Beauty and the Beast is far from perfection but still proves to hit the right spot in our hearts, the same way the animated feature did way back in 1991.
Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast had huge shoes to fill as it’ll be marking a pinnacle in bringing the beloved animated Disney film faithfully to life as live-action on screen after so many years of loose adaptation releases.
Let me begin by saying that the production had the biggest efforts in respecting the craft by staying true to the original material, almost verbatim, in transforming it to reality, whilst adding flavor by introducing a couple more music to an already-gorgeous lineup of classic songs. The film dazzles with colourful characters, extravagant musical sequences as Condon doesn’t hold back in bringing bold textures and hues of a classic musical production, very reminiscent to Baz Luhrmann’s elaborate style of magic realism on film.
There has been a revamp to the depiction of several characters, most notably to Belle, played by the commendable efforts of Emma Watson. Perhaps, for the first time, a Disney princess is human (and a feminist, if I may add) – the layers of reality that Watson brought to Belle completely eradicated the wide-eyed damsel-in-distress impression of a princess archetype. Belle is portrayed as a real woman: assertive, less romanticized, more organic, and overall ambitious whose destiny doesn’t rely on quintessential prince charming prototypes. This characterization is a rather bold move from screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopolous in showing a three-dimensional Disney leading lady by eliminating the nuances of a dated impression of the feminine persona.
Another revamp is to that of LaFou, whose homosexual undertones are finally embraced, which completely gave sense to what used to be an illogical fixation and fascination towards Gaston as what has been portrayed in the animated version. It goes to show that the film has supported the characters’ intellect by giving rationale to their decision making. It is a very brave move from Disney by finally adding an LGBT character (two of them, actually) to a classic child-friendly film. This revamp shows that Beauty and the Beast, or probably Disney in general, is finally speaking to a new era.
Despite the film’s greatest intentions, inevitably, it suffers from a fair share of casualties here and there. Being an iconic musical, it is just expected that the singing part will be, a no-brainer, above par. However, we have to admit: Watson’s vocal ability wasn’t the best, which didn’t come as a surprise, prematurely conceived from the film’s early marketing and promotional clips. Ultimately, there’s a strange and awkward atmosphere one just cannot ignore that a random laundry woman in the neighbourhood, or a nameless old fish vendor, can sing stronger and has more solid vocal register than the leading lady herself. Vocally, the neighbourhood chorus completely swallows Watson, especially in the opening number, which is crucial, as it sets the mood and expectations of the film. It’s the white elephant in the movie. It all seems like a big ball of ‘showbiz’ agenda that Watson’s casting primarily falls down on how divine she looks in that iconic yellow ball gown, as if a living replica of the animated version – no more, no less. If this wasn’t a musical, Watson would fit perfectly like a glove; but at the end of the day, one of the primary reasons why a musical’s narrative continues to move fluidly is the vocal strength of the cast, especially the lead, and autotune can only get her so far.
The cast and the music felt overly congested. Stanley Tucci’s casting was completely unnecessary, as if merely dragging a big name to pile up an A-list ensemble; again, too much showbiz stunt agenda that is overwhelming to the film’s overall essence. His character has nothing to do with the film’s narrative other than a filler, and he could be taken out easily for a cleaner and much more concise plot. There are a couple of songs that felt better if they were released in an extended DVD version; Beast’s solo act felt redundant, as it was anti-climactic to the film’s pacing.
Speaking of pacing, the build-up of the characters, particularly to that of Belle and Beast, is rather perfunctory, especially in the second act. Their transition from master-prisoner to lovebirds is very, very abrupt, it’s just so hard to buy, which consequently contradicts Belle’s newly overhauled persona as a less idealized, more grounded woman. How the ‘courtship’ was portrayed was too by-the-book from the original source; it felt too forced, and ultimately seems inconsistent from their premise of modernizing the definition of love and relationship. It didn’t have enough establishing moments to justify a love that felt and seem so impossible (bestiality, anyone?), whereas it was the best opportunity to humanize a fairytale, since that has always been the apparent objective of this live action adaptation.
Moreover, the rest of the cast was just stunning. From the impeccable chemistry between Lumiere and Cogsworth, played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen respectively, to the hilarious Emma Thompson, whose golden nightingale voice is a revelation on-screen, to the heartwarming performance of Kevin Kline as Maurice – you can never go wrong with seasoned actors playing classic and iconic roles.
The best part of the film, to my surprise, is Luke Evans as Gaston. I have always been skeptical about him as I find his voice too high and raspy for an uber masculine brute. Evans added so much flavor and pizzazz to the character, he stole every scene he’s in, and at the moments he’s not on screen, you’d find yourself longing for his presence. He’s gritty but vain; extremely annoying but very lovable; he has sold the character so well, you’d easily want a spin-off for his own movie.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast turns out to be exactly what you think it would be – strengths and weaknesses combined; thus, it won’t disappoint. Ultimately, the premise of the film has been lived up, though far from perfection, it still hits the right spot in our hearts. This film is a beautiful nostalgia, and you will find yourself in goosebumps witnessing how the animated film from 1991 has finally unraveled to life.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Now showing across the Philippines in 2D, 3D, IMAX and 4D screens, Beauty and the Beast is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Philippines.