Film: Beauty and the Beast
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
What can you do when you choose to retell a story as old as time, even if you’re making a live-action version of it? You can add colours to the plumage, complexity to the detail, more magic to the atmosphere… and of course, have a great cast (Luke Evans, especially, is wonderful as the evil Gaston). Beauty and the Beast does all this, and it has great special fx to boot as well. Never before have I worried myself sick over cutlery incurring potential damage.
The story is uncomplicated. It’s the heard-and-heard-again tale of the pretty girl from the village, cheekily named Belle. She isn’t just a pretty face, as the village folk sing in one of the opening songs: “Her head’s up on some cloud… No denying she’s a funny girl that Belle.” Belle is a loner in a crowd, a reject of her illiterate village on account of her love for literature. Elsewhere, unknown to her, the Beast is languishing in a more literal case of loneliness. You can see why they take to books, why they take to each other eventually. They are both primed for quality company. These little touches do much to make you feel invested in the unsurprising turn of events.
The quality of the production itself is sweeping. It also helped that I kept associating the magicality of the Potter world, perhaps on account of the apparent spells in Beast’s castle, and perhaps on account of Emma Watson playing a character obsessed with literature. There’s even a part of the castle that must not be ventured into... Forbidden forest, if you will. It’s all rather enchanting.
It also never gets too saccharine, a quality that quite surprised me. Director Bill Condon, who’s perhaps handled too much cheesy material in films than most, considering he had to go through two Twilight films, doesn’t hesitate to bring in humour whenever there’s opportunity. Sample this. The spell over the castle wears off; there’s sweeping music; a pet dog, one of the castle’s cursed inhabitants, comes alive, and its first action is to relieve itself. In a film set in the past, whose characters talk prudish English, and sing operatically, these bits are quite effective. He manages the delicate balance of making these touches co-exist with the convincing emotional beats towards the end.
On the story of the Beauty and the Beast, a point I’ve always been a bit unconvinced about is the resolution. For a story that emphasises the importance of being able to look past the appearance of a person (isn’t that why the evil Gaston so handsome?), the final resolution of the Beast turning into an attractive person seems in conflict with the original point. However, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast even addresses this. Belle, looking at Beast’s transformed conventionally good-looking face, looks in longing, and asks, “How would you feel about growing a beard?” My heart swelled. These little touches come together to really make the film worth your while.