“Beauty and the Beast”: Something Old and Something New

Cheyenne Dorsagno, Editor-in-Chief |

The 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast” has the perfect balance of modernization and nostalgia. The original version is one of three animated movies that have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, so these are big shoes to fill.

Before heading over to Southside Cinema, SUNY Oneonta alumnus Victoria O’Brien gave her reasons for seeing the movie: “‘Beauty and the Beast’ is my favorite Disney movie and Belle is my favorite princess. She is intelligent and she finds the best in people. I’m hoping that [the remake] captures the moment when the Beast softens towards Belle.”

This rendition of the tale was visually stunning, with intricate costumes and sceneries that clearly took inspiration from the time in which it is set: eighteenth century France. On that topic, there has been an ongoing debate among movie lovers about whether or not movies should be historically accurate. The remake featured many black characters, seemingly treated as equals to the whites, despite the fact that black people were enslaved in France during the time period of the movie. Taking the racial dynamic into account would have entirely changed the focus of the movie, but all-white casts are all too common, especially in kids’ movies. If the film were a historical drama that implied or claimed accuracy while undermining the reality of racism, then that would be egregious. However, we’re talking about a fairytale and viewers should be able to easily extend their suspension of disbelief from an enchanted water buffalo to freed black people in eighteenth century France. It is really important for children to see themselves represented in the heroes and heroines that the media conditions them to admire. Kids will learn about the history of racial dynamics in school, and if they don’t, then this movie isn’t their biggest problem.

Fortunately, the film does address prejudice in some vein through Belle’s feminist qualities. Some people felt that the remake was trying to push that agenda too far, but whoever says that clearly has not seen or, at least, does not understand the original movie. The “new” and “old” Belles are largely the same; neither want to be a prized “little wife” but instead want to marry for love, both are incredibly intelligent, both value inner beauty, and both bravely take on their obstacles. The only explicit feminist additions include an older unmarried woman labeled as a spinster (who turns out to be the Enchantress), Belle as an inventor rather than just a reader, and the implication that LeFou is a gay man, which are all far from radical. The question of LeFou’s sexuality arises in the original as well, especially during LeFou’s touchy and flattering musical ode to Gaston.

As aforementioned, representation is extremely important for children to feel accepted in their society. Some parents are concerned that knowing of gay people or admiring gay characters may, in turn, make their children gay (never-mind bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome). Aside from the fact that the forced equivalence between homosexuality and flaw is insulting to gay people and conditionally-loved children everywhere, sexuality does not work that way. Even the most closeted, bigoted people can turn out gay. And these same people that complain about LeFou are likely the same people that would undermine the level of inequality towards gay people in America, but we are supposed to shelter children from this victimless fact of life and use the cinematic universe to pretend that gay people do not exist? Hard pass. Once again: It’s a love story between a woman and an enchanted water buffalo. The very message of the film is that love has no bounds.

Regardless, the praise Disney received for their first “openly gay” character was over exaggerated. This move was definitely a step in the right direction, but LeFou is not explicitly gay. According to Vulture, Luke Evans, who plays Gaston, does not even interpret LeFou as a homosexual character. Furthermore, LeFou refers to some ex-girlfriends in the remake, only further muddying the waters (although, bisexuals do exist as well). The only new inference that LeFou is gay is the three seconds at the film’s end when he ballroom dances with another man, who earlier in the film is seen happily wearing makeup and a dress. Unless children are very attentive and already aware of gay people, they will likely not even pick up on the implication. The hyperbolic hype only left me disappointed.

Some other cons of the movie include a few new songs, two of which were completely throw away. Luckily, all of the original songs are in the remake, which is 90% of the nostalgic appeal, albeit a line is changed here and there. And one of the new songs was somewhat charming. This one, although not nearly as catchy as any of the originals, was an interesting addition because it’s a solo from the Beast explaining that his life will be forever bettered by loving Belle, even if she never comes back to him after he sets her free. Soon after, he fights Gaston and asserts “I am not a beast,” and Belle seems to avoid calling him a beast as she begins falling in love with him, unlike in the original. There was also plenty of funny scenes, such as when Maurice comes upon a talking teacup who says “I’m sorry. Mama said I’m not supposed to talk because it might scare people.” Maurice assures Chip that “it’s okay” before abruptly running away.

After seeing the movie, O’Brien said, “I liked that it captured the magic of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ For those two hours, I was reliving a wonderful masterpiece.”

“Beauty and the Beast” was my first favorite movie, so I’m too biased to imagine how the remake would have been received as a stand alone, but fortunately, I’ll never know.

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