Beauty and the Beast: Film Review

Image: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

I went in absolutely psyched for Beauty and the Beast. Everything I had seen in interviews had gotten me excited that I was going to see a feminist film littered with beautiful costumes (because you know they don’t have to be mutually exclusive), as well as the tying up of loose plot holes from the original film. To a certain extent that is what I got.

To start with the costumes were spectacular. Although, Belle’s dance sequence dress did not initially excite me, as the perils of being in love with cosplay meant that I have seen some truly beautiful original creations (see my previous article for an example), often which replaced the original yellow with gold. All these cosplays had led me to become kind of mutinous and wanting the dress to be in gold instead of the original yellow. With time though the dress grew on me, especially the beautiful gold embroidery details (though the bodice still annoys me, despite that I can see why they changed from the original-there is just something missing about it for me). The dress though does move beautifully, and is undoubtedly beautiful work from the designer Jacqueline Durran (famous for her work in Atonement and Pride and Prejudice), who worked with Emma, to make the dress feel like a cloud: “We wanted the dress to feel like it could float”.

Atonement Keira Knightley Green DressImage: Atonement/ Universal Studios/ Focus Features/ Studio Canal 

Belle Dancing gownImage: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Float it definitely did, and Emma Watson also definitely pulled off the dancing sequence, which was a complete shot by shot recreation of the original scene that was extremely satisfying if slightly a little bit of a weird nostalgia trip. In fact, the whole film felt like a bit of nostalgia trip, albeit with updated, more period emphasised costumes.

Belle’s costumes also came with a new practicality aspect. Much has been said on how she ditched the ballet slippers for boots, but her blue dress also had handy storage properties in the film (and again made we wish that more dresses would have pockets). Although, Belle does enjoy dressing up for the infamous dance sequence, she is also quick to discard the beautiful yellow dress when the action starts because lets face it a ball gown is not the most practical of items.

Belle leaving her houseImage: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Belle Beast Library Image: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Like her wardrobe choices, Emma Watson’s Belle starts the film very active, though a little bit dismissive of her entire village (who however do generally mock her and won’t let her teacher a young girl to read) because she seeks, “adventure in the great wide somewhere”. She does get an adventure, of sorts (more on that later). We also see her attempt to escape from the Beast’s castle, even before the infamous wolf sequence. We see her shout back to the Beast, and call him out for keeping her hostage (and how messed up that is). She never hides her true feelings for him, or lets him get away with anything.

In comparison, they make the Beast a little bit less active, as for example they tone down  the aggression and violence of the Beast in the West Wing from the original film (which, quite frankly terrified me as a child), and give him a mournful song to sing (‘Evermore’) when Belle goes to rescue her father (letting the lead male be the lovesick character in a refreshing twist).

The BeastImage: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

There were still issues with the film though. I still feel like we did not have enough time actually getting to see the Beast and Belle’s romance, as although there were scenes added that were not in the original film; these focused more on telling us about Belle’s mother, and how the two connect over this (they give the Beast a backstory that sadly involves the death of his mother too). The two also seem to get on well because they are both so different from everyone else. The romantic idea of the only guy that ‘gets’ you is something that appealed to me in my teenage years I have to admit. However, now it’s kind of lost its appeal a little because of the way it isolates characters from the other people that care about them. Also, although few and far between there were people Belle connected with in her, “poor provincial town”. For example, what about the man who gives Belle the books in the local church?

Belle and the Beast’s romance was not the only possible romantic entanglement issue in the film. When I  first heard that Le Fou would be Disney’s first gay character I had a few concerns. Firstly, in the original film Le Fou is literally ‘the fool’, he is supposed to be the joke, and understandably, a lot of people, myself included, didn’t want Disney’s first gay character to be a comedic one.

Don’t get me wrong Le Fou is still a comic character in this film but it is made clear that he is ‘in’ on the joke. From the start when we first see Gaston and Le Fou interact he helps fill in the gaps of Gaston’s knowledge, making the part in the ‘Gaston’ song where he says he can’t spell Gaston’s name because he’s illiteriate still funny, if not a bit confusing considering the earlier knowledge he shows.

This Le Fou also has a moral compass. Unlike, Gaston he is not happy with what happens to Belle’s father (leaving him to die, and then convincing the whole town he is mad), and eventually turns on Gaston when abandoned by him in the battle at the Beast’s castle.

So at this point in the film I was happy with the character. There were a couple coded, and not so coded references that Le Fou is in love with Gaston and that he might prefer male to female company, for example, Gaston asking him why he isn’t married yet, and his winking at other guys during the ‘Gaston’ song, as well as the almost steamy massage he gives to Gaston. Which could have been fine if Disney made up for it in the end by very obviously stating that Le Fou is gay. Instead, we have a moment, albeit slightly longer than the Sulu Star Trek Beyond moment where we see him happy when he ends up dancing with a male partner. The same male partner who when transformed by the wardrobe expresses delight at being dressed in women’s clothing. Mind you there is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with him and Le Fou being romantic, it just for me fulfilled too many clichés that the gay character has to be effeminate in some way shape or form.

Le Fou Image: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

When speaking of Le Fou you have to mention Gaston, and it was actually Luke Evan’s Gaston who unashamedly carried the film. He was for one my favourite male singing voice in the film, or as my boyfriend put it: “He’s got pipes”. Gaston’s costume was also beautifully designed (and made me want my boyfriend to cosplay as him, even though he bares more a resemblance to Prince Adam, who is literally the only Disney prince he looks remotely like).

April and MartinPlease ignore the fuzziness (it’s one of the few decent picture of us together). Also, you can’t see it in the photograph but he has long dark blonde hair like Prince Adam. Image: April Wilson

At first I did almost feel a little bit sorry for Gaston (I think Luke Evans has too sympathetic a face), but he quickly turned that round as its slowly revealed how horrible Gaston is and basically stole the show.

GastonImage: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

While, Le Fou may not have been the landmark gay character we hoped for in Disney, it was lovely (if not long overdue) to see Disney’s first interracial kiss between Lumieré (Ewan McGregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), showing that Beauty and the Beast got some of its romantic elements spot on.

Speaking of romance let’s go back to the central romance between Belle and the Beast, and the discussions of Stockholm Syndrome that plague it. I actually wrote an article about this before seeing the film regarding Emma Watson’s reactions, and I would say most of what she said is true (though like I mentioned there needed to be more of a build up to their romance). I think also the one thing people miss in these discussions is that yes the Beast starts off being morally suspect but he grows and changes because of Belle (in the end I would say he is not the villain). After all, he lets her go, though I hope Belle would have escaped either way to help her father. If he stayed a ‘Beast’, which the film in the final scenes with Gaston makes it very clear he does not that would be different, but we are supposed to believe the Beast has changed. Though, like I wrote in the article I linked to I am not saying we should dismiss the Stockholm Syndrome question completely, though I feel like the discussion could have been further helped with the ending not being what it was. Ending in the castle made it feel like what she wanted was not to escape where she was because of the people but to be somewhere more opulent and classy. It makes it seem like she cared more about being ‘poor’ rather than being trapped in a patriarchal society. Though you could argue the changing attitudes of the town’s people could be the main factor why the scene is shown to be happy, as her reason for wanting to be free is mostly shown to be her need to escape close minded attitudes (attitudes that in the ending have become more open).

Something there Belle BeastImage: Beauty and the Beast/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

However, I feel my main issue with the film could have been resolved if instead of ending with what I am assuming was the wedding between the two (I mean there was a lot of white for it not to be a wedding); if the film ended still showing the wedding but then showed Belle and Adam then leave to go travelling, or maybe seeing them in Paris. Otherwise, it feels like Belle escaped marrying Gaston, only to end up being someone else’s wife, though admittedly someone who wouldn’t (anymore) leave her father to die in the cold.

Despite this criticism I did walk out the film bewitched with elements of the film, especially the stunning visuals, as well as the way in which the film depicted the petals falling off the rose, and the way in which this affected everyone enchanted by the curse. I loved the detail of showing that they were slowly becoming less and less human, like the beast (making the artistic choice for the Beast to sound more and more human throughout the song ‘Evermore’ even more compelling), and that more sympathy was given to the characters trapped by the curse with the Beast. Though, I was a little sad when I realised that they cut the ‘Human Again’ song from the film.

Beauty and the Beast is overall a step in the right direction for Disney but I am at the point now when baby steps are not good enough, especially when films like Moana and Brave exist, which show there can be more to Disney women than just romance. I’m not saying we can’t have romance though (I love a good love story as much as the next person), but if we are going to have romance, can we not just #GiveElsaaGirlfriend already?

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