By Bruce Worthington
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to like Disney’s live action update of their Oscar-nominated animated film Beauty and the Beast. The trailer has been screening at Vientiane Center for the past six weeks, and while the music certainly stirred up a bit of that nostalgic warmth Disney has perfected, the whole effort seemed more than a little unnecessary.
That said, it only took about five minutes for my initial cynicism to wear down. My wife and I sat next to a father who had brought his two kids to the movie, and they were totally engrossed, leaning toward the screen for the better part of the two-hour run-time exchanging barely-hushed whispers. I’m pretty sure their enthusiasm added to the whole experience, if for no other reason than it reminded me of the hours my sister and I spent in the cinema as kids doing exactly that.
How does it compare to the original? That’s definitely the question I would have wanted an answer to before seeing the movie. There’s an entire debate about whether there’s any value in updating a classic, and considering that Beauty and the Beast is certainly a prominent entry in Disney’s animated back catalogue, I think it’s a question worth asking. For the record, I’m not totally opposed to the idea of the Hollywood studios taking another crack at their old properties, especially since the original Beauty and the Beast is just over 25 years-old.
From my perspective, the real question behind any comparison is actually: Is this movie a shameless attempt by Disney to cash in on my childhood? The best answer that I can give is simply, by the time the credits rolled, I felt like Disney had earned the 40,000 kip ticket price. Were there things I missed from the original? Absolutely. Are the highly-advertised new songs as good as the songs you know and love? No, but they’re not so bad that you even remember them by the time the film launches into something you can sing by memory.
If anything, I think I really only have one complaint about the film and it has to do with the computer generated characters, but it’s not the complaint I think you’re expecting. Lumiere and Cogsworth and the rest are beautifully rendered, but a bit too much so. They feel a little too tangible and real, and because of that I felt some persistent anxiety about them breaking. Especially the little teacup, Chip, who just carelessly throws himself around the room. But maybe that’s just me needing a bit more whimsy in my animated furniture.
The film doesn’t feel like it was hastily assembled by a corporate board chuckling maniacally over their ability to squeeze your wallet dry because you hear a song that triggers a burst of wonder in the far reaches of your memory. Disney has handed the material over to filmmakers and actors that seem genuinely respectful of the classic, and the production and art direction is beautiful. Luke Evans in particular makes an awesome Gaston.
If you’re trying to decide whether to wait for the DVD, I’d definitely recommend that you see the film in the cinema, mostly because I’m just not sure how impressive the spectacle of it all will be on your TV at home. ‘Be Our Guest’ is a roller coaster on the big screen.