Once upon a time, Disney fairy tales were uncomplicated morality lessons for us. Damsels in distress were destined to be saved by strapping princes with puffed sleeves. Single older women with a mind of their own were most certainly witches and the only people of colour you could spot were purple octopuses, like in Disney's Little Mermaid, who were hatching nasty conspiracies against white-skinned lead characters. 

In a world itching to be politically correct, Disney has a lot to answer for.  

Bill Condon's Beauty and the Beast is a brave attempt to make up for all that, and we all know that it's not an easy cross to bear. The film, however, does so with varying degrees of success. It's unfortunate that it's saddled with a homophobic controversy which has ensured that the film doesn't get a commercial release in Malaysia and some Islamic nations. The film is certainly more than the nuanced sub-plot of a gay crony hopelessly in love with a boorish jock. 

Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles, this is a remake of the 1991 animation film which was a roaring success for the production house. It doesn't deviate much from the essential plot, a farm girl held captive in the enchanted castle of a cursed prince, learns to find beauty and love within. But it does manage to layer the film with characters and subplots that makes it a more politically aware enterprise. 

Bella (Emma Watson) is a bookworm who is yearning to find a life beyond the cobbled streets of her provincial village. The village is populated with boors and prudes who will fit right into Ekta Kapoor's mega serial sets. 

One among them, a narcissistic no-gooder, Gaston (Luke Evans), pursues Bella like the loveable stalker in last week's release Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Except that he doesn't end up with the girl. Here Bella gives him an earful and more, and sends him packing.

Source: b'Luke Evans plays a boor who pursues Bella relentlessly/ Source: Disney\xc2\xa0'

 Life offers her an opportunity to escape the horrible village when her father is held captive in the castle of a cursed prince (Dan Stevens). She volunteers to be the prisoner in exchange of her father's freedom. 

From the very first scene, it's pretty clear that Condon is on the path of political correctness with this film. Every second minor character is a person of colour, every woman character has a strong and a definitive voice and agents of patriarchy are called out vociferously at every given step. The much talked-about gay subplot gives the gay man, who is in an abusive relationship with his best friend, the agency to move on. 

What's interesting about Beauty and the Beast is that the looming sense of foreboding that it's soaked in, isn’t so much about nefarious deeds as it is about complicated people. Bella, who is struggling with her own sense of independence and her responsibilities towards her father, never really commits to loving the Beast until she is sure he is gone.  

Source: b'There is a sense of foreboding in every frame of the film/ Source: Disney'

Watson, who is not really known for her dramatic range, brings a sense of stoic coldness to the character. When she sees the story of her mother's death unfold in front of her,  it's as if she cannot grasp the great lie of fiction, the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the inexplicable. These are the times when she seems like the Beast of the title. Which is probably the film's greatest success. 

There are moments where the film sags under its own sense of righteousness for sure. It's as if every joke, every wisecrack has gone through several rounds of tests to ensure no sentiment is hurt. 

Disney has made a conscious effort to update this fairy tale. It's no longer a just a kid's film. And though children will enjoy certain aspects of it, this adaptation of the age-old fairy tale attempts to delve deeper.

For that, it deserves all the laurels it gets.