I will begin this review stating that I absolutely adore Beauty and the Beast. It has been my favorite Disney movie and fairy tale for as long as I can remember. In fact, I have a novel I’ve been working on for many years named Beast Child that I hope to be able to share with you all in the future.
I fell in love with the live action Cinderella film released several years ago, and so my excitement went through the roof when Beauty and the Beast was announced. If they did Cinderella so beautifully, whimsically, and perfect, perhaps they would do the same with my beloved tale.
Beauty and the Beast is not, unfortunately, as wonderful as Cinderella. However, I greatly enjoyed it (especially several aspects of it) and it was not as terrible of a message fiction mess as I feared it would be. I was worried – especially with a lot of the news coverage in the days before the film’s release. The points, as is common with journalism, were overstated.
First, to address the controversies. You’d have to really examine the film with a magnifying glass to find this groundbreaking “exclusively gay” moment. In fact, I am not entirely sure what it was supposed to be, though I have my guesses. This is good, as I wanted to be able to take my young children to see it. I’m suspecting it was a pure publicity grab to talk about it at all – and already those who care about that kind of thing are decrying how it wasn’t good enough. Otherwise other than some “wink wink nudge nudge” moments it is not a huge influence on the plot.
LeFou is most definitely gay, but not in a way that children are going to notice, and he’s mostly really funny. His character has been expanded well and I enjoyed him.
Belle “being brought into the 21st Century” to be a strong, independent inventor woman (apparently being a book worm isn’t enough anymore) is a bigger problem. And that brings me to the weak link of the movie, which is Belle. Emma Watson, despite her turn as Hermione in Harry Potter, was a poor choice. She is pretty, but not beautiful, and they had to auto-tune the hell out of her voice to make it merely passable. Her acting is good but not great. Many of the weaknesses of the film could have been fixed just by casting someone else in this role. Someone who could take a little of the edge off. Belle actually doesn’t do all that much inventing, so that also seems to be kind of tacked on to deflect criticism about her not being “modern & smart enough”.
I have mixed feelings on Belle as a character in this movie, to be honest. She is kind of an elitist bitch in the beginning of the movie – but in doing this, she is actually given a character arch as well. She doesn’t have much of one in the original film. She grows and softens, especially once the Beast embarrasses her for her inflated ego. I would have preferred that she wasn’t quite so unlikeable during the first third of the movie. This could have been done while still preserving the spirit of the character arch.
One scene in particular was heavy handed and out of place and could have been altered or left out. The villagers dump out Belle’s laundry because she is teaching a little girl to read. It was overly feminist, and literacy in France for women in the 17th century was actually quite high.
Gaston is, quite honestly, the highlight of this film. He is charming, arrogant, masculine, and perfect. I loved watching him. I liked the new bits to his character – like that he is a returning war veteran ready to settle down in life.
There are only two issues with him in the movie: 1) Belle and Maurice’s treatment of him in the beginning of the movie is atrocious. It’s like the movie forgets that he has not been established as the villain yet – he is arrogant and entitled, but he hasn’t actually done anything wrong. He doesn’t throw Belle’s book in the mud, he doesn’t harass her about reading – he is honestly attempting to woo her because of her personality and her beauty. And she is a complete bitch to him, as if he was as oafish and offensive right off the bat as he is in the animated film. Later on, Gaston goes out to help Maurice when he asks (instead of throwing him out of the tavern) and Maurice is an asshole to him. This bothered me, because in that universe, he might have been a little arrogant, but he had done nothing to deserve that treatment except apparently the cardinal sin of being attracted to someone who wasn’t interested in him. 2) The changes to his death scene are anticlimatic and he deserved better.
The film is beautifully romantic, from Maurice’s sad and quiet mourning of his wife, to the separated Cadenza and Garderobe, Lumiere and Plumette, and finally to Belle and the Beast. Their connection is much better done in this expanded version of the story. I love that it starts with the Beast teasing a haughty and offended Belle about not actually being as well read as she thinks she is. In an age where so few movies are romantic (especially not most “romance” movies) I appreciate that writers didn’t shy away from making the movie that way.
Some of the tiny story details added or expanded on are right on point. The addition of the servants losing more and more of their humanity as the end of the curse nears adds a wonderful dimension to the film. The scene where the last of their humanity vanishes and they “turn into antiques” despite their victory against the villagers is surprisingly moving.
The castle and its grounds being in eternal winter is a nice touch. And my personal favorite was perhaps one of the best of these additions – the shuddering and breaking of the castle every time a rose petal falls. Several plot holes from the original are closed – as part of her curse, the Enchantress makes everyone forget about the Prince, the Castle, and its inhabitants, including their own family members that were working in the castle.
The visuals are stunning, and I like the period feel – right down to the white powdered wigs in the beginning. The character design of the castle servants is really neat as well.
The new songs are a good addition, particularly the melancholy “Days in the Sun”. I still prefer the Beast’s soliloquies from the original broadway show to “Evermore”, however. Evermore is a touch emo for me.
Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are two of my very favorite actors, and like I told Russell…Ewan McGregor singing Be Our Guest is about one of the only things that could make me like that song. (Yes, I love Beauty and the Beast but hate Be Our Guest. Well, I don’t hate it any longer, but the most I can ever summon for it is “meh”.)
So my final verdict: I enjoyed it significantly more than I thought I would, but it was not as wonderful as I hoped it would be.
Coming soon, a refutation of the common, snide criticisms of the Beauty and the Beast story.