Disney’s insistence to retouch classics and accord them the live action treatment for the almighty dollar bill is full throttle on this flick. Jungle book turned out to be a wonderfully crafted retelling expertly balancing the story and impeccably rendered CGI to bring to life a vintage fable for a generation relatively unfamiliar with Rudyard Kipling and Walt Disney. As for this retelling of the all too familiar love story, I was curious to see how they would bottle the lightning once more and conjure up the childhood goose bump fest that was Beauty and the Beast.
Just to recap in case you’ve lived under several rather large rocks, an arrogant young prince and his castle’s servants are cursed by an enchantress disguised as an old woman looking for shelter. The prince is turned into a hideous Beast and doomed to remain so until he learns to love and be loved in return. Belle, the spunky unbowed beautiful daughter of a watchmaker, one day, rushes to the Beast’s castle after he imprisons her father, Maurice, after stumbling into his castle. With the help of his enchanted servants, including the matronly Mrs. Potts, Belle begins to thaw the Beast’s cold heart and hopefully end the curse. Standing in their way is Gaston, the village Adonis who also desires Belle’s hand in marriage and is willing to do anything to get what he wants.
I’m glad to say I was impressed by the visual spectacle that is the French Victorian era setting. Costumes, culture, tone and quaint countryside backdrop were picture perfect. Characters came alive (live action musical bits do need some suspense of belief) in wonderful ways. Emma Thompson and Luke Evans inhabit their roles like gloves and shine in every scene they are in (their actual 11 year age gap looks pretty real though). The rest of the cast plays second fiddle and are easily grouped into the villagers and the ‘mildly’ used household items. Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts all appear in their somewhat unnerving CGI versions as the only friends of The Prince/Beast. Actually, translating the original’s animated musical numbers to CGI imagery seemed not to go as smoothly. The musical number ‘Be Our Guest’ is especially plagued by this downside as it often appears to be very dizzying and confusing to the eye. Beast doesn’t look all that beastly by the way. The eponymous hallmark song, thankfully, is unaffected by this. All aboard the feel train.
Which brings me to the strengths of the film. When it works, everything just clicks. You will be hit right in the feels seeing Belle and The Prince on that ginormous ballroom floor. Seeing Luke Evans, who nails Gaston’s egocentricity by the way, staring into his own reflections will make you laugh unwittingly. Also seeing Le Fou endlessly fawning over his best friend is kinda sad and charming – Gaston only sees him as his friend. And lackey. And occasional errand boy. Sadly, when the pace slows down so does the rest of the narrative. The half baked characters and plot holes are easily brought to the surface. Some of which some will surely bug you if you’re that much of a stickler.
Thankfully, viewed as a revival of an original, it does enough to evoke the memories of simpler times. When you didn’t question the validity of having English actors playing the leads in a French tale. When marriage was seen as the absolute girl of any girl. When you didn’t wonder whether *mild spoilers* you actually saw Cinderella’s sisters fawn over Gaston and does that mean we have a shared universe coming? Anyway, think not too much about this and you will enjoy the ride. Better if you tag along with bae. Stay for the credits scene. Not for a universe building scene. It just looks very pretty.