So I saw that movie everyone is talking about, and I have some thought things, hence this, which will be a bit off the cuff. Not a formal review or essay pre se, but a personal expression of personal thoughts. If this sounds fine to you, keep on reading, if not, then bye! Have a nice day.
First off, some establishing information. I have no emtional connection to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I simply don’t. I was born way after it was released and I never ended up seeing it until a few days ago, as of this writing, and even then it was part of research for a column that will end up in my school’s newspaper, The Hawkeye. So none of this is filtered through nostalgia goggles. In fact I outright loathe the kind of corporate branded mass market nostalgia that the 2017 Beauty and the Beast represents. Which should also tell you I went into this with some level of preconceived ideas, but everybody does that for every movie and this for this specific movie preconceived ideas were a selling point. This is just to let you know where I’m coming from so you can dismiss me as you wish. Now, with out futher ado:
That Gay Thing
This is what my Hawkeye article is actually about, so I’ll try not to spend too much time on it, but it is the big thing leading up into the release. I won’t get into giving what is apprently Disney’s first official gay role to a straight actor while an actually gay actor plays a character that almost embodies toxic heteronormative masculinity (Which isn’t to say actors can’t portray characters with a different sexual identity then their own, but that’s a whole other discussion) nor will I get into the fact that Bill Condon’s quote that started this whole kerfuffle was given to a gay focused magazine, while his walking back of the quote came from a non gay focused media outlet (although, to be totally fair, press tours and targeted marketing are a thing and it’s not the biggest deal at all, but it’s funny, all things considered). What I will get into is the movie itself and how it treats LeFou because he’s gay.
At least I think so? I’ve heard that LeFou being gay is no suprise, that he’s always been gay, but honestly in the orginal, I didn’t see it. At all. If anything LeFou acted like what Jocelyn of Bob’s Burgers parodies, a weaker personality trapped in the orbit of a much stronger personality that they feel dependent on. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, however, we have actual subtext. And also 3 seconds of formal dancing between LeFou and a nameless extra. But that subtext, it’s heavy on the sub. Expect I swear I heard Josh Gad slip into a lisp for one line. I warned you this had little structure. But more importantly, this subtext forms a subplot of LeFou actually coming to reject Gaston in the climax of the film. Which, unlike most of the other changes in this movie, is actually ok. Hell it’s even essential if you’re going to make LeFou gay, which you shouldn’t have done in the first place because holy hell Disney your first canon gay character the comic relief and henchman literally fucking named “The Fool”? But fine, good on Bill Condon and Disney for at least not putting gasoline on the trash fire they started. I doubt the single cup of water did much good to put it out, but you did that much! Even with that much needed change, though, we still got almost two hours of a gay man being a henchman to an amoral straight douche he has no chance with out of affection, and that’s a joke 30 Rock and The Simpsons have done better. Then there’s still the fact that LeFou is comic relief, hell, that’s being generous, he’s s joke. Haha, look at the idiot so devoid of will and personality he becomes a tool of another person! Isn’t that so funny?
But the worst part of this whole kerfuffle is that there’s actually a plot in Beauty and the Beast that actually lends itself to a queer reading: the main plot. No really, I’m totally serious, the story about bestiality lends itself more to queer themes than the guy who follows around a much more masculine guy for affection and just let me explain before you light up the torches and shove a pitchfork into me. So obviously equating homosexuality with bestiality is horrible and disgusting and awful and untrue, but the Beast is technically a human and it’s not like Belle fell in love just with that form of him or they even banged and we’re dealing with metaphor and fairy tales and my main point is Disney. In the 1991 movie, the climax is kicked off by the physical embodiment of toxic heteronormative masculinity creating a mob in reaction to a love he doesn’t understand so that he might possess the free spirited, free thinking woman. Now what’s so radical about having said woman fallen in love with a princess turned beast? Esspically in 20 mother fucking 17. Japan, fucking Japan, just aired an interracial gay engagement, and yes, of fucking course Yuri on Ice was going to be mentioned. Moonlight won best picture beating out the movie practically designed to win best picture. The Disney owned ABC just finished up a miniseries on gay history. I’m not saying you make a profound statement by making Beauty and the Beast into a lesbian romance, but you at least give it a reason to exist and make it interesting. I don’t want to repeat myself too much because this is what I spent a whole newspaper article talking about, but fucking christ, it’s 20 goddamn 17, there’s no more fucking excuses Disney. We don’t deserve scraps, we don’t need to be slowly introduced to stuff, you can afford controversy, and I refuse to pat you on the back for doing the least amount of work when I know you can do better. I hate that I contributed to your opening weekend because it’ll encourage you to keep at this, but know that I demand better, Disney. It’s 2017 for Christ’s sake!
With that out of the way, where most of complaints are ended up being, weirdly enough. I was kinda surprised by just how well the orginal movie was. It really doesn’t need to be added to, it works great by itself. But we can’t have that, no! We’re making a big, expensive, live action movie and we need to create the feeling that we’re adding on to the orginal even as we painstakingly make an almost shot for shot remake. So we need to change some things, and try adding “depth” to people and answer some nitpicks and do other dumb things that just don’t work.
Let’s start with the most spoiler-tastic one: The Enchantress. So in the 1991 version, there’s this nice little stained glass prologue that sets everything up. This is the only time the Enchantress is mentioned because she’s a tool to get the ball rolling. She gives us the ticking clock that is the rose, provides the explanation as to why the Beast and staff are in their current state, and then leaves the narrative she was never actually in, her purpose fulfilled. In the 2017 version, however, she’s more active. She saves Belle’s father, heals him, and then towards the end kills the theme. This is why I hate her. See, in the 1991 version, the Beast et al. are saved and the spell broken because Belle confesses her love to the Beast. She does the same in the 2017 version, but there’s also this cruel and bad and emtionally manuplitive fake out death scene where we see all the staff gradually turn into totally inanimate objects losing all their humanity, and we see them all in effect die because the last petal fell and the petals also effected the staff’s humanity and caused the castle to collapse at times because fuck if I know. But anyway, all is lost even as Belle confesses her love, but thankfully the Enchantress is there and just brings the rose back to life and then undoes everything she did because she was there or something. And really it just kills the theme. It’s not the incredible power of (admittedly straight, romantic) love that saves everyone, it’s some old lady cleaning up her own mess after everything blew up. I’ll take kiss created fireworks over that any day.
Now, about that villain. The 1991 Gaston terrifies me. He embodies an idea of manhood that actively harms all sorts of people who don’t live up to its standards, and even those that do. I said he was the embodiment of toxic heteronormative masculinity, and I stand by that. He actually scares me because there’s nothing supernatural about him, and he’s even well liked by the rest of the townsfolk. All this creates a rather scary, if admittedly cartoonish, villain. There’s nothing redeeming about him he’s cruel, awful, doesn’t understand consent, and is totally terrible and fighting to me in 2017. But if we’re going to have a two hour movie we gotta pad things out and give “depth” to characters, and Gaston is one of those we’re going to expand by making him both slightly sympathetic and so much worse. I fully admit this is mostly feelings for me, because I can’t quite place my finger on it, but Gaston feels less detestable in the 2017 movie, yet so much more evil at the same time. I think it comes down to back story and choices. See, in the 1991 movie all we know about Gaston is that he’s a hunter and popular and that’s all we need to know because he’s a contrast to the Beast, ugly on the inside and all that. But in the 2017 movie we find out that Gaston fought in “the war” and once more, apprently it’s his happy place because, just fucking christ if I know, somebody thought that was a detail that needed to be mentioned and not explored in any meaningful way and holy shit could this be the biggest dropped ball in the movie, UUUGGGGGHHHHH! But to the point: Gaston being a veteran is most certainly meant to make him sympothetic and explain him a bit. There’s potential there, sure, even as being a solider gives a slightly different dynamic than simply a hunter, but there’s stuff to work with. But then we gotta go and have him be extra bad so the audience doesn’t feel bad when he dies. So in the 2017 movie, Gaston leaves Belle’s dad to be eaten by wolves in the woods. Which somehow feels so… super evil, I guess? Like I said I can’t quite pin it down, but in the 1991 movie, as much as I fear and hate Gaston, he’s s product of culture. He’s still a borderline rapist for wanting to get Belle’s hand in marriage by shipping off her dad to the mad house, and he still wants to murder the Beast, but… I guess neither of those feel as cold or dishonest as his actions in the 2017 movie. Maybe that’s it. They wanted to give a cartoon “depth” when he didn’t need any and in doing so fucked up what worked? They want me to feel bad for him, but then have him sink to such lows that it just doesn’t mix. Sure, it’s also the point where LeFou starts questioning his loyalty to Gaston, but there’s other ways to do that. It all just adds up to so much meh and why? Dear god just why?
With the villain out of the way, let’s talk about the love interest! One of the great things about the 1991 movie is that it’s simple. Why is the Beast the way he is? Where’s Belle’s mom? Why are Belle and her dad in a small town? How do the villagers not know of the Beast? Whatever you want the answer to be, cause this is a fairy tale and explaining most of that would muck everything up because now it’s all too real and oh hello 2017 movie I see you brought daddy issues for the Beast. No, really, apprently Beast had had a shitty dad and that’s why he’s a massive dick who taxed the countryside cruelly to through lavish parties but nobody remembers because that was part of the curse the Enchantress placed on the castle and damn this mess. But that’s not all! Remember in the 1991 movie how the Beast was functionally illiterate, and how he and Belle bonded over Romeo and Juliet and how he gave the library to her and was happy she liked it? Know what would be bettet? If the Beast was an educated prick who dismisses Belle’s interest in R&J and defends his interest in reading Guinevere and Lancelot with “there’s swords and blood and mainly things”. Fucking christ, uuuuugggggghhhhh! I don’t have any more commentary on that other than uuuuuuggggghhhhh! Also, the Beast was not super animalistic. It’s mostly a live action thing, but man, was that animated Beast great for being so… nothing specific, just an animal. A little mix of everything.
Now, about our leading lady, because nobody escaped this rash fire. I get the impression that they wanted Belle to be more “active” because #Feminism. (By which I mean that in this day and age, politics and ideology often are part of marketing and used to sell things that all top often don’t contribute to liberation. See: the YouTube Music ad campaign specifically targeted at progressives). Now, a more active Belle isn’t a bad idea, afterall, the 1991 movie isn’t really her story. She doesn’t change much, she doesn’t learn anything new, really. But the Beast does, after a fashion it’s really his story. But ok, more active Belle is good in theory, just gotta execute it well, so 2017 movie what did you do? Have Belle invent a washing machine and try to teach a girl to read? Alright, that’s fine, so what did you do with it? Have the villagers sneer at her and destroy the washing machine? That’s… a thing I guess. I don’t know how that does anything, but ok. So, the inventor angle doesn’t really go anywhere, but they have Belle be active in other ways, like trying to escape after tricking the Beast to take her in place of her father. Yeah, I actually really don’t like this change. In the 1991 movie Belle takes her father’s place and then simply stays because she promised the Beast she would, only running away when the Beast totally blew up at her and scared her off. All told it’s a set of actions that shows Belle has agency in the whole situation and is honest and keeps her word. Having her try and escape, even promising her father that she will, just raises questions when the 2017 movie forgets that whole plot thread. Then there’s the mom. Because we all desperately wanted to know what happened to Belle’s mom, right? We all wanted to know that the reason Belle and her dad lived in the village was because Belle’s mom died of plague in Paris, right? Because we do now!
But then again the Belle’s mom thing is just a part of the 2017 movie’s larger problem of trying to explain things when they don’t need to be explained. The 1991 movie was a fairy tale, so thus Gaston is a cartoon, the Beast is a prick, Belle and her dad live in a far off village, the staff was punished alongside the Beast, everything makes sense because that’s how it is. Trying to explain it all merely invites us to see the flaws more clearly, to be painfully aware of the failings. In trying to create “depth” they destroyed the magic.
And finally Disney, I have access to parody musical reviews, I see all your Cocteau references. Stop making me think of better movies while watching your meh one. I’m serious, I would not be here right now if the 2017 movie didn’t want me to always be thinking of the much better 1991 movie and the 2017 one is messing is messing it all up. Well, this section wouldn’t be here. Sure, I get it, nostalgia is big money right now, but couldn’t you have just re-released the 1991 movie? That had to be cheaper than this massive fan film of yourself. I know you’re a giant money grubbing whore Disney, but I thought you liked being a classy about it. You’ll milk everything you make for all its worth, but it’s at least good stuff.
To wrap things up, a nostalgic cash grab ended up being excatly what we paid for. You’ll see it. You’ll probably like it. It’s not bad. It’s fine. It just wants to always remember that better movie you can go and watch right now. Thus ends this almost 3000 word half baked non-essay because I had to. I just had to. I’m not proud of myself, well maybe a tiny bit, but this was a nice distraction I guess. Whatever, if you made it this far get yourself a cookie, you’ve earned it.