Monday 13 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast ... 'Beauty' is not in the eye of the viewer

I WISH I could say that Malaysians lost an opportunity to catch a great film, but Disney may have done them a favour by pulling director Bill Condon's Beauty and The Beast from Malaysian cinemas.
   Netizens have expressed their displeasure at Disney, who did so because Malaysian film censors snipped off a gay moment in the film. Disney will appeal against the decision (on March 21), but it looks like the censors will stand their ground.
    This live-action film is great to look at, with its palatial interiors and grounds, and some of the songs are catchy, but they won't leave an impression on viewers.
   Part of the reason is the casting of Emma Watson as Belle. She's white, fair skinned and has lovely straight hair, all the virtues that make her the epitome of a Disney beauty. But she does not engender trust in her. I had little invested in Belle's relationship with the Beast.
   The film is similar to that of French film La belle et la bete (2014), starring Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassell, which I've seen.
   Condon overwhelms viewers with titillating sets and mushy songs, but Belle's love for her father is glazed over and her relationship with the Beast is uninspiring. Dan Stevens's Beast growls and chomps hard while hardly making us swoon over him.
  Luke Evans plays incorrigible scalawag and ladies' man Gaston, who expects every woman to fall at
Belle (Emma Watson) wonders about the Beast's
(Dan Stevens) hairstyle.
his feet while he treats them with contempt. He too doesn't fare well with audiences. I wondered why anyone would fall for him.
  Malaysian filmgoers should now know the name of Gaston's sidekick and manservant LeFou (Josh Gad), whose showing of a love bite on his tummy during a song and dance earned him the ire of Malaysian censors.
    LeFou accepts being bullied and mocked by Gaston, and his effeminate antics give rise to some laughter.
   The biggest difference in Condon's Belle is that she's an activist. The character of Belle has always been a bookworm, and in this live-action film, she bonds with the Beast because of their love for books and his gargantuan library.
   But she also reads to a girl in her village, which earns her disapproving looks from two townsfolk, who don't take kindly to girls learning to read. Malaysian audiences would relate to Belle, as the number of females in local varsities outnumbers that of men in varsities.
    Beauty and The Beast films are about scratching beneath the surface of someone to get to know the real person. It could also be about looking beyond the imperfections of life, or a place, and learning to love them.
   Of course, it helps that the Beast is rich, suave and lives in a Buckingham Palace-like home.
Were Malaysian censors wrong in snipping off
LeFou's gay moment?
   Would Belle have fallen for him and his erudite behaviour if he had consigned her to a life of sweeping floors and cooking for him? Would she have turned a blind eye if her abductor was from Balakong or Sentul in Malaysia?
  Beauty is sweet and gorgeous to view, but its dependence on special effects, Watson's casting and the uninspiring acting will make Malaysians give Disney a backhanded compliment.

2 out of 5 stars


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