Film: Beauty and The Beast
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hattie Morahan, Nathan Mack, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Director: Bill Condon
Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 blockbuster cartoon version hits all the right notes in terms of spectacular design, sumptuous production values, fine acting, expert direction, lovely music and last but decidedly not least, being true to the message of the source material, a French fable first published in 1740 about the importance of going beyond appearances and seeing inner worth. As a wise saying goes, do not judge the book by the cover.
Books play an important part in the lives of the principal characters; especially our heroine whose name literally means beauty. She (Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame) is beautiful inside and outside and she is the one who loves and is loved by the lonely Beast (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) who once valued the superficial over substance and was punished for his beastly behaviour. They say opposites attract; he is an aristocrat to the manor born. She is a village hick, who wants to escape “provincial life.”
But she believes in education, much to the dismay of fellow villagers, and indeed, it is the shared love of books that brings the titular principals together. And dare I say it, music. There are all the old songs and some new ones and though the narrative darkens later, it starts breezily with a bow to the nuns chirping about the orphan Maria in The Sound of Music. And just in case, you still don’t get it, there’s Belle running up the hill exactly like Maria did. She’s feisty, our Belle though she’s motherless, with inventor dad (Kevin Kline) trying to make up between his travels.
Director Condon whose cv includes the “Twilight” saga, worked on the screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos which underlines the “gayness” of a couple of characters, notably LeFou (played by Josh Gad) the Sancho Panxza type who loves the narcissist Gaston (Luke Evans), who only loves himself and yet, pursues Belle. Disney films have always, as far as I can remember (Bambi, Lion King, Jugnle Book) carried gay undertones, but this is the first time a character has actually come out of the closet.
Naturally, some quarters are enraged. (Some countries have even banned the film). You could ignore the killjoys and enjoy the story which ends well after some grim and nasty turns as the Beast Prince’s staff and other characters are freed from the curse of the enchantress (Hattie Morahan) and emerge as their human selves: the teapot/ Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson), her teacup son Chip (Nathan Mack) the clock/Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), the candelabra/ Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) Oh, there’s a feather duster too named Plumette (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Maestro Cadenza/the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci) and Madame de Garederobe/antique wardrobe (Audra McDonald) Such a fabulous cast, you will agree. Well worth the watch.