Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (henceforth BATB) took great lengths to amend the gaps in character development and storylines that have plagued my generation since childhood. For the first time, a live-action adaptation of a classic kept the magic alive (compared to the horrible Cinderella and Maleficent movies). But with all the glamor, music, and magic, the truth is, Disney cannot fix it all.
What was wrong with the original?
Based on the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve story, later translated [here] by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Disney transformed the tale about keeping a promise and keeping-your-envious-sisters-away into a whirlwind of awesome songs BUT…
- An 11-year-old boy (underage!) being punished for being “spoiled, selfish, and unkind” (original Prologue), and for turning down a hag’s plea for “shelter from the bitter cold”. Unfairly gets a life imprisonment sentence as a Beast, of which the only chance for freedom is to love and be loved, with a Magical Rose as a timeline. That goes on for 10 years (original Be Our Guest, lines of “10 years we’ve been resting, needing so much more than dusting”).
- A well-read young woman who looks for adventure, but eventually gets Stockholm Syndrome.
- Belle, who is supposed to be clever, never pursued the question enough about the magical spell that bound the castle. Her curiosity went as far only as entering the West Wing, and almost, really almost, destroying the Rose by removing the glass cover and attempting to touch it. After she gets shouted on, runs away, threatened by wolves, and gets rescued, she brings back Beast to the castle, and never revisited the topic of the spell anymore.
- Magical kitchenware and furniture whose dedication as slaves of the Prince was never explained. We always just assumed that they just wanted to become Human Again, as per the extended version of the animated BATB.
- A town who never cared about the disappearance of a young prince. We assume the distance between the town and the castle is not too far, if Philippe, the horse, can make the trip back and forth from leaving Maurice behind during the wolf chase, to going to Belle (at end of Belle Reprise), to going back to the castle again with Belle. Townspeople were indeed simple and stupid; Belle got that right.
- The prince in the animated BATB was illiterate, and Belle ended up teaching him how to read, as per the extended version. That is the original reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in BATB.
For a more fun way of looking at the gaps of the animated BATB classic, watch this from Honest Trailers:
What made the live-action BATB wonderful?
Quite a great many:
- Beast finally gets character development.
My immediate, wholehearted answer to what made BATB wonderful is this:
This is the most insightful, layered intervention in the live-action. Beast became a multi-dimensional character with an actual heroic transformation:
- He was a child who loved and lost his mother (Days in the Sun).
- His father was an a**hole who made him “just like him” (ref #1: the painting with his father and the boy both having claw marks, but none for the mother; ref #2: dialogue of Mrs. Potts). “Just like him” means being addicted to parties, taxing the village for his lavishness, and I assume practically everything else that contributed to the people’s hatred of the monarchs that eventually led to the French Revolution. (Main Title: Part 1)
- He is witty, funny, well-read but can’t read Greek, and just miserable because he is a beast. He apologizes to his staff for dragging them into the Spell. He empathizes; he actually cared for his people. That’s a stark difference from the animated Beast who simply ordered them around.
Simply put, the Beast in the live-action is more of a prince, compared to the animated BATB’s dog. The animated Beast was, if you think about it, a big angry pet, whose temper and preferences revolved around Belle. But in the live-action, Beast was a prince, through and through. He was good, then he was bad, then he was miserable, but never did he stop being the man whose core character conflict was despair.
That made the bestiality of the animated BATB less of an issue. Before, Belle was in love with a pet. Here, Belle fell in love with a friend, who just happens to be a beast. (We’ll get back to this more in #2).
Let me close this one by saying, Evermore is the best song I’ve heard from Disney in ages. (Okay it’s been on loop in my Spotify for four days already; NO SHAME.) Sure, we all had Let It Go (and nope, Moana doesn’t even belong this tier of top Disney productions even if its songs are written by Lin Manuel Miranda). But Evermore has depth and the magnificence that merits a place on stage, and its own Oscar.
And that scene, wherein Beast kept on climbing the Tower to catch the last glimpse of her. Heartbreaking, to say the least. There was vulnerability and strength and sadness and resolve that went perfectly synced in Beast’s character, and he will always be a Prince in the Disney Universe from that Evermore point, forevermore.
- Belle knew about the Spell all along, and formed her relationships around the knowledge that this was a group of people who are about to die and disappear soon.
Disney mitigated the bestiality, and to be fair, it tried to do something about the Stockholm Syndrome.
The fact that Belle was informed about the Spell, except the part wherein she was the solution (because you can’t force love) is a great narrative tweak. When she returned with the wounded Beast from the wolves, and learning more about the Spell and his back story, Belle transformed her role from being an entertained prisoner, to a humanitarian. (Well, they weren’t humans, but she knew they were.) She was stuck with them, but she’s making the most of it because this is a group of people who are about to die very soon. She did what she could to bring joy, to learn about their lives, and to just be with them til the end.
There was a line about hope that I don’t remember enough to quote. But Belle mentioned about hope among them who are damned by the Spell. She, of course, did not realize that she was this hope, but she felt it. That level of empathy was absent from the animated Belle. She was a friend to them; she was a friend to Beast, and so was Beast to her.
Sure she was prisoner all along, but when they went to the “Paris of her childhood” (How Does a Moment Last Forever), Belle said to Beast at the midst of the revelation, “Let’s go home”, to which Beast responded with a quaint but honest smile. She called the castle her home. She made that journey into her personal history with Beast. A journey that personal, undertaken with another person, makes that person more than just an acquaintance. Sharing something that vulnerable with somebody else, makes that somebody a part of you.
So when Belle cries towards the end when Beast was shot multiple times and dying, she was not crying because she was losing a pet. She was losing the only person who ever shared anything personal with her.
I was half-hoping that she did not have to say “I love you” for the spell to be broken, because I am not convinced that what they shared was eros, romantic love. It was the kind of love that you share with someone who has been selfless in sharing himself to you. I thought she would not have to say the words, with the mere fact that the Enchantress was there (I got that Agatha was the hag when she was explicitly called a ‘hag’ by Gaston; COME ON.) But Belle said the words anyway; which might be fair at that point when your only friend is about to die. But still, I was hoping she really did not have to say the words to break the spell. But oh well.
That said, sure the Stockholm Syndrome element is still there. But in this film, there’s something there that wasn’t there before.
- The Enchantress was not that vindictive anymore.
The Enchantress of the old BATB was a b*tch. She punished a little boy for turning her away on a winter’s night. But the Enchantress here had a better guiding hand in the turn-out of events:
- It makes you think that she stayed with the village because the village itself was cursed too. This was referenced early in Belle when a guy (I think that was Mr. Potts), said he kept on forgetting something. And she watched Belle grow in the village, which also makes you think if she also chose Belle to give Beast a chance.
- Come on, Agatha saved Maurice.
And here in the live-action BATB, the Enchantress was there when Beast died. AND THIS IS COOL THIS WAY: That in this film, Belle said “I love you” AFTER the last petal fell. (In the animated version, Belle makes the “I love you” right before the last petal fell). They all turned into furniture; the Spell actually happened. But the Enchantress saw Belle’s despair about Beast’s passing. And I can imagine the Enchantress thinking, “Fine, this counts. Y’all did well. Let’s fix this sh*t.”
And she did.
BUT THE MOVIE CAN’T BE THAT PERFECT.
Despite the character development, story arcs, good songs, and a lot of wonderful gay moments, I cannot fathom why Disney had to reimagine Gaston that way. PTSD?!?! Why???
So he has an obsession with Belle because it makes him feel like being in the war again, having a target to win. So he has murderous tendencies because he cannot control his urges from the war. So he storms the castle to kill Beast because it makes him feel like he is in the war again. This is NOT FAIR to Gaston’s character.
Gaston, despite him being a stupid, illiterate, misogynistic a**hole in the animated BATB, was quite lovable. This Gaston was psychotic. He was not really the “town’s guy” because Le Fou had to pay off people at the bar to help cheer Gaston up. For all intents and purposes, Gaston may be the one who needs help the most. Not Beast; not Belle. Gaston was the one who needed saving, but never got the chance to be saved.
Of all the back stories that can be conjured for Gaston, PTSD was what they chose. It’s an unjust, narrative cheat. I don’t feel like that’s also fair to everyone else actually suffering from PTSD.
That said, BATB raises the standard of remakes of classics, on how to keep the magic alive, and build a greater narrative for a new generation to hold onto.
As for me, I think I’ll be stuck with the soundtrack for another year. NO SHAME.