I thought the movie was good…and I don’t have a whole lot more to say about it.
But I do have thoughts on other issues surrounding the movie!
First, I’ll give my quick review. Not taking into account the 1991 original, I thought this was a really good adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. (It handled the Stockholm Syndrome issue well; it had good explanations for how Belle and her father ended up at the castle, why she left, and why she came back.) However, we all know that this movie was an adaptation of the 1991 version and not the original story. As an adaptation of the animated version, it does a good job. It stays faithful, while updating it for today’s audience, maturing it just enough to appeal to adults but keep it appropriate for kids, and finding ways to incorporate elements from the original fairy tale that the cartoon left out. There are some changes, and I thought they worked for the most part. After watching the movie, I realized it didn’t leave me as entranced as I was hoping it would, and I think subconsciously I was hoping for something fresh and unexpected. But objectively speaking, I think Disney actually made the right choice in making a straight-up adaptation, because if they wanted to add the fresh spin, they would’ve needed to make a huge departure and that might not have gone over well.
I’ll take a quick aside to compare this to Disney’s other live-action fairy tale adaptations (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book). Out of the 5, I think Beauty and the Beast was the most faithful to the animated version, and why wouldn’t it be? That animated version was nominated for an Oscar! The two that tried to experiment and made huge departures from the animated version (Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent) had some really great ideas, but the movies themselves were (imo) boring and badly-written respectively. (I enjoyed Maleficent a lot the first time I watched it despite the cringey dialogue, but couldn’t get through it a second time.) Cinderella made some good updates and some terrible updates, and was overall a beautiful movie to look at, but one with a story that left a bad taste in my mouth. The Jungle Book was a good movie though. It had good updates and a great story, and of the 5, the one that improved the most on the animated version. Among these 5 films, at this time, I’m not sure whether Beauty and the Beast or The Jungle Book is the superior, but it has to be one of these two.
Now to address those issues surrounding Beauty and the Beast:
Feminism: I thought that this was handled very well. They weren’t trying to beat you over the head with it like in Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, and they weren’t completely devoid of it like in Cinderella. It was subtly worked into the story, into Belle’s identity, and her place in the town; but at the same time, it conveyed the message beautifully. Emma Watson was great in this role. I was not a fan of any of her posters (she always had this long face reminiscent of a heroine in a tragic romance), but thankfully she was nothing like that in the movie. She really inhabited this role. And this is the first role in which I really liked Emma Watson. Yes, I never connected to her Hermione (but that’s all because of how Steve Klove’s wrote her; not Emma’s fault). And also, no, I am not going to comment on her Vanity Fair photo shoot except to say that I was really not a fan of the hair. However, given that she is UN’s Women Goodwill Ambassador and that women’s issues are so important to her, I’m really happy that she was able to play this role.
Diversity: I did notice that the film was quite diverse. And this might be a problem with me, but when I see diversity where I don’t expect it, I always want an explanation. Actually, it’s probably very possible that diversity did exist in 18th century France. Ships existed, and Africa is not that far from France. But what was it like for those African immigrants? How many generations have they lived in France? How well did they integrate into the French culture? Would it have been possible for them to attain the positions that the characters in the movie had? Of course, the movie itself has no time to address this. But I wish they would have released supplementary information about this. Or talked about it in interviews. I tried to see what information was out there, and all I found were this and this. I understand that audiences want to see their fairy tale world where everything is perfect, but I want to learn about the real world and I don’t want to see the struggles of these communities scrubbed away in order to create a perfect world for the audience. Expressed differently, I want to know whether the screenwriters and casting directors took the effort into researching 18th century France demographics, or whether they only aimed to reflect the diversity of the modern world (which would be anachronistic, and also diversity for the sake of diversity).
** SPOILERS ** (Honestly, I think the spoilers are mild)
LGBT Issues: Okay onto the biggest controversy surrounding this movie. Let’s say that the Bill Condon interview never happened, and I went in without knowing that LeFou was the first openly gay Disney characters. I believe I would have picked up on it, and I would have thought it would have been a GREAT update. I think, though, it is possible that some people would have missed it, or those homophobically inclined, might have *chosen* not to see it that way. However Bill Condon did give an interview about how this movie features an “openly gay character” and an “exclusively gay scene”, and whether he intended to or not, this sort of made it seem like the movie was going to represent LGBT issues. It didn’t. LeFou seemed more closeted gay (or unaware that he is gay) than openly gay (based on his answer to Gaston’s question as to why he is still single). The “exclusively gay scene” was LeFou and a guy who liked being drag accidentally ending up as dance partners, and they smiled as if they liked that better. THAT WAS IT. (I was kind of expecting LeFou would realize he is gay, and either try to hide it because he is afraid the town will ostracize him because they seem to not like people who are different; or maybe he would get rejected by Gaston, which sort of happens I suppose when Gaston abandons him.) I am curious to know how the LGBT community feels about this, but I thought that this was such a big disappointment! Way to manage expectations, Bill Condon! And all that controversy is really for nothing. If he hadn’t brought it up, no one would have noticed, no one would would banned the movie or slapped age restrictions on it, and the movie would have been controversy-free and it’s box office potentially might have been better. Maybe that’s what you get when you’re exaggerate your attempt to champion LGBT issues. (Also, let me point out that the gay character was someone whose name literally means “the fool”, although this name suited the animated characters more so than his live-action counterpart. I did, however, think that the said live-action counterpart was a well-fleshed out character with good character moments, and I enjoyed his story arc.)
And before I end, I will end with some nitpicks about how Disney can’t ever get past its hand-wavy explanations. Despite having more explanations for character motivations in this movie, Disney does a poor job explaining the mechanics of the world. It still doesn’t answer where the prince’s parents are. Are they king and queen? If they’re dead, then why didn’t their son succeed the throne? Or is this like a principality, so the prince is the ruler? Does he rule over only this one village? Even if the villagers forgot their loved ones who lived in the castle, how come they don’t question why no one comes to collect taxes anymore? (Well, I suppose they were just not complaining!)
I will also note that this version went with the “frozen in time” interpretation of the curse. In the original, it’s difficult to know whether the characters were frozen in time or not. On one hand, the prince had till his 21st birthday to find love, which would imply not frozen in time (and -if Lumiere was not exaggerating about being cursed for 10 years- that the prince was 11 years old when cursed). However, unless Chip is older than 10 (and he definitely does not look it), then you must stop and ask where the hell he came from.
Like I said, as a movie, it was pretty good. Go watch it.