Mild spoilers for Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast ahead.
I don’t remember the first time I watched Disney’s classic Beauty and the Beast, but my parents do. My mother tells me we had a pirated version of the movie, recorded off a broadcast on Indian television, and my sister and I would watch it over and over. When we moved to the States, apparently one of the ways in which the first world proved its awesomeness to us was through this very same movie. It played on TV, and, my mother says, we sat before it entranced, exclaiming over how beautiful and bright the colours were.
What a fitting way to open my relationship with the West. No wonder I continue to be so entranced, if that was my introduction.
Anyway, that should give you some idea of what an important role Beauty and the Beast and its fellow Disney movies played in my life. I’ve written about this more than once, but today an occasion arose yet again, in the form of a revisit to an old classic, the movie that’s been ruling the box office the world over, Disney’s live action remake of one of its arguably best ever creations.
Let’s get right down to it. Yes, Emma Watson is a good Belle, even if her singing isn’t as full throated as Paige O’Hara’s. Yes, Dan Stevens, who’s doing such amazing work on Legion, still holds my attention as an actor to watch and possibly follow (my broken heart still needs fixing after Hiddleston trashed it). Yes, Luke Evans is arguably the best of the three, because he throws himself heart and soul into his role as Gaston and looks like he’s having a blast. His table-dancing, bar thumping number, ‘Gaston,’ made me wonder how much fun the crew had filming it. It definitely looks like the kind of thing you’d want to be there for, everyone embracing this ridiculously normal villain, whose evil is so mundane you can almost forgive it until it unmasks its more sinister side.
So yes, I really liked the movie. Certainly much more than I expected to. I went in with cautious optimism because well, it’s not the original you know. It’s not the same hand-drawn animation. It doesn’t have Angela Lansbury crooning ‘Tale as Old as Time’, and it’s missing the sheer audacity of its predecessor, which made its heroine one of the first recognisably ‘feminist’ Disney princesses. This version is revamped, a little better updated, with a Belle who’s not just a reader, but also an inventor. Her father is an artist, the more traditionally ‘sensitive’ profession of the two, still suffering from a trauma that keeps him silent on what exactly happened to Belle’s mother. Indeed, when she takes his place in the Beast’s castle, Belle constantly worries about her father and tells the Beast, ‘He’s never been alone.’
Sure, the movie has its flaws. Some of the new songs are meh, and pale sadly in comparison to Menken and Ashman’s original work, which they have the (mis)fortune of standing beside. I’m not sure what exactly the knowledge of the Beast’s mother’s death had to do with anything, unless it was done to show yet another (tragic) similarity between the two outcasts. The lyric ‘Life is so unnverving/For a servant who’s not serving’ has not aged well, and for the first time I found it a bit weird. Oh, and the ‘gay moment’ is not as in your face as some people, notably certain drive-in owners in Alabama, would have you hope. Or maybe that’s because our glorious Censor Board went ahead and did the needful for us, protecting our delicate sensibilities. Who knows.
But for all these nitpicky little details, I enjoyed myself. Disney has a magic that no one can touch. Time and again, they churn out these perfect stories, and create characters who, in the span of literally 90 minutes, become immortal. Perhaps I’m biased, because I grew up worshipping and wanting to be these women, craving that ‘adventure in the great wide somewhere’. But it’s not just me; literally thousands of people across the world love and worship them too, and find themselves turning to these retellings of old stories in low times and good alike, so clearly, there’s something there.
If only I could bottle that magic, and figure out what it’s made of. Oh the power I would have.
Clearly Sauron was doing it all wrong, seeking dominion through brute force and the One Ring. He should have been working towards writing magical, musical movies stuffed with feisty women and singing household utensils instead. Bet those Elves would have been humming ‘Be Our Guest’ even now, like the rest of poor unfortunate souls.