movies: beauty and the beast

beauty and the beast - experience the tale as old as time
Whenever Disney announce another one of these live action remakes, I tend to roll my eyes and think "does anybody actually need this movie?"... to which the answer is generally "no they do not". And my reaction to the announcement of a Beauty and the Beast remake was much the same.

I will admit that I haven't seen the last three remakes, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Pete's Dragon, having been incredibly disappointed in both Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent.

But then it was announced that Emma Watson had signed to play Belle and I started to warm up to the whole idea.

Now having seen the movie, what they've done is augment the original story and fix the plot holes that fans have been pointing out since the movie came out.

They manage to explain the curse a little more clearly (and show in a much more direct way that the prince was all kinds of awful), and the fact that not just the people but the castle itself is enchanted and has... agency, I guess would be the right word. They also clear up the "but that means the prince would have been 11 when he was cursed" and "why don't the villagers remember the castle" problems. There's also more backstory all around... from Maurice and Belle to Gaston to the Beast himself.

All of the new music included in this version is by the original composer, Alan Menken, although the new songs lyrics are by Aladdin and Lion King lyricist Tim Rice rather than the late Howard Ashman.

I did kind of miss the "Human Again" number from the special edition of the animated movie though... granted I've only recently discovered it.

The cast is all excellent... Watson and Dan Stevens who plays the Beast especially... although Stevens does suffer from the same problem as the animated Beast... by the time he transforms you kind of think "oh, is that it... can he be the Beast again now?". In fact Belle has a cute line in the last scene that deals with that exact issue. Watson already has a persona very like Belle, so her casting makes complete sense and gives the character something of a leg-up in that regard. Also, the character is much less passive in many of her scenes.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad have a somewhat more complex relationship as Gaston and LeFou respectively and are understandably less slapstick and cartoonish than their animated counterparts.

There's been a lot of unnecessary noise made about Gad's LeFou being "the first out gay character in a Disney movie". Frankly I found Gad's performance a little insulting and a throwback to a particular kind of movie homosexual character, who is played exclusively for laughs instead of just being presented as a character in his own right. It feels very dated and old. I don't mind that he's the villain's sidekick, but that's really the least problematic part of his portrayal.

I'm going to get a tiny bit spoilery for a second...

A lot of the "gay references" happen during the Gaston song, where Gad plays him as what feels like an overly camp stereotype at times but mostly as LeFou just being a little too invested when it comes to Gaston. Then there's the end sequence has that has LeFou's dancing partner replaced for all of five seconds by a man. A man who was shown earlier being "dressed" in women's clothing by the wardrobe in the castle and clearly liking the experience (because, yes, an appropriate way to show that a man is a homosexual is to show that he likes dressing up in women's clothing... which is sarcasm by the way).

But instead of having the two of them just dancing with each other during the sequence (which is what I had assumed happened), LeFou is shown dancing with a woman and then the man cuts in... and then they're not shown again together that I could see.

So, not only is the whole thing a storm in a teacup (pun at your discretion) but if this is how Disney portrays the first "gay man" in their universe, I'll stick with Mitch in ParaNorman (which was released in 2012) as a much less offensive offering or Gobber in How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) for it's subtlety thank you very much.

And the quotes are very much in evidence in that sentence, because other than what the actor and director may have said after the fact, there's nothing concrete in the movie to confirm or deny LeFou's sexuality. All the talk just seemed like drumming up press to be honest. This is definitely one of those instances where everyone involved should have just shut up about the whole situation and let people discover it or not on their own terms.

Anyway, rant over.

The production design is amazing... and they've really embedded the movie in France in a way that the animated version didn't. I will say that the fact that they portrayed Lumière as essentially a little metal man who happens to also be a candelabra was probably my least favourite design. It was beautifully done, it just seemed too easy.

But otherwise it was beautiful.

It very much feels like an expansion of the original movie's universe rather than some slick and too smart for it's own good retelling of the original story, which I appreciate.

yani's rating: 4 enchanted roses out of 5

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