the story and the suggestion that he is attracted to men lasted all of two to three seconds of screen time in the ballroom scene at the end of the movie.
It is also a distraction from the wonderful job Josh Gad does to bring life to the bumbling idiot character from the animation.
You keep holding your breath every time Lefou is onscreen expecting to see the "exclusively gay moment" the director promised and you're let down at every point until you witness the actual thing and sigh in disappointment, or relief.
This liberal shoehorning makes Disney's announcement feel exploitative as the only way you even pay attention to Lefou's sexuality here is because the film makers called attention to it.
Beauty and the Beast is a good dose of nostalgia for movie-goers who grew up to the animated version, and a wild fun journey for the new generation of kids who will be allowed to see it.
It remains a solid family movie you can take your kids to, as long as you can shield their eyes from a few seconds of two men dancing.
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