BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Review
Director: Bill Condon
Hey children, if you’re different from the rest, you better be beautiful. If you’re a literal monster, you better have a giant castle and lots of money. If you’re gay, then you better not be, because you might be burned at the stake—or whatever else people did to gay people in pre-industrial France. So, what moral lesson is director Bill Condon’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST trying to say? Themes of staying true to oneself and breaking from convention are lightly touched upon, but are ultimately masked by Disney’s uncanny ability to create beauty out of inherently troubling stories.
As the helmer of the last two films from THE TWILIGHT SAGA, Bill Condon is no stranger to blockbuster entertainment. While these films generally received poor critical reviews, they did well in the box office. Therefore, with previous critical acclaim for writing and directing films like OF GODS AND MONSTERS (1998) and CHICAGO (2002), Condon seems a safe choice to direct a big budget Disney film. After all, THE TWILIGHT SAGA relies on the same human and monster love story trope as the timeless animated classic Condon has tried to revamp. Condon capably directs the film to be a likeable visual treat, with genuine moments of heart and comedy, while never completely addressing the topics that the film introduces. Instead, the film only briefly touches upon important issues of sexism, homosexuality, and inner beauty.
As a remake, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is stuck in a strange traditional vs. progressive tug-of-war. The film has been in the news recently because of LeFou, who is the sidekick to the main villain Gaston, and also the first openly gay character in a Disney film. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that after watching the film, most children will be unaware of LeFou’s identity, simply thinking of him as “that funny, fat guy.” It isn’t necessary for LeFou to fall into a caricature of gay people to make a point, but rather be slightly more humanized. One may argue, “Well maybe it wasn’t common for gay people to come out back then?” Well, it also isn’t too common to see dancing pianos and tea kettles sing about wanting to being real people. So, with all the magic in the world of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Disney could’ve geared a little more towards making LeFou a touchstone for progressive characters in future Disney films. Disney loves to ride the LGBTQ PR train, but instead of being the conductor, they’re in the last car, peeking out from under the luggage.
“Throw a pink ribbon on him and make his hair real nice, that way he’ll be REAL gay.” – Disney, probably
With all that being said, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has frequent moments of genuine visual enchantment. The sets are intricate and brightly colored, the actors give solid performances, and the songs flow nicely between the tightly edited plot. Specifically, the “be our guest” scene has been revamped and laden with awe-inspiring visual flourishes. Now that visual effects are ultra-realistic and capable of doing almost anything, this scene makes a strong case for Disney remakes of older animated films, such as Kenneth Branagh’s CINDERELLA (2015). Emma Watson, who has become an icon for feminism through her humanitarian work and role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise, shines as Belle. It is hard not to like a female character that is empowered by education, kindness, and compassion, all of which Belle radiates.
At certain points, the film has a certain self-reflexive quality that allows for truly funny moments. I recall LeFou spelling out Gaston’s name in a song from the previous animated version, only to realize that he is illiterate. Once again, the film shows signs that Condon and Disney could’ve created a much more intelligent film for both kids and adults, along the lines of 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE. Generally, the film’s writing is straightforward; characters say what they think in a sort of “don’t trust the audience to infer anything” sort of way, and the film wraps up with a normal fairytale happily-ever-after ending. In the last line, there is a very strange moment that hints at something oddly kinky, but that’s for the audience to experience and infer.
Hint: there’s definitely some beast fetish stuff going on with Belle
Let’s face it, it’s hard not to fall under the Disney spell of spectacle and movie magic, but the source material and remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST deliver an inherently troubling message of beauty over substance. The audience is constantly reminded throughout the film that the inner-self is more important than the outer-self, that intellect trumps beauty, and depth is valued over flash. However, both the film and the fairytale source material reward an acknowledgement of this lesson with an ultimate, ironic beautifying of all that was unattractive, and all that was lost. The movie opens with the prince surrounded with beautiful things and people, but (surprise) is bookended with him dancing in the same beautiful situation. Has the film truly taught the audience to be happy with our inner-selves? Why is there always a need for happiness to be tied with conventional beauty? Disney appears to answer this question in the same way that flashy visual effects and musical numbers mask the real beast of the film: an inability to break from convention.
Despite all the credit that Disney has been getting for being progressive, don’t expect anything new this time around. This is a fun and flashy movie, but it doesn’t resolve the conflicts and morals that it introduces in a responsible way. Wait until this movie comes out online and watch it then if you’re curious, but don’t spend 10 dollars at the movies, when it’s better spent on something more meaningful.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend