Beauty and the Beast Review: A New Take on a Tale as Old as Time

by Concetta Ciarlo

For once it might be grand, to have someone understand: we need more strong female characters represented in film and on television. The new live-action Beauty and The Beast does just that, starring Emma Watson’s Belle as an even more determined, fearless, empowered, and practically dressed, version than the original.

Who better than Emma Watson to bring to life Belle’s dreamy far off look, and nose stuck in a book? She has been inspiring girls (including myself) from the first moment she appeared on screen in as the brightest witch of her age, Hermione Granger, in 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

As a child in the late 90’s, my Beauty and the Beast VHS was always at the ready, just waiting to be rewound and watched over and over. As a true enthusiast, I wore my Belle costume several years in a row on Halloween, and to my delight, my dad rented a surprisingly authentic Beast costume to compliment my look.

2017’s Beauty and the Beast is an effervescent retelling of the 1991 Disney animation that waltzed into hearts of countless millennials. Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. The cast also includes Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson. The movie has dominated the box office since the release this past Friday, earning 63 million on opening night and a projected record-breaking weekend well over $170 million.

The struggle for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial equality are a tale as old as time. Beyond the visual splendor of gorgeous set design, detailed CGI, and stunning costumes, the movie also manages to tackle important issues at the forefront of society and politics today.

Belle is truly a feminist ahead of her time. The 2017 version takes a closer look at the villager’s hostility towards Belle and her intellect. In this rendition, Belle is the inventor, who takes after her beloved and supportive father Maurice’s knack for tinkering. Belle creates the first washing machine, which is why she has so much free time to spend reading. She is the only literate woman in her village, whereas the other women only cook and wash clothing. Much like modern times, the villagers attempt to break Belle’s spirit, strip her of her individuality, and shape her into another version of herself that they deem acceptable.

These pro-feminist changes almost make you forget that you’re watching a girl fall in love with her beastly captor, after utilizing her compassion to help transform him back into a devastatingly handsome prince. Sorry ladies and gents with bad boyfriends, unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen in real life.

Diversity is another important shift from the original white-washed animated movie, portraying interracial relationships between the cursed furniture which were once human. Lumiere (Ewan Mcgregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a new couple. Garderobe (who was briefly shown in the original as”Wardrobe”) is played by 6-time Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald, and her harpsichord love Cadenza, depicted by Stanley Tucci.

Though met with much controversy, Lefou (played by Josh Gad), AKA Gaston’s right-hand man, is apparently Disney’s first openly gay character. However, Lefou’s character portrays that of someone who is still confused about his sexual identity, rather than identifying as openly gay. The hilarious Lefou harbors feelings of love and admiration for his best friend, that go beyond the general definition of bromance, shown only through subtle hints.

What exactly happens in this overly hyped “exclusively gay moment,” as described by director Bill Condon? LeFou happily dances with another man for roughly two seconds during the final ballroom scene, while everyone is switching partners. This incredibly anti-climactic moment is perfectly normal and so fleeting that you might miss it if you blink.

Yet, this is the same scene that erupted a firestorm of bigoted backlash from Malaysian theaters demanding censorship and boycott from a drive-in theater in Alabama. It would be far more groundbreaking for Disney to include a character, who is truly openly gay, not a villain, and whose sexuality isn’t passed off as a form of comic relief.

Other plotline changes include background on Belle’s mother, a brief look into  Beast’s childhood, more airtime for the Enchantress who cast the curse, and three brand new songs — including, “Days In the Sun,” and a solo “For Evermore” by Beast.

Despite said controversies, Beauty and The Beast pulls on every nostalgic heartstring. After all, Beauty and the Beast is so much more than a fairytale romance: it’s a lesson in all forms of love, selflessness, individuality, compassion, and not judging others by their appearance. Most importantly, the hero of this tale is a woman, who saves the prince, rather than stereotype that proliferated in all previous Disney movies where a heroic prince saved the princess.

Cassandra Gagnon