I wasn’t really looking forward to “Beauty and the Beast” very much, but I was definitely interested. A classic from my childhood had been reimagined in live action, of course I had to see it. There were a few weird things involved, like the lack of adorability in the characters, now that they looked real. I was worried that children would not really be able to watch this movie, because the beast looked like a monster and the living objects looked possessed (the Japanese call them Tsukumogami). The realism was going to possibly frighten those who just wanted to watch a love story. Secondly, I was concerned that Emma Watson wasn’t going to make a particularly good Belle. I mean Hermione was bookish too, but I didn’t believe the actress held up to the exaggerated standard of beauty the animated movie put forward. Then there was the number of massive plot holes in original, but I’ll get on that later.
My first concern was relieved fairly early on. The living objects were supposed to be creepy. This is made apparent when Maurice first learns they are alive. I won’t go into detail, but his reaction is very much a realistic one. Belle’s later reactions aren’t as real as his, but the story has to start somewhere, so I’ll take it. However, the personality they placed in the objects with the immense talent of the actors involved completely works! The creepy looking characters quickly become more endearing than the humans!
Then, as soon as they introduce Belle, I was happy to see that they had completely managed to pull this off as well. The way they make her up in comparison to everyone else in the village makes complete sense that Gaston would want her more than any other woman around. Particularly her humble and sweet personality make her even more attractive.
My concern for the beast mostly managed to stand, but again, his frightening appearance was intentional and he manages to feel more human as you get to know him. He still looks like earlier renditions of Lucifer or Pan, but it’s not difficult to get past at all.
The biggest changes in character that made me love this movie even more were in the original villains, Gaston and Le Fou. Let’s start with Le Fou:
It becomes quickly apparent in this rendition that Gaston’s lackey is a bit effeminate. Through a few of his comments and actions, it’s quite clear that Le Fou is gay and quite in love with his best friend. It’s a fantastic interpretation of a character who we all thought was a little too obsessed with another man in the original. This “change” (he may have been gay all along) works perfectly, because it explains their dynamic a bit more thoroughly. You can see that Le Fou is only there because of his longing for someone he can never have, but wants to remain close to. Gaston even takes advantage of his “friend’s” love at one critical point in the movie. It paints Le Fou as a much better person than the slimy sycophant he was in the animated movie, where I always viewed him to be more of a villain than Gaston. The funniest new part here is when he actually mentions the issue of illiteracy in the village.
Now on the the big bad:
I’ve had the argument a dozen or so times over that Gaston is actually the real hero of the animated version. Before you close this review, hear me out:
He’s a hero to everyone in the town, he’s handsome and has a long resume of impressive feats that have gained everyones admiration. Is he arrogant? Of course. Is he a bully? Absolutely. Is he completely drowning in his patriarchal views of the world? Most definitely. However, these are traits found in the vast majority of old style heroes. Take Hercules for example. He’s almost the exact same person as Gaston, but gets more admiration than almost any other figure in history and he straight up murdered his whole family! Gaston is a bit of a harasser, but he never hurts Belle directly. He’s just not what he wants and he’s not used to rejection so he can’t understand that concept. Not excusing that, but that how he is.
When compared to the Beast, there not that different. They’re both big hairy alpha male types who pout or throw temper tantrums when they get upset. They both take the admiration of the people around them for granted. Neither of them are generous spirits and they both make the decision to use Belle’s father to lure her in. Gaston doesn’t even constantly scream at his servants who constantly live in fear of him.
When you really pay attention, the Beast actually forces Belle to fall in love with him, but cutting her off from the world and making her rely on him, a staple of abusive relationships, which is where the jokes about Stockholm Syndrome come from. Gaston is persistent to restraining order proportions, but he never imprisons her in his antler covered house. The difference between them is that the Beast has been so terrible to people for so long that he was cursed to be ugly and has had ten years to think about his punishment. Where was this enchantress when Gaston needed a life lesson? Surely the result would’ve been the same if not similar. Did you only do it because the Beast/Prince was royalty/rich, enchantress? Ever wonder why it took the Beast literally until the shot clock (rose) was up to find someone to love him?
Besides, if you were the hero of this town and an old man who was a well known crackpot starting ranting about a Beast and talking furniture, wouldn’t you have him locked away too? Then, if you saw proof of an actual monster that lived within mob marching distance of your village in a haunted castle, wouldn’t you do the heroic thing and go kill it? We really only hate this guy because we’re told to. That’s the real lesson of this story. Form your own opinions! Stop letting Disney tell you who to like!
Anyway, the way they change Gaston here, is in they give him a single moment of true villainy. I won’t spoil it here, but he does one thing that is truly unforgivable to the most likable character in the movie. When he gets accused of what he did later, he lies about it and pressures Le Fou into lying about it as well. It frames him in certainty as a villain and makes him fit more snugly into the narrative. It feels more like Gaston is a war broken monster of a man and Beast was a bit of a d*ck, but he can get better because he hasn’t crossed the line.
In terms of story, some of the most delightful additions are all of the nods to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original tale. There are a number of things that make you smile and make the story feel better that are thrown in here and there from her story. There are also a lot of extra moments, including a couple of songs that explain what happened to some of the important characters. You get a sense of history and understanding of the character’s motivations from these small additions.
Lastly, there a few smaller and more subtle changes to the prologue and a few lines that fix most of the holes in the original, like the disputes about the Beast’s age and how long it’s been since things started. In the original prologue the movie says the Prince must find love by his twenty first year. Then in the song “Be Our Guest,” Lumiere says “For ten years we’ve been rusting,” implying the Prince was only eleven years old when he was cursed, which makes the enchantress a bit of a jerk. I could even go into detail about how he’s aged as the beast, but somehow his servants, particularly Chip, (who is an only child in the new movie, making Miss Pots less neglectful of her other twenty or so children), haven’t.
In the new movie, the prologue says he must find love by the time the last rose petal falls and the lyrics of the song are changed to “For too long we’ve been rusting.” Clearing that whole confusing business up and showing that no one has aged while cursed. It’s even explained why no one in the village is aware of the castle or the fact that they even had a prince.
The only thing that wasn’t really that great was the pacing. The movie could’ve use a few more heavy transitions to make the length of time feel longer. This story happens over several months time, but it feels like it’s about a week. When enough attention is paid, you can tell the castle is a good distance away, but it feels like it’s right around the corner.
Overall though, it was a great remake of an old classic that filled in some gaps without losing the original feel. I even found myself feeling giddy on the inside during a couple of the songs. Bonus points for the positive interracial relationships depicted.
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