Photo courtesy of Walt Disney PicturesDisney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” improves upon its material by fixing plot holes and adding depth to scenes and characters.
“Beauty And The Beast” Is A Surprisingly Charming Modern Retelling
I had no desire to see “Beauty and the Beast.” I’ve never been on the Disney train, as a feminist who realized in retrospect that many of my childhood favorites were littered with garden-variety sexism (“The Little Mermaid” being the most heinous example). Not to mention, the few Disney reboots I had seen - such as “Maleficent” - fell extremely flat. However, as a fan of other franchises such as “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” I can appreciate the fondness people have for the childhood fandom of their choice. To my great surprise, even without the nostalgia goggles of a Disney lover, I found “Beauty and the Beast” to be charming, well told, and (yes, heresy I know) better than the original.
“Beauty and the Beast” managed to add original content without railroading the cartoon’s plotline or feeling “extra,” for lack of a better term. The characters became far more three-dimensional and believable than their simplistic cartoon counterparts. A subplot about Belle’s absent mother adds depth to Maurice’s character, and gives the Beast an opportunity to demonstrate his growing empathy for Belle. Le Fou is portrayed as a self-aware, somewhat cynical companion to Gaston, and clearly struggles internally with both his homosexual identity (though this is very lightly touched upon) and Gaston’s immoral tendencies, making him far more complex than his pompous 2D counterpart.
The original content, either through subplot or new songs, also addresses numerous plot holes and general objections that were raised with the original film. There was no sign of Mrs. Pott’s 20 other children in the cupboard, or the corresponding questions as to whether or not she cared about them. The subjects of the Beast have their memories erased and are transformed into the villagers of Belle’s town - providing an explanation as to what happened to the Beast’s kingdom after his transformation. The Beast actually denies that his name is “Beast,” affirming that he does indeed have an identity and is not a monster within, which never occurred in the original. The additions to the live-action film only serve to correct faults or add depth, and they never feel unnecessary or tacky.
“Beauty and the Beast” also does an incredible job of updating a classic to be more modern while keeping the aura of a dazzling fairy tale. The film is almost amazingly full of interracial relationships — in fact, I would guess more of them were interracial than not — and a gay character is introduced. Of course, the standard critics will point out that there were likely no black people of status in this era of French history — but they have missed the point entirely. “Beauty and the Beast” is not meant to be a historical biography and feels like the fairy tale it always was, with magical scenery, musical numbers, costume and character design to accompany its magical plot — but it is a fairy tale for the now, that young children of every background can watch and identify with.
These modern updates go beyond race and even feel faintly political at times; villagers sing that they “fear what they do not understand,” and Gaston’s riling against the foreigner, the other, the Beast, feels almost too realistic. Even an acknowledgment of classism is present, with the Beast feeling remorseful that his servants must suffer a horrible fate due to the actions of their master.
I enjoyed the stylistic choices, though perhaps not everyone agrees; I could see fans missing Lumiere’s original look, being alarmed by the eyeless dresser, and unsure how to feel about the painted eyes of the teacups - but no one can argue that the feather duster isn’t positively sexy as a swan.
Finally, it’s worth noting that some of the classic problematic aspects of “Beauty and the Beast” are somewhat mitigated by the updated version. For years, fans have argued whether Belle has Stockholm syndrome and has fallen in love with an inherently abusive man, or whether the two are both outcasts who find solace in one another. This film provides a better argument for the latter, with Belle and the Beast spending far more time together reading, exploring their respective pasts, and even commenting on their similar statuses at outcasts. And of course, there is the classic question of whether the film just glosses over bestiality, as Belle was prepared to love the Beast even without knowing he’d become human; I try to see the story as a metaphor about valuing internal over external beauty (and of course, knowing that the Beast will eventually turn into the gorgeous Dan Stevens certainly helps).
In summary, the film is worth seeing if you are remotely interested, and it’s not upsetting to Disney fans. If you have the cash, this is worth seeing in 3D.