“Beauty and the Beast”

The VHS tape of  “Beauty and the Beast” ( 1991) is still on my cellar shelf even though we no longer have a recorder.  I love this animated film, and  I don’t wish to let it go. It was the first animated movie to be  Oscar nominated for “Best Picture”. Disney’s up-dated ” Beauty and the Beast” (2017) will have its next generation of fans, too; but, it is hard for me to get used to its mixed animation. The new musical numbers by Alan Mekin and ,this time, Tim Rice add only length without enhancing the tale. And, it is  Angela Lansbury’s voice as Mrs. Potts, that I hear when I start humming  ” story old as time…”.  Given these disclaimers, I came home from my latest movie-theater viewing as happy as a seven-year-old.

The current re-do is lovely, so worth seeing, and a smash hit for Disney. Who wouldn’t love a romantic, Parisian legend where provincial life is expanded through books and love is taught as something to hold on to? Throw in lessons about beauty being inside, too; and we have a magical banquet and a few sensuous scares. Turrets, garrets, and cages all confine, but spell breaking and freedom are won.

There are few changes in the dialogue, and  the script stays almost identical to the award winning 1991 version.  Scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos  add  “Never going to happen, ladies” and having a “fearless mother”, and ” hero-time” as linguistic twists for the times. The line getting the most press is Josh Gad’s . As Le Fou, his “You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley, and they will tell you which team they prefer to be on.” caused one intolerant country to squeal, and one section of the populace of Alabama to recoil. For my part, inclusiveness makes all the merrier.

Added vignettes like the bibliophile Belle ( Emma Watson) praising a young girl beginning to decode words is praiseworthy. Reading teachers need every boost they can get. The fact that books truly allow one to escape is further underscored when the Beast tells Belle that his library is hers. Belle asks her captor, ” Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?” The Beast understands that the wiser he becomes the more unsure he finds himself. Could he be Shakespeare’s ” winged Cupid painted blind” ?

Gaston ( Luke Evans ) has a meaner spirit in this version. Yes, he is narcissistic, but not quite the buffoon. He steps heedlessly on cabbages and throws mud-splatters on pink-frocked hopefuls, yet his line, ” A great hunter doesn’t waste his time with rabbits.” points to a more strategic planner of the ” me first” variety.

After a rather “spoon-fed” beginning where Audra McDonald’s operatic voice gives way to the prince’s transformation, we see our beast slashing out at his princely portrait in symbolism like Dorian Gray.  Saws like ” You can’t judge people by who their father is” and ” People say a lot of things in anger. It is our choice to decide to listen” are adages for our times. Mrs. Potts ( Emma Thompson) and her son Chip ( Nathan Mack )  serve up lots of these aphorisms. “Learn to control your temper” is another didactic lesson.

The irony in the script is more fun. When the question of love is broached, we are given, ” You will feel slightly nauseous.” When Gaston is overwrought, his side kick Le Fou says, “Breathe breaths, Gaston”, “Breathe happy thoughts; Go back to war”. Many will recall “show me the meat”, as Gaston yells ” show me the Beast” in the same incantation. These writers are having fun!

Director Bill Condon gives Belle’s father, Maurice, ( Kevin Kline) lots of play. Kline looks the part, but his singing is weak. Still a caring father, who adores his daughter, Kline is always welcome on the screen. The backstory grounds us with a touch of sadness and sacrifice. The other man in Belle’s life can belt it out. Dan Stevens’ Beast’s voice is deep and sonorous. I loved both the bathing Beast and the slurping soup animal. His song ” Come wake me up” seemed rather lusty.

Fear and fighting play a larger part in the newer version. The wolves are terrifying and the Beast’s leaps from rampart to rampart are heart-stopping. I can see young children on their parent’s laps. The use of psychological fear is well mapped by the tally-ho of villagers’ torches. The Gaston and the Beast face-off is more action-packed than the original, and Gaston is meaner. He shoots the Beast twice. Gaston is more than vain; he is a liar exemplar, who tries to kill his competitor.

On the more joyful side, the culinary cabaret with all its accoutrements delight. Luminere ( Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan ) as candlestick and mantle clock are engaging. Their ormolu glistening, both are dusted by the cleaning cockatoo ( Gigi Mbatha-Raw), with the wonderful name, Plummet. Silver trays transform into spotlights and all proudly present quite an animated showcase dinner. Furniture dances and chifforobes and barking footstools help welcome and celebrate. “Be our guest” becomes the loveliest of words. And, ” Here ‘s a thought: There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

Little girls will be twirling lovingly for another two decades! And everyone will remember that the sun rises in the east. Enjoy.

“Zootopia”

Colorful but slow to earn your attention this new Disney piece is cliche -ridden and  a tad didactic. Parents score high and so does following your dream, respecting diversity, and  learning to hustle. Life is complicated, and drugs can turn you rabid.

The deranged predator and meek prey storyline is not logical, and the  animal stereotypes are  mocked while they are upheld. On the positive side, the sloths are hysterical as Department Of Motor Vehicle employees.  My favorite line, for some reason, was “Did you steal a traffic cone?”

The entrepreneurial fox is both chastised and lauded for his frozen paw popsicles. The reselling of the stick holders as “red wood” can be seen as recycling or scamming.  Nick Wilde as con fox is cynical, but learns from the young bunny over their adventure. The animation is top notch. The chase scenes are fast and fun. Some of the details are precious. I loved the elephant trunk  as ice cream scooper, though the scoop was cited for health reasons. And the howlers were cool.

This is a film that models goal setting like issuing 200 parking tickets before noon. The five-year- old I viewed “Zootopia” with found a few scenes scary. Chief Bogo as bully bull was frightful in the way he kept our new recruit Judy Hopps ” handcuffed”.

The hidden messages using fear and distrust to control outcomes is timely. But this animated pic is way overrated in my view.

“Cinderella”

On occasion who doesn’t need a little romance and the re-instilling of the importance of the magical attributes of kindness,imagination and courage?! How fitting then that at “Cinderella” ‘s  heart this is the “KIC” one gets right to the vein: kindness,imagination and courage. Kenneth Branaugh directs this classic fairy tale with perfect underdog spirit and a new bit of backstory. Mother love is championed and skullduggery still loses out.

First,see this Disney movie for the cast and the costuming. Then see it for the transformations and re-transformations of pumpkin,carriage and entourage. And finally, see “Cinderella” for glorious horseback and waltz scenes. Lily James is enrapturing.

Cate Blanchette,always pose-worthy in her hautiness,shows just a glimmer of agape’ grace and self-reflection. Helena Bonham Carter begins in Tim-Burton-fashion with serious aplomb,her macabre originality now legendary. Add the male cast,all besotted and love-stirred,and enjoy how pheromones fly.

Satiny mustard citrons and emerald greens for Cate, pinks and oranges for two step-sisters and the most dazzling corn-flower blue for Lily all add to a visual delight. The designs will take your breathe away,just like it did Cinderella’s when the Prince placed his hand on her waist. I loved all the embellishment except for the glitter,but then, as my friend reminded me,I was not deemed the target audience. I just got a “KIC” out of the screenplay written be Chris Weitz and the costumes of Sandy Powell. Oh,and the maxim: “schemers beware” provides social uplift for those who don’t believe in love at first sight.