Under the spell of Beauty & The Beast

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star

Before we go into anything about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, let us first get the names of the actors and the characters they play in the live action film. This is because characters are very important in any story, more so if it is by Disney where usually hiding behind a scary mask or a cute mug is a big-name star. Besides, I do not want you to be distracted by constantly referring to the booklet while listening to the soundtrack or watching the movie.

And so here now is the cast of characters and the actors who play them. They all did a great job by the way: Emma Watson, the muggle witch Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series as Beauty; Dan Stevens, the heartthrob of Downton Abbey and now the mutant Legion, as Beast; Luke Evans of Fast and Furious 6 as Gaston, the former-soldier-turned-hunter who wants Belle for himself; Josh Gad, Olaf of Frozen, as LeFou, Gaston’s loyal sidekick.

Kevin Kline is Maurice, Belle’s father; Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts, the teapot; Sir Ian McKellen is Cogsworth the clock; Ewan McGregor is Lumiere, the candelabra; Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza, the harpsichord; Audra McDonald is Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Plumette, the feather duster; and Nathan Mack is Chip the chipped teacup son of Mrs. Potts.

Next, I recommend that you listen to the soundtrack before watching the picture. Much of the appeal of the animated feature derives from the music. I am sure you have noticed that you get this joyous, uplifting feeling just by hearing the first few bars of the theme song. It is akin to an invitation to enchantment. It is no different with the live version.

I know duplicating Angela Lansbury’s charming, matter-of-fact rendition of Beauty and the Beast is next to impossible but Thompson does a good job as a singer. So does Watson although she is no crystal-clear soprano. So, do the rest of the cast. They are actors who are adequately equipped as singers performing in a musical. 

And not to forget, the soundtrack album comes with the Ariana Grande and John Legend duet of the theme song plus pop versions of two new songs by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. These guys have certainly not lost their touch. These are Belle’s song How Does A Moment Last Forever sung by Celine Dion and Beast’s song, yes, Beast gets to sing here, Evermore, performed by Josh Groban, who I think would make a very good Beast on stage.

And now well-prepared for the magic with the music playing in your head, you accept the invitation. What is revealed is not what you expect at all. The characters have become humans, prostheticized, yes, and digitally supported at times, but they are now of flesh and blood situated in a gothic setting. But I am glad to say, no less enchanting. In fact, I think that having actors play the familiar roles heightens the sense of wonder. Hey, maybe, something like this can really happen.

The fairy tale has not changed much although this one is a truly lush, sumptuous retelling. Belle is this bookworm of a girl devoted to her loving father Maurice. She has caught the eye of the town heartthrob/dummy Gaston who wants to marry her. She wants nothing of him, more so when she finds out that her father is held prisoner in a castle by the Beast. To save her father, she offers herself in exchange for his freedom. The Beast accepts her offer. But what she thought would be a difficult incarceration with a household of freaks turns out to be a magical adventure that leads to true love.

The movie fulfills the promise evinced by the animated picture in 1991. That it would make an excellent musical. And it does. Menken’s Oscar-winning score has gotten a grand update and the songs, the familiar written by the late Howard Ashman, and the new by Rice all enhance the story. The musical numbers alternate between grand Hollywood extravaganzas and quiet dreamy moments. And, of course, Belle in a yellow dress gets to waltz with Beast in a round, opulent ballroom.

Director Bill Condon’s confident way with the fairy tale is only to be expected. He has proven his mettle with musicals. He did Dreamgirls. He also directed The Twilight Saga, which you must admit is a Beauty and the Beast story. What I like most about his work is that he has wisely given the picture a darker tone. This is live action after all.

So moviegoers who saw Beauty and the Beast as kids 26 years ago now have things that they did not envision before popping into their heads. Isn’t this a kind of bestiality? What about enslavement? Pedophilia? Homosexuality? But who cares if LeFou is gay or not. All I know is that Gad is one fantastic actor. 

No need to worry though. Condon shows himself a sensitive filmmaker. Those issues although present are deftly sidetracked, and kids and adults can watch Beauty and the Beast and just lose themselves in a wondrous experience.

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