Eternality Tan
by Eternality Tan

“As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”

I must confess I have never read the story of “Beauty and the Beast before in my entire life. Neither have I seen the 1991 Disney animation, nor the 1946 classic by Jean Cocteau. So, this piece that I’m writing will not compare the latest incarnation starring Emma Watson with the countless earlier screen adaptations of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s beloved fairy tale.

Beauty and the Beast

I say beloved because so many of my friends over the years have chastised me for being clueless about this fable, and at the same time, expressed their deepest reverence for a story that was associated with their childhood. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that I missed the 2017 live-action version when it opened in theatres back in March. But when the opportunity came to watch it on CatchPlay (and write about the movie), it was too hard to pass on.

Disney’s live-action recreation of “Beauty and the Beast" comes directly after the success of Cinderella (2015), a film directed by the great Shakespeare fanatic Kenneth Branagh (who also made more mainstream movies like Thor (2011) and will deliver the upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express, later this year).

Cinderella proved that there is a market for modern live-action interpretation of ‘Disney Classics’, grossing more than US$500 million worldwide. The latest Beauty and the Beast, however, puts that number into perspective—it has become one of the most successful movies ever, barely three months since its international release, joining the rare billion-dollar club with a worldwide gross of more than US$1.2 billion… so far.

Bill Condon, the director of Dreamgirls (2006), helms this charming version with the affable Watson playing Belle, a young lady who lives in the town of Villeneuve with her father. Lost in the forest after a trip, Belle’s father stumbles into the Beast’s castle and is imprisoned after trying to ‘steal’ a rose for her daughter. Belle finds her father eventually, and in an act of sacrifice, takes his place in the dungeon.

This is essentially the setup for the story, and what transpires I’m sure would be familiar to those who have encountered this tale before in whichever iteration. There’s also another major character, the narcissistic and conceited self-proclaiming hero, Gaston, who doesn’t hide his desire to marry Belle, and of course, to her and her father’s utter disgust.

Watson’s performance is likeable, though not exactly fantastic, which kind of sums up this version. It is an enjoyable movie, but the magic of the story doesn’t appear to translate with genuine wonderment. The picture feels manufactured, hitting the requisite narrative, and even, visual checkboxes, as if by doing so it would pass with flying colours. While the cookie-cutter approach will appeal to those wishing for a classic tale told with the minimum of fuss, one could also appreciate the efficiency of its storytelling in this instance.

The famous songs are in it, performed by the cast, and sometimes animated talking objects (voiced by such talents as Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellenEmma Thompson and Stanley Tucci). They help to keep the rhythm of the movie flowing, accompanied by generous portions of visual effects. The movie’s standout set-piece is no doubt “Be Our Guest”, as talking objects help to prepare a sumptuous feast for Belle. Similarly, the title song “Beauty and the Beast” is remarkable in its simplicity and elegance, capturing a beautiful moment of shared solitude by our two leads.

Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is a tale of love, bringing into play the tension between hate and compassion. Much of the movie’s buzz went into hyper-drive when it was revealed it would feature Disney’s first gay character. Which is just as well that those who boycotted the movie because of this didn’t see it—when the heart is closed, it is only inevitable that the last petal falls. But for those who believe in love and compassion, this rose is for you.