Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast [2017]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (L) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Beauty and the Beast [2017] (directed by Bill Condon, screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos) is a lovely _race neutral_ update of the traditional French fairy tale.

Parents of children of color will probably like seeing several of the characters, though dressed in 17th-18th century garb, played nonetheless by actors / actresses of color including Audra McDonald as Mde. Garderobe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette (characters in the beloved Disney 1991 animated film).  Given that as I was entering the screening that I attended, in front of me was a cute as a button Hispanic family -- mom, pop and their FOUR YEAR OLD GIRL dressed in a golden dress like that of Belle's -- it seems clear me that Disney's clearly onto something _nice_ and I'D CERTAINLY WANT TO ENCOURAGE THIS FOR THE FUTURE, especially since NEARLY HALF OF THE CHILDREN IN THE UNITED STATES ARE "OF COLOR" NOW.

I'd also like to note here that the CNS/USCCB's reviewer above spent _nearly half_ his review complaining that the film portrayed _one_ of the characters in the film, Lefou (played by Josh Gad) as being _possibly gay_ ... and the reviewer made _no mention at all_ of the lovely _race neutrality_ of the whole production ...

What then to say about this live action update to the traditional French Fairy Tale / beloved 1991 animated film?  I do think it works.  The combination of CGI and live actors which already worked spectacularly well in Disney's much more thorough re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland [2010], IMHO worked well here as well: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, Mde Garderobe, Maestro Cadenza, Mrs Potts and Chip (voiced and then played by Evan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson and Nathan Mack) all stepped-up and hit-the-mark, often spectacularly.

For many contemporary viewers, especially mothers / women, the bigger preoccupation would be how did the script / Emma Watson (as commoner / villager Belle) and Dan Stevens (as the cursed Beastly prince) navigate these roles which _could be_ quite easily dismissed today as messaging to young girls to "settle" and PUT-UP WITH _beastly_ misogynist behavior.

Here I do believe that the script / Emma Watson did a very good job in portraying Belle as _not_ "a door-mat" who had _a good reason_ FOR CHOOSING to sacrifice her own freedom for the sake of her father (already having lost her mother, if her father (played wonderfully by Kevin Kline) had been incarcerated by the Beastly Prince then SHE would have been left with nobody ... I totally understand why she chose to do what she did).

Further, Belle actually _chose_ to warm-up to the Beastly Prince only after she realized that _he_ really had something that she had been looking-for all during her time growing-up back in the village -- easy access and respect for knowledge.  She had been laughed-at back home for being "too much of a bookworm," for being "too smart" for her own good.  Here the Beastly Prince (with his castle's giant library) offered her a chance to be more _freely_ who she always wanted to be.

So it's an interesting film about freedom and choice, and (with freedom of choice) ... choosing wisely.  I really can not but applaud it.  Good job!

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