Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lavish French Rococo and a Beast

Rather than dwelling on how long it has been since my last post, I am going to jump right back in. Eric lived in China for 4.5 months as he opened Shanghai Disneyland. I went out there to see him twice. The second visit was for the Grand Opening. We then traveled to both Beijing and Hong Kong. Both experiences were more than amazing!

What inspired me to return to a key board while not at work? ...Disney's latest, Beauty and the Beast.

This new "spin" on Disney's own classic takes the core of the enchanted tale and fills in gaps we didn't know were missing. Nay sayers might argue that no one was asking for these very minor plot holes to be explained, so why mess with it? I was in that same boat until last month,  I watched the preview at Disney California Adventure. Seeing the "Belle" number hooked me in and I found myself counting the days down to March 17th.

Along with our two friends Jimmy and Erin, we jumped on the craze and bought tickets two weeks early! Flash forward to when the four of us started our evening at a small location in Garden Grove, California called "Sabrosa", a Mexican restaurant. Upon being seated at 8:10 PM, after quite a lengthy wait, we learned that this place was featured on the FoodNetwork. We felt because of that fact we were in for an impressive meal. The server was already "wowing" us with her outgoing and welcoming personality. Surely we'd be dining in a short time and out the door for our 9:45 PM movie. We had reserved theater seating in recliners, so we didn't need to queue up for the show.

It seemed we were a bit ahead of ourselves as we assumed the night would go smoothly. Don't get me wrong. The night was still a success, but the cooking time of the food was obnoxiously long. It was close to 9 PM when we were finally brought our food. We had to shovel it down so quickly. I ordered Sopes (So-Pez), an elaborate type of tostada with a thicker and softer "shell" filled with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and jalapeƱos. My dish, as with the others, came with the standard rice and beans. Eric ordered chicken enchiladas which he said were quite tasty. Maybe we will try it again when it isn't a Saturday Date Night.

The four of us made it to our theater seats just in time with our very full stomachs. Excitement filled the theater as the 25 minutes worth of trailers played. Too many trailers!

I was very intrigued by the style chosen and attention to detail during the Prologue. The aesthetic for the Prince, his castle, and fellow party attendees were over the top, as I would have imagined for that time period (assuming Rococo). The Narrator mentioning the Prince had taxed his subjects for his lavish lifestyle was VERY of the times. That behavior cost Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's heads to literally roll in the city of Paris! Rather than a rolling head, someone had a different plan for him, a lesson.

From there, we find ourselves being led down a familiar path, but with more vibrancy than before. The original animated feature is nothing short of amazing. But, this retelling has an enhanced story. Not only is Belle an outsider, she is downright bullied by the town. The song "Belle" isn't the bouncy opener as it is in the animated film. Shouting out with an angry face of malice, "SHE'S NOTHING LIKE THE REST OF US!" comes across in a different way here. I was surprised to even see her tormented in the street, in a later scene. She in turn has a few thoughts on her village, referring to the inhabitants as being "LITTLE...people" and small minded. Belle isn't merely bored here, nothing about the place or people stimulates her at all.

To further show the more mature additions, there is the new song called "Days in the Sun". This addition really gives you a better sense of the peril that the household servants and the Beast are experiencing. For those fellow Broadway fans, I do realize that the stage musical has a similar song, "Human Again". This film chose to convey that plight in a different way. This live action film creates a tone showing that whatever the outcome, it will be infinite. Furthermore; the scene where Maurice and Felipe are trying to outrun wolves. I found myself thinking, "Is Felipe going to get a chunk bitten out of him!?" The scene is filmed with a much higher sense of danger. We know the outcome, but it had me on edge.

At first I was pretty indifferent regarding the Beast and his look. Knowing about all the motion capture and stilt walking really ruined that portion of the film for me. I noticed I was thinking about the special effects a little too much. But then, Belle is at Beast's aid, he starts to show some likeability when he makes fun of Romeo and Juliet. Suddenly, I was invested in him! Maybe that is the point of that scene and I fell for it. Dan Stevens becomes almost adorable as the Beast and at least for me,  I started to see him as a real person. I totally fell for it! But, I must add that his CGI wasn't always the best.  The hair on his face felt more believable for close-ups. When his body filled the shot, it just seemed odd.

The "Beauty and the Beast" dance scene was a highlight for me. Even today, as I saw it a second time, I was getting emotional! (OMG, that is embarrassing to admit) In the first few camera shots, Emma Watson has to gracefully but quickly promenade around the Beast while holding her skirt fully extended, away from her right side. As she swoops around him the camera moves tightly in yet shifts in the opposite circular direction of their spin. That was pure choreographic magic. There is also a dance lift amongst twinkling points of light that really cements their trust. One might complain the scene lacks the more dramatic sweeps and descends of the camera, found in the animated film. However; when the camera does finally swoop upward, we visually learn where Mrs. Pott's accompaniment comes from. We see instruments sculpted in high relief, come to life.

When Belle leaves to Maurice, as we knew she would, the emotion of doom starts to well up inside. Though a slow build up, you're invested in the various characters' happiness. Remember, we've been introduced to the servants' hopes, and loves for the last 60 minutes. As an audience, we start to forget how the story is going to end and the suspense takes over.

Leaving the theater I was asked what I thought. Our little group was quick to voice their likes or hates for the film. I was pretty quiet. There is a lot to take in. I feel one might ask himself a few immediate questions.... "Which version is better?", "Do I divorce myself from the 1991 film?", or even "Why did they ruin what they have?" My take is that you have to think of them independently. Comparing them is too tiring to the extent that we start to lose the point of either film. The main objective is to be entertained. We really need to be uplifted now, even if just for 2 hours, so that we may destress. This movie does exactly that for me and I hope it does for you.

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