Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Since the nineteen-thirties, a trend began that has flourished every generation for the last eighty years that has altered the experience of childhood and parenting, the Walt Disney Studios. My daughter has recently married so in our family another generation will be touched by their own favorite Disney film. If you are ever in a group of people including many parents, there is a way to guess the age of their children accurately. Ask them which Disney animated movie their child was infatuated with watching. For my daughter, her childhood encompassed two movies, "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." As this was before the advent of DVDs, so the constant viewings wore out the tapes requiring buying new copies to avoid the ire of a disappointed child. Now that major technological advances have brought filmmaking to previously unimaginable heights, the magic inherent in Disney movie could only be realized through animation. There was no reasonably realistic way to portray a singing candlestick or allow the audience to believe they see an undersea kingdom. With such incredible cinematic techniques as motion capture and computer graphics seamlessly integrated with live-action, whatever a creative mind can imagine can be brought to life on the screen. Disney has always embraced cutting-edge technology, frequently at the forefront of innovation. As part of this new wave of entertainment, they have rereleased many of their most beloved stories as Broadway productions and live action movies. That brings us to the film under consideration, the live-action version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.' For the doubters that refused to believe a live action movie could do justice to such a cherished childhood memory then you need a refresher course in modern artistic expression. While this is an extremely well-produced offering it does express one drawback that few fans of the original will find difficult to overlook, it is not that animated film; great effort has been infused in each frame of the movie to be as respectful as possible to the animated feature. No matter what technological achievements in CGI there is something warm and comfortable about Disney animation, after all, they created the format and had been honing their considerable talents since 1937.
Set in pre-Revolutionary War France this incarnation holds to the basic storyline of the fairy tale as rendered by Disney Studios. An elderly beggar woman (Hattie Morahan) arrive at the doors of a castle during the evening of a luxurious ball. The old woman asks the Prince (Dan Stevens), for shelter from the night. In exchange, she offers a beautiful rose. The Prince was self-centered and cold-hearted flatly refusing her request. It turns out that the woman was a powerful enchantress who responds to his cruelty by transforming the Prince into a hideous beast. Her anger extended to the household staff which the witch turned into various household objects. She then proceeds to erase the memory of the castle on their friends and family cutting them off from the world. Her final feat of magic was to seal the enchantments by casting a spell over the entire household connected to the rose. If the Prince does not find true love before the last petal on the flower falls, then their humanity will be forfeited, and the transformations will be permanent.
In the nearby village of Villeneuve, there lived a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson), who was pretty and intelligent dreaming of leaving her quaint hometown to go out into the world to find adventure. Belle finds herself the objected of the desire of Gaston (Luke Evans), a former member of the military known for his arrogance and narcissism. While no unenhanced human being could achieve the massive physical appearance of the animated Gaston but this casting choice does help establish the requisite infatuation Gaston has with his manly appearance and macho persona. This is indicative of the commitment fostered by the filmmaker and producers to make a reasonable effort to remain true to animated feature while crafting a film that can stand on its own artistic merits. This is a difficult, fine line for a filmmaker to tread, fans understandably set out to experience the live action remake that despite any technological wonders that are among the available cinematic tools. In this endeavor, the results of this balancing act remarkably achieving this goal. The proof of this claim is found in the box office where the opening weekend recouped a substantial profit permitting the remainder of its theatrical run to triple the estimated budget. The icing on this cake is the critical community upheld the acceptance.
This story is undoubtedly the epitome of a romantic tale. It represents one of the most poignant reimaginings of the perennial classic, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with the feuding house replaced by incompatible species. The naïve young girl pampered and sheltered with a young woman with a quick wit and innate intelligence. Ms. Watson certainly was ideal for this role. She is the opposite of the stereotypical child star. While so many descend into drugs, alcohol and salacious behavior, Ms. Watson managed to avoid becoming tabloid fodder pursuing an undergraduate degree from graduated from Brown University. She is poised and articulate, passionate about her role as the United Nation’s special ambassador championing women’s equality. Ms. Watson confers a sense of wonderment on Belle, whose intrinsic compassion and strong sense identity allowed her to reach beyond the grotesque physical appearance of the beast and the underlying feeling of entitlement of his princely persona to see a sensitive person capable and worthy of true love. Some were quick to denounce the character of Belle as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome where a hostage gains feelings towards the captor. Ms. Watson defended her position is contrary to this interpretation defending her position with style, grace and a touch of panache. Of course, she has many years of experience with green screen is driven sets and stories requiring bringing the audience into a fantasy excepting it as readily as on set in the real world.
Any romantic story must adhere to a rather strongly preset checklist of requirements that brings the audience on an emotionally intense journey. This movie achieves this handily with a realistic chemistry generated between the leads. This is naturally crucial in any story especially one dealing with romantic tribulations. The infusion of fantasy as an underlying theme defining the parameters of the story the connection to even a modicum of reality becomes overwhelmingly essential. Fantasies are nice, they ae immensely enjoyable much like a pleasant dream. To retain a strong and lasting impression on members of the audience, it is imperative to create an emotional connection. This is best accomplished when the audience can imagine themselves personally in the situation unfolding before their eyes. The film comes very close to an ideal juxtaposition of reality and fantasy to generate a synergy that carries the film as a truly worthy emotional voyage.