!! Spoiler Alert !! - The review will be extensively descriptive about the movie.
This is one movie that broke my belief that a book is always better than the movie version. I always believed that the words in the book are much more intense and has the ability to transform you into the world that the author creates for the reader and the places and characters come alive, based on the depth of our imagination. So it is more an inclusive process. This movie was pure magic. I watched this Disney's retold Classic in a movie theater today, but not for a minute was I distracted enough to notice the audience around me (thanks to my hubby and 2 kids who were engrossed in their own ways). The magical journey took me through each and every frame of the decorum of the Castle, the feelings and characterization of every cast of the village where Belle lives, the emotions of the Prince as a pompous spoiled brat, the love stricken Beast, the concerned Father, the loving Daughter, the callous Romeo (Gaston), the avoiding Damsel... I could go on and on..
An avid reader from childhood - brought up in a family filled with readers - I had the pleasure of reading all genres of books. In fairy tales, "Beauty and the Beast" always held a special place in my heart because of the character of Belle. A girl who is happy to live in her books, different from the rest of them, not conforming to the "norms" of the society, is a character that I could relate to, rather than a princess. Also the fact that she is fearless and can stand up to a Bully and a Beast all by herself is a trait that I wished to inculcate in myself as a child.
This simple story did not convey complex elements of life, during my initial reading. It seems to have layers of concepts, intricately woven into a simple story line, that every time I read it (or see it), I am able to see a new interpretation and a new meaning to every aspect of the story.
Now when I watched the movie as a parent, it brought some new perspectives:
The initial narration on how the Prince was cursed to be a Beast is absolutely brilliant, conveying a very strong message that the outer beauty is shallow and might be lost instantly, while inner beauty is what matters.
Belle is introduced and the various emotions that the villagers have towards her is beautifully captured where debutantes are jealous of her, men are wary of her and look down upon the fact that she can read and write at a time when education was meant only for men, a few older women who adore her for being different from the rest (maybe because they see her as an inspiration or a beacon of change in a small village like theirs).
Gaston's introduction was also good with him being characterized as arrogant, self-centred snobbish rake who thought that the place of a woman was only to serve the men.
When Belle comes to the castle and takes the place of her father and gets closer to the beast, she is able to see beyond the outer facade of the beastly appearance and find the gentle and confused person buried deep within. They start to spend more time with each other when the Beast helps her visit her past and find out something about her childhood which heals her wounds. It is a kind of fantasy time travel where she is taken back to the time and place when she lost her mother, but knowing why they had to leave her mother and move helps her to come to terms with that aspect of her yearning to know more about her.
While Belle tries to understand why the castle crew were enduring the same curse as their Prince, Mrs. Pots explains that their inaction during the Prince's unmindful upbringing by his father (the King) after the Queen's demise, justifies them to also bear the burden of the curse. This drives home a strong message of not to be a silent spectator when a wrong-doing happens around us.
The ball room dance itself was so magical and the moments before the couple arrive on the dance floor was absolutely, fantastically magical with the way Belle is dressed in a ball gown and the finishing touches are added with glittering gold flying down from the ceilings of the castle and drawing intricate designs on her yellow ball gown making it absolutely stunning. Simultaneously, how the nervous Beast is primed up to look like a Prince who is to take a princess to her first ball dance was well directed and executed.
There is a situation where Belle sees her father in trouble in the enchanted mirror, the Beast sets her free, instead of professing his love for her (as was the plan to at the end of the dance), gifts her the mirror as a way to think of him where ever she is. As she is heading towards the village, the song that plays had me wanting to give the Beast a hug, when he sings that he will never be alone hereafter as she will always be close to him in his heart and that she would be the central force of every action of his from now on. The core of true love is its ability to set you and the one you love free of all bonds and be happy and content even in their absence.
This scene gives a well needed link to the exchange between the father and daughter at the village when Belle tells her father that she understands why he did what he did and why he feels that he needs to protect his child. The next moment where the father realises that his daughter is a grown woman and that despite the lurking danger in every corner of life, his grown child now needs to pave her own path and have her own experience to have a fulfilling life, is exquisitely performed by both the actors.
This magic stays till the end of the movie when Belle professes her love to the Beast when he is almost dead and how the transformation happens and the castle comes alive with all the villagers remembering everything again and curse being removed. Supporting characters like Mrs. Pot, Mr. Lumiere, and Agatha (sorceress) play pivotal role in ensuring that the events unfolding to alleviate the curse happen as they must. After 2 full hours of this magical experience, I did not feel like getting up from my seat and come to the reality of my life but, I had to ! What a wonderful experience it was to be transformed into a magical world that was on a visual medium. You will agree that the castle is indeed "alive" all through the movie (thanks to the cinematography and CG works). Kudos to the entire movie crew !
Maybe, personally for me, the music and songs might also have been a reason for this magic to have worked. I have always loved the movie "Sound of Music" which my Aunt introduced me to starting with the songs that we listened together on the good-old-days' record player and watching the movie. After those moments, guess this is another movie that gave me a similar experience.
Would definitely recommend this movie to all fairy tale and fantasy movie lovers and parents with young children, who like feel-good stories and tons of sing-along songs !