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. However, 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, which often replaced the original yellow with gold (see this post of mine for an example). All of these cosplays had led me to become kind of mutinous, 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. (Yet the bodice still annoys me. Even though 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 gorgeous work from 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.”
Float it definitely did, and Emma Watson also definitely pulled off the dancing sequence. The sequence was a complete shot by shot recreation of the original scene, which was extremely satisfying if slightly a little bit of a weird, nostalgia trip. In fact, the whole film felt like a bit of a nostalgia trip, albeit with updated, more period-emphasized 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, let’s face it, a ball gown is not the most practical of items.
Like her wardrobe choices, Emma Watson’s Belle starts the film very active, though a little bit dismissive of her entire village (who generally mock her and won’t let her teach a young girl to read) because she seeks “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” We also see her attempt to escape from the Beast’s castle, even before the famous 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 and never lets him get away with anything.
In comparison, they make the Beast a little bit less active. 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 they 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).
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. 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 — as 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 has kind of lost its appeal because of the way it isolates characters from the other people who care about them. Although few and far between, there were people whom 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 LeFou would be Disney’s first gay character, I had a few concerns. Firstly, in the original film, LeFou is literally “the fool.” He is supposed to be the joke, and a lot of people, myself included, didn’t want Disney’s first gay character to be a comedic one.
Don’t get me wrong; LeFou is still a comical 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 LeFou interact, he helps fill in the gaps of Gaston’s knowledge — making the part in the song “Gaston” where he says he can’t spell Gaston’s name because he’s illiterate still funny if not a bit confusing considering the earlier knowledge he shows.
This LeFou also has a moral compass. Unlike Gaston, he is not happy with the events that happen to Belle’s father (leaving him to die and then convincing the whole town that he is mad), and LeFou eventually turns on Gaston when he’s abandoned by him during the battle at the Beast’s castle.
So, at this point in the film, I was happy with the character. There were a couple of coded and not so coded references that LeFou is in love with Gaston and that he might prefer male company — such as when Gaston asks him why he isn’t married yet, when LeFou winks at other guys during the “Gaston” song, and when LeFou almost gives a steamy massage to Gaston. This could have been fine if Disney had made up for it in the end by very obviously stating that LeFou is gay. Instead, we have a moment, albeit slightly longer than the Sulu Star Trek Beyond moment, where we see LeFou happy when he ends up dancing with a male partner. This partner is the same man who expressed delight at being dressed in women’s clothing when transformed by the wardrobe. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing wrong with him and LeFou being romantic; but, for me, it just fulfilled too many clichés that the gay character has to be effeminate in some way, shape, or form.
When speaking of LeFou, you have to mention Gaston, and it was actually Luke Evan’s Gaston who unashamedly carried the film. He was one my favorite male singing voices in the film. Or, as my boyfriend put it: “He’s got pipes.” Gaston’s costume was also beautifully designed. (And it 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.)
At first I almost felt a bit sorry for Gaston (I think Luke Evans has too sympathetic a face), but he quickly turned that around as it’s slowly revealed how horrible Gaston is. He basically stole the show.
While LeFou 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 Lumière (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. Before I saw the film, I actually wrote an article about Emma Watson’s reactions regarding this topic, and I would say that most of what she said is true. (Although, as I already mentioned, there needed to be more of a build up to their romance.) I believe that 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 does let her go — though I hope Belle would have escaped either way to help her father. Even if he had stayed a “Beast,” we are supposed to believe that he has changed.
Like I wrote in my previous article, I am not saying that we should dismiss the Stockholm syndrome question completely. However, I feel like the discussion could have been further helped with the ending not being what it was. The ending in the castle made it feel like what she had 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. Although you could argue that the changing attitudes of the townspeople 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 end have become more open).
I believe my main issue with the film could have been resolved if, instead of ending with what I am assuming was their wedding (I mean, there was a lot of white for it not to be a wedding), the film had ended with Belle and Adam leaving to go travelling after the wedding or maybe being in Paris. Otherwise, it feels like Belle escaped marrying Gaston only to end up being someone else’s wife, though admittedly she marries someone who wouldn’t (anymore) leave her father to die in the cold.
Despite this criticism, I did walk out of the theater bewitched by elements of the film, especially the stunning visuals, the depiction of the petals falling off the rose, and the way in which the falling petals affected everyone enchanted by the curse. I loved the detail of showing how they were slowly becoming less and less human, giving more sympathy to the characters who are trapped by the curse along with the Beast. This also made the artistic choice for the Beast to sound more and more human throughout the song “Evermore” even more compelling. I was a little sad, though, when I realized that they cut the song “Human Again” from the film.
Beauty and the Beast is overall a step in the right direction for Disney, but I am at the point now where baby steps are not good enough, especially when films like Moana and Brave exist that show there can be more to Disney women than just romance. I’m not saying we can’t have romance. 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?