Friday, March 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

France, 1700’s. A young and handsome prince indulges in life’s worldly pleasures. When an enchantress masquerading as a beggar crashes one of his parties and he turns her away, she curses not only him but his entire household. As his servants turn into inanimate objects, he himself is transformed into a hideous Beast (Dan Stevens). The only way to break the curse is for him to find a girl who will see beyond his appearance and offer true love, but can someone really love a monster? Years pass and memories of their existence are erased from the minds of Villeneuve’s townsfolk. Young maiden Belle (Emma Watson) is frowned upon by the villagers for her progressive beliefs and practices. War veteran Gaston (Luke Evans) attempts everything to woo her into marriage, but her reluctance is adamant given his narcissistic tendencies. When her father gets lost in the woods and ends up in one of the castle’s dungeons, she barters with the Beast for her to take her father’s place. As the unlikely pair spend more time together, they start to notice something about one another, sparking optimism for breaking the curse. But can love blossom fast enough before the last rose petal falls?

To be a musical or not to be? This appears to be the hot debate right now with regards to Disney’s reimagining of their much beloved classics. Beauty and the Beast is the acid test. Seeing how it’s obliterating box office records left and right, perhaps Disney should stick to the formula and concentrate on their songs, which have undeniably endured the test of time. We are not saying that no one will watch a non-musical Disney remake. The appeal of these narratives is universal. It will always find a new audience. What we are trying to point out here is the possibility of alienation for fans who grew up with these movies, whose personal connection to most of these tales happens to be the soundtrack. If you can retain your original fanbase and gain a new one at the same time, won’t that make everyone happy?

This doesn’t mean, however, that relying on the musical format comes without disadvantages. Most of Disney’s princesses in the 90’s sang really well. That comes easy with animation. You just have to hire both a voice actor and a singer to play the part. With live action, this is a rather difficult feat to achieve. You need to find a face with great name recall for the purpose of box office appeal. The thing is, it’s not always easy to find an A-list actress who has the singing prowess to match. And that’s where compromise comes in. We are not hating on Emma Watson. She is such a sweetheart, but her singing parts were underwhelming to say the least, especially when you recall the animated Belle singing in your head. As such, her musical numbers seem quite reductive, but you will forgive her anyway thanks to nostalgia.

There are several scenes that fill you with such an overwhelming emotion, a strong pang of nostalgia that is almost impossible to ward off. The highlight is obviously that scene where the two are garbed in their iconic blue and yellow outfits as Emma Thompson sings the titular song in the background. To be totally honest, I was on the brink of shedding a tear. That’s when you realize how these stories have played a vital role in your childhood. You will probably never remember each and every scene or dialogue but the music and the costumes, they just stick. Let’s not rob the younger generation of that sense of nostalgia.

That it took a live action version more than two decades to be released is a blessing in disguise. Back in 1991, could you have really imagined a non-animated version of Be Our Guest rendered onscreen without being too tacky and unrealistic due to CGI limitations? That musical sequence can be considered as one of the film’s tour de force moments, comparable in terms of its glitzy visual impact to Chicago’s hypnotic onscreen rendition of Razzle Dazzle or Moulin Rouge’s spectacular spectacular Hindi Sad Diamonds medley. Watching it in 3D amps up its appeal even more, leaving you in musical heaven.

Much controversy has shrouded the release of this movie, from subtle homosexual subplots met with criticisms blown out of proportions to accusations of glorification of women who choose to stay in abusive relationships. These themes cannot be ignored, but it still depends on the perspective of the viewing public. If you know how to distinguish issues well, you’ll be fine. It’s mostly those who have something to fear and protect that make the most noise. If they let their beliefs and personal agenda get in the way of their enjoyment, then that’s so not our problem.

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