“Tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme.
Beauty and the Beast.”
In this time of remakes and revivals, Disney is undoubtedly the corporation that has repeatedly come out on top, thanks in no small part to the inherent nostalgic factor of its classics. Beauty and the Beast successfully continues this trend, despite its few flaws and missteps, and invites audiences to “Be Their Guest” on a fun, albeit familiar, adventure.
(Last pun, I swear!)
Since Beauty and the Beast is, as a whole, a story that most everyone is familiar with, I’m going to forego a summary and go straight to the breakdown/critique…
The extent to which this incarnation of the Beast is humanized by the narrative as well as by the actor who plays him, Dan Stevens, is arguably the greatest triumph of the film. I loved the fact that Belle’s love of reading isn’t just something that the Beast passively encourages through gifting her his library, as in the original, but is a passion they share and bond over. This Beast also possesses a playfulness and sardonic wit that emerges as he and Belle begin to open up to and trust each other. It is strongly implied that the Beast’s father was emotionally abusive towards him leading up to his mother’s death and through adolescence, so we understand how difficult and meaningful it is for the Beast to show any kind of “weakness” of affection towards Belle. In the end, audiences of all ages walk out of the theater feeling like they’ve just fallen in love with Dan Stevens themselves (quite possibly for the second time if they’re a Downton Abbey fan.)
I was so ridiculously relieved that they made a plot point of the townspeople forgetting their loved ones who worked at the castle-and have since become magical objects-as well as the prince himself. This is a detail that has been brought up ever since the original movie’s release and I’m glad they paid enough attention that it can finally be put to bed.
Emma Watson’s singing, while certainly not that of a trained professional’s and not what a Disney fan overly familiar with the original songs will expect, is still pleasant to the ear and able to be quickly adapted to. In fact, viewers with an open mind may even find themselves hoping for just one more Belle solo after the two she has have passed.
I don’t know if this was just me being dumb, but it took me a bit of time to fully appreciate the “je ne sais quoi” joke from the beginning of the film. It’s more layered than what one initially thinks! Gaston is talking to Le Fou about what he admires in Belle, saying “She’s got a certain…” Le Fou cuts in, “Je ne sais quoi?” Gaston, confused, replies, “I don’t know what that means,” before trotting away on his horse back towards town. “Je ne sais quoi” roughly translated means, “I don’t know what,” in French, a language that Gaston himself should be speaking as the story takes place in post-revolution France. Gaston is literally saying “I don’t know what I don’t know means.” A pretty deep cut joke.
Some of the changes that Disney made to update the twenty-five-year-old tale are shockingly, but enjoyably, dark. At first, for example, I believed that Disney had decided to tone down Gaston’s blatant misogyny from the original into a more subtle, guy-who-was-friend-zoned misogyny. Still dangerous, but allowing him to become sympathetic to some audiences. NOPE, THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. That belief was dashed when Gaston punched Maurice, Belle’s father, and left him for dead in the woods because he wouldn’t promise Gaston Belle’s hand in marriage. Another example of a shockingly emotional scene is towards the end, when the castle’s magical subjects are actually becoming the inanimate objects they’ve been since the curse was enacted. The last pedal has fallen and it appears all hope is lost. Loved ones say a final farewell, but the coat rack luckily remains animate long enough to save Chip from irrevocable shatter. If you didn’t tear up during this scene, you have no inner child.
Let’s get the big one out of the way, shall we? LeFou being gay in this movie is a complete non-issue and doesn’t deserve the hype or attention that it received. LeFou fawns over Gaston, yes, but it carefully toes the line between natural, macho idolization and something more. The man, whom I believe is “Dick” from “You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley” fame, twirling into LeFou’s arms in the end scene is a blink-and-you-miss-it hint that homophobes or simply oblivious people can easily wave away as yet another joke at LeFou’s expense, rather than the groundbreaking feat of moviemaking history Disney hailed it as. The usually silent cynic in me can’t help but wonder if that was purposeful.
Emma’s reactions to the fantastical objects in front of her were a bit underwhelming. If you had singing and dancing kitchenware begging to be given the honor of feeding you and a book that can take you anywhere you want in the world, I would think you would display a pretty wide range of facial expressions.
Belle’s gold dress did not translate onto the live-action screen as well as it should have. The back is beautiful in its overlapping layers and sense of movement, but the way the front’s ruffles lay on the dress make them look more like a part of a larger pasta Alfredo dish than of an iconic fashion ensemble of moviemaking history. I was more interested in Belle’s peasant blue outfit than I was this dress which is…sad and unfortunate.
Disney made the decision in this movie to turn the village bookstore where Belle goes to borrow and return books into a Church, I assume because all the other villagers are meant to be illiterate. This is fine, but when Belle goes to the Church to return a book and borrow another, she only has maybe 15 to choose from. Only in post-revolution France can you cultivate a reputation as a bibliophile by reading 15 books.
Why was Belle and Maurice totally fine with leaving that beautiful, sentimental, intricately made music box in the snow? I know they were being chased by wolves but they could have come back for it later!
We deserved Dan Stevens singing “If I Can’t Love Her” from the Beauty and the Beast Broadway musical. Disney most likely only replaced it with “Evermore” so that they had an Oscar bid for Best Original Song.
Allow me to leave you this week with one last thought: Beauty and the Beast is NOT about Stockholm Syndrome.
Best Character: Beast
Beauty and the Beast: