Thursday, April 6, 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' 2017 - A Review in Layers (Looking Beyond the Surface)


This review has taken a while to put together but we promised we would attempt to put our thoughts on record, so here it is. We've taken the 'let's look beneath the surface' approach, being that this is one of the themes of the fairy tale. It's broken down into the following parts and, being on the lengthy side you are welcome to only read as far as you wish (of course!). Have we covered everything? Nope. (This is now much shorter than it was!) But there's plenty here for you to chew on - and you may want to have a cup of tea to keep you company if you plan on staying with us till the end:
FIRST LOOKS - first impressions (our quick take-away review/recommendation) 
UNDER THE SKIN - a critical look (the pros and cons of the live remake - we get picky) 
AT THE HEART - the core issues (we get into some important but controversial territory here!) 
REVIEW SUMMARY

FIRST LOOKS - first impressions:

It's great. It's an entertaining movie, so odds are, you will enjoy it, already have, and likely will again. It's no secret that the demographic aimed at is the nostalgia crowd, (the lack of BatB products in the kids aisles, compared to other films, should be a giant tip-off) and so as long as those (millions of) folks are happy, it's a guaranteed hit. And why shouldn't they be? All the 'notes' people love are there: the scenes, the dialogue, the songs, the costumes, the plot - it very closely follows the original and, if you're not completely sold on how the remake of the scene or moment, you will be lovingly reminded of the film you love, which it's also clear, most of those involved in making this new version love too. As a bonus there are a ton of plot holes neatly fixed, expanded background stories for almost everyone and basically 'more' of everything. It's pretty, it's magical, the production value is amazing and, the cast are fine in their various roles. It's solid entertainment and worth the price of a movie ticket, especially if you're familiar with the original Disney animated classic. Recommended.

UNDER THE SKIN - a critical look:

There are some really great things about this movie that have made it worth the indulgence as a project. 

Top of our list are the nods to the history this film is indebted to (and we don't mean Disney). The "little town" is named Villeneuve, which, as all regular readers of this blog should know by now, is the author's surname of the original literary version of the fairy tale, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. A powerhouse fairy tale teller influenced by other fairy tale writers such as Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, we're glad to hear her name in popular circulation! The emphasis on reading in the film and in the marketing products means there is a generation of people discovering who Villeneuve was, who never would have otherwise.
The other standout is the homage to the unbeatable La Belle et la Bête black and white film classic by Jean Cocteau. When Belle approaches the castle door she deliberately pauses to look at the torches, held by arms coming out of the wall. These are clearly modeled after Cocteau's iconic hallway scene when Beauty walks along a corridor of candelabra held by "invisible" servants. (We have a feeling there are more echoes in the castle in particular, but it would take another viewing to note them.)
Maurice, played by Kevin Kline, is a brilliant standout. As a child we overheard said while exiting the theater: "Belle's dad was really smart! - not like the cartoon at all. His story was pretty sad though - even at the end." We agree. Maurice was played as intelligent, sensitive, supportive, creative and very brave - both with regard to facing the castle and the Beast, as well as in standing up to Gaston. His music boxes were amazing and his brief lullaby-refrain "How Does A Moment Last Forever" was touching and only as long as it needed to be. Kevin Kline was the only actor who seemed truly to 'be' his character (other than the Enchantress, who we barely saw). His character expansion, thanks not only to his new dialogue and scenes, but to the nuanced acting of Kline, really did improve the story, and made it more likely that someone like Belle, would become the person she was/is.

Aside: While it was a little ridiculous seeing how magnificent a horse Maurice had (he never could have afforded him), the horses that were Philippe, deserve an Oscar for all they went through. (But why are we still using real animals? The Beast was 100% CGI... Erg. And this isn't even the controversial part of our review yet...)
And we must mention the rose that Maurice 'stole'. We were exceptionally pleased to see this element of the traditional fairy tale included. It made much more sense for the Beast to lock up Maurice as a result, especially in the context of he himself having been cursed for years 'for the sake of a rose', and allowed for some additional helpful dialogue as a result. The Beast's extreme reaction 'for a flower' was questioned, and Belle got part of the story and a heads-up on why the enchanted rose she discovers in the West Wing is so important. The enchanted nature of roses in full bloom in a winter frost, wasn't as clearly drawn as it was in the novelization, but it was indicated at least, and a nice thematic statement that was at least touched on throughout the movie (though the motif could have been used more clearly, especially at the end). While we're on flowers, we were disappointed the garden wasn't better used and explored - all those gorgeous hedges, the maze and the statues! -sigh-

The production design had an intense dedication to detail and was impressive (at times it was a little distracting actually, but that's a directing issue and not the designer's fault). Second, and more, looks will be needed to pay proper respect to the loving attention given to each location and the dressing of each one.
We were pleased to see diversity in the cast throughout - not just a token 'cast' character, or not just filling in the background, but both. Though some choices were perhaps too emphasized and a little incongruous in context, making it feel a little too self-aware and clunky (and reminding people of the complex issues behind these choices) it's a fantasy film, so that shouldn't be an issue if it's done well. Overall, this was overdue and a great improvement. It just needs to be done more naturally.

Belle, and Emma Watson's, love of reading was a solid theme throughout the film - from the independence of doing so, to encouraging it in others, to having that knowledge be a conduit to friendship between Belle and the Beast. Sharing stories and talking about books made the transition from prisoner and captor to mutual friends more natural and believable. It's also been one of the best marketing spin-offs for consumers to take advantage of! There are at least two beautifully printed. classic (non-Disney) editions of Beauty and the Beast available, not to mention a magazine that's made a sincere effort at tracing the evolution of this tale through history, to a spin-off of an adventure in which Belle gets lost inside a book, to a fancy little volume title "Belle's Library: A collection of literary quotes and inspirational musings" which is exactly what's it's titled, introducing younger readers to a variety of classic literary works, both poetry and fiction.
As mentioned in first looks, a lot of effort had been made to properly deal with the myriad plot holes of the first film, on a variety of levels (not just exposition), making the experience more satisfying as far as story went, but as with all fairy tales, systematically filling in the plot holes only begs more critical questions and takes the emphasis off the story. Overall it's a win for the nostalgia crowd, who have been irked by these details for years, but the specificity of this detracts greatly from good storytelling. The emphasis on details made it clear the film was aimed at uber-fans, rather than in telling a clear tale. A major addition was adding some pre-transformation backstory to the (still unnamed) Prince. The movie begins with a lavish party and clever masking of the Prince's true features under period(ish) make-up, so that the real man is never seen until the end. We are treated to a taste of his decadence and arrogance, however, making his being cursed more understandable, even if the way it happened was a little clunky. We made an effort to read the novelization of the film, in an attempt to see what the intent of various sections might have been, that didn't necessarily translate to the screen. One of the things that didn't, in this case, was the tone of the party itself. While clearly a rich aristocrat's indulgence, it wasn't clear just how decadent it was meant to be. Part of this failing was having all the guests appear in ivory and gold costumes, (which, instead looked a lot like underwear, which we knew couldn't have been the intent since the film was meant to be family friendly, though that note would actually have been exactly on point), but, especially for the period, color - riotous color even - was the hallmark of elitism and status. Average (let alone poor) people of that region and time couldn't afford much beyond whitewash in their abodes, with the occasional splash of color perhaps seen in a frippery or very prized item. Royalty splashed color around as an indicator of wealth and the lack of it in the opening sequence didn't read as decadent, spoilt or wasteful at all, just formal, and a little unimaginative. The novelization also includes the detail that 'only the fairest faces and forms from the country were chosen to be present' at the ball, which was decorated with only the finest furnishings and wares, while Madame Garderobe and Monsieur Cadenza were chosen for entertainment because they were 'the best in the world'. We feel if the opening scene had been presented to show the arrogance and exclusivity of the Prince as was outlined in the novel, this would have helped a lot and put a different emphasis on the beginning - something which viewers could more clearly compare to a) the town and Belle and b) the Beast's character - and any positive changes - throughout.
The enchanted household definitely comes across as more sinister in their 'live action' form. They're clearly individuals with their own, selfish (though understandable), agenda who aren't as interested in helping Belle as helping themselves, but we didn't feel this detracted from the film necessarily. It gave it a darker, more adult tone, but one that worked in the film's favor (mostly, if it weren't for the incongruous dialogue every now and then). We wrote a post on how the Enchanted Objects can easily be viewed as a PSA for the age of Smart devices and homes. You can read HERE.

Almost all the male characters in the film have more dimension, giving the story more stability BUT it comes at the cost of making Belle less sympathetic. Almost all the female characters in the film - certainly in the town - are not more than they were, and are something Belle doesn't want to be (she actively looks down on them) and separates herself from, making her seem, not so much independent but elitist. She clearly sees herself in a different category from the enchanted staff in the castle too, by the way, something not many seem to have picked up on, which is bothersome.

As you can see from the above discussion of the largely positive changes, when you look more closely it doesn't take long to detect cracks in the truly lovely veneer of this movie.
We saw Emma Watson as Belle, not Belle, played by Emma Watson. She was still Emma first, Belle second. Almost unnaturally pretty in every frame, the public character of Emma Watson - feminist, United Nations ambassador, the embodiment of the smart and brave Hermoine, eco-conscious fashion icon, book-fairy and outspoken advocate for women - was the person we were primarily watching. It was Emma playing Belle on screen, not a new and different Belle. It was a marketing ploy and key to the success of the film, and it worked. But we didn't get a new Belle. We got more branding. We also got someone out of time and place - someone who walked and talked like a modern girl, unlike the entire rest of the main and supporting cast (whose dialogue and mannerisms at least nodded to a period film). 

Tapping into the classic songs and audio 'tones' was inconsistent at best. The most obvious issue, largely discussed is the autotune factor for Emma Watson, which, while admittedly was distracting, could have been much worse. It did reinforce the power of a good singer in a lead role though. Other inconsistencies just kept reminding the audience this wasn't the original. Emma Thompson just couldn't 'bring it' for Mrs. Potts (and we're huge Thompson fans). Her accent was just as awkward as Lumiere's (Ewan MacGregor) and Cadenza's (Stanley Tucci) and poor Cogsworth barely got any of his witty commentary or banter with Lumiere. All the dialogue suffered as a result, and much of the levity was lost.
The musical numbers: where to begin? (Note: we hark from many years in theater and dance, before we went into film, just as a heads-up here.) For a director who was hired on the basis of his work on Chicago and Dream Girls, the staging was unforgivably awful. Some set-ups were clearly planned to be 'promotional and/or comparison shots' but there were many odd and distracting choices. The opening sequence didn't have the smooth and clever staging of the animated classic and fell flat. Belle came off as disdainful of her fellow townsfolk, rather than distracted by stories. She was polite but not very nice. Unfortunately, it turns out Belle is largely a snob! Watson's posture and style of moving from when she first opened her door, added to this impression (that cocked eyebrow, the swagger) and we found ourselves not liking her very much by the end of that sequence. Not what we expected at all. (Note: This was not the case for the '91 film.) One uber-fan recently came up with an interesting theory of the town being stuck in a Groundhog Day-style loop, helping the villagers forget the Beast and the castle, while enabling Belle - coming to the town after the curse began - to choreograph her way Bill-Murray-like, through the town in the morning so seamlessly. The idea has a lot of potential but that flow isn't evident in the live action. Belle is neither interested nor engaged enough in the townsfolk's activities to come off as being part of them, nor is she smooth and enchantingly distracted enough for her to be observed by the populace as she makes her way through. The staging and camera work was just... not the best.

The Be Our Guest showcase felt desperate and a little sinister. It wasn't a delightful distraction but instead felt disjointed (more like, "look at this irrelevant thing over here so you won't notice your captivity and time passing!"), with unrelated elements popping on and off screen for no detectable reason, and it didn't help that this was one of Watson's weakest acting spots in the movie too (it might have had something to do with taking a full month to film the sequence, but we shouldn't see that). We are wondering if Condon was under the 'big budget curse', which can dupe directors into being a little lazy on the staging, instead filling the scene with 'scenery', details and effects, rather than telling the story. Both Chicago and Dream Girls had established theatrical, storytelling set-ups from the stage but for Beauty and the Beast Condon appears to have only referenced the animated film, rather than studied what worked in a live context, such as the many variations of the Broadway play, a lot of which were delightful in this sequence. Since this was the one chance we were going to have to see something akin to the golden age of musicals all we can say is: "Quel dommage!"

The ballroom scene - to put it mildly, we were very underwhelmed. The choreography was unimaginative, the dress, though it moved well, felt too modern and plain for the Beast's garb and the pseudo-rococo surroundings, and Belle looked largely the same as she ever did. There was no nod to her trying to present herself at her best (Garderobe did all the work) and Belle's emotional landscape was fairly flat. There wasn't even a glow of blossoming love (which is what the scene was supposed to convey) about her. It felt contrived, a little tense perhaps, but not romantic. We weren't even close to wowed the way audiences were on seeing this scene for the first time in '91 with beautiful filmmaking. With all the live possibilities, we should have been blown away - we weren't. It was... well, deflating.
The Gaston song had the most heart to it, along with some true film-musical moments with the additional choreography but it was unnecessarily long, and wasn't staged consistently well - or as comedically - as the original. In a fantasy film where the director can push the boundaries of physics and reality, there is no excuse for this. Every classic filmed musical pushes back against reality and bends the edges. The camera work was just a little sloppy overall too - something that seems odd with both a classic film with the exact same song to mirror, as well as an entire golden age of musicals to study. Luckily we were treated to some stellar singing in the meantime but overall we were hoping for more, not less.

The extra songs are largely forgettable but the Beast's 'torch song' was the most annoying, continuity-challenged addition. This is yet another privileged individual begging the audience to side with them and restore them to their rightful place, so not a favorite theme of ours, but the staging of this song was very bizarre. Flashes of Emma, er, Belle, in the yellow dress on Phillipe, showed the girl taking almost 3 minutes to leave the grounds, not to mention being apparently stuck in a weird time loop in a couple of places that had her retracing her steps (that is, there were some continuity issues made more obvious by the pop of yellow flashing about the grounds in weird places as she was trying to leave). Everything grinds to a halt as we watched the Beast sing his 'manpain'. It felt long and we wished Belle would go rescue her father already and Beast would stop being a selfish melancholy beast-baby.
Belle is apparently continuously conscious of her captivity, something the Beast never apologizes for or aims to change until late in the film. She says it herself, in one of the best, most memorable additions to the whole film, after their dance: "How can anyone be happy if they're not free?" She's aware she's not equal, that he has power over her, so how deep can their friendship truly go? There is no love here beyond friend-love at best - there can't be (unless it's unhealthy, which every publicity engine is desperate to assure us it's not). The sudden appearance of apparent romantic love right when the Beast dies is just weird, as is the willingness to enthusiastically kiss this newly-appeared stranger. Her declaration is ultimately awkward (we could have believed "I can't live without you" much more than "I love you") and rings false.
Belle takes off her yellow dress so that... she can run around in her underwear?? And she leaves this specially made-for-her-by the-servants outfit discarded on the muddy ground. It would have been so easy to make a statement with that dress... (give it away, use it to facilitate the escape, make a flag etc etc) But instead, after everyone is restored, Belle and the Prince come out of the castle together, holding hands, basically in their underwear, which is all they're wearing by choice - not by necessity. Where everyone can see them. O.o

The curse in this film concludes - badly. Did anyone notice this? The last petal falls, the castle servants completely lose their last vestiges of humanity and become objects only, the Beast dies as a real beast. It's only due to the presence of the Enchantress who restores them all that they're even alive. True love didn't save the day by stopping the curse in its tracks. It's as if the Enchantress takes pity on beautiful Belle and transforms everyone anyway. (We're glad the Enchantress didn't turn out to be Belle's mother, as that might have smacked a little too much of fairy tale nepotism.) We can't help but feel that there could have been a better way to do this - even one that included the curse living out its complete cycle, as that would have given some interesting depth to the idea of curses and transformational magic.

The end (with the second ball) is long and rather awkward - and we're not sure why we were hanging around there for so long. While it did bookend the movie with a second, more inclusive, ball the fact that it was specifically inclusive was also lost, since the opening seem didn't make it clear just how exclusive it was meant to be. And Belle's 'feminism' is nowhere in sight at this point either. A pretty odd note to finish on.

Having so many i's dotted and t's crossed in the film means the attention to detail implies one other thing: when Belle utters her "Have you considered growing a beard?" line to the Prince, it no longer comes off as a funny throwaway line, but implies that this couple are in need of a conversation. Suggested in the '91 film, but not included, it's delighted many to have have this line added. At the same time, however, it's disturbed an almost equal amount of folks, in once again reminding them that Belle has supposedly declared "her real and romantic - I will marry you and all that comes with that package - love" to the Beast before he's transformed. Yeah. Apart from Villeneuve's extended literary devices that dealt with this pretty neatly on both the PG and R-rated levels, Angela Carter is the only storyteller who has satisfyingly dealt with this conundrum. (And she's definitely not PG.) Note: Cocteau designed his ending to disappoint. That was actually his artistic statement on the tale.

AT THE HEART - the core issues:
[Controversial Issues Alert!]

THE 'GAY MARKETING' FOOL: LeFou means, 'The Fool'. Most people likely knew that already. What was unexpected was the marketing ploy of labeling this character as the first acknowledged gay character in a Disney film. What was even less expected was how ridiculously understated this 'historic moment' ended up being. Blink and you'd miss it - altogether if you weren't expecting it there in the first place. While LeFou, along with other characters in Disney animation past, was originally broadly characterized with possible gay leanings, that Disney chose to confirm him as their first true gay character wasn't very considered. Despite having many gay artist and animators working on the 1991 film and others, since the early studio days, Disney has always been very unflattering in their portrayal of their 'coded gay characters' and LeFou is no exception. His '91 characterization is about as negatively-stereotypical as Disney could get in a G-rated film. Why Condon (the Director) would then choose LeFou as Disney's gay champion is a bit bizarre. The character is not a fair or flattering representation of the LGBT community in any way. That the live action LeFou (played by Josh Gad) was more nuanced and ultimately had a conscience helped soften this a bit, but it still makes for a very strange choice for representation - especially when the issue of his sexuality is, not being part of the story, barely there. So what is it, then, that's really being said? Sadly, because of the media hype, there's no good answer to this now. We have to then wonder if the 'fools' aren't really us, having our attention taken and being drawn in on yet another level of interest and controversy, and the film's Director in  particular for making a big deal of something that should have just been 'normal'. To include - and acknowledge - gay characters in a Disney film is a big thing, yes, but that's not the intent of the film. And if we have to point it out and make a giant moment of it, doesn't that say a diversity of characters and orientations isn't normal? And, if it's so important, what does it have to do with the tale? As far as publicity goes, it worked extremely well for attention, but we have to wonder if perhaps it's done almost as much harm as good. At the end of the day - as far as the film goes - it doesn't really matter. But what does that say for the community for which it matters very much? We're not the only ones in a knot over this one. Basically - they made a mess of this one and, sadly, that may be what goes down in history. -sigh-

Don't get us wrong - we're thrilled that Disney is finally being more accepting of diversity in all its forms. We're just a little underwhelmed at the way this was both done, and feel Disney could have handled their 'historic moment' - if that's what it was truly created to be - much better. The question of orientation is more evident in the nameless character Garderobe dressed in women's clothing, and found himself delighted, than anyone else, but that's only a nod too. (As far as appropriate ratings go, the three now-brunette bimbettes are the characters who push the film closest to 'mature' consideration with their obvious sexual frustration! Yikes. Not to mention seeing live action Lumiere and Plumette get grabby. That was just... weird and distracting.) The Mouse House still has a way to go to respectfully represent different orientation, but at least they're finally on the road to doing so.

There is, however, another aspect to these 'controversial' and 'historic moment' headlines that has been bothering us.
A lot of effort and words have been focused on LeFou's obsession with Gaston (who ironically, as pointed out by a gay friend, displays all the signs of over-compensation for closeted homosexuality) but there hasn't been much discussion about the issue of Power. Historically, men without strong male role models of fathers or others, are drawn to charismatic,  hyper-masculine types, often to their detriment. It's common in the playground, among bullies, criminals, the military, business associates and many other places for men (in particular) to become unwaveringly loyal to a leader-type; someone who they ally themselves with so they belong and are protected. And it's got nothing to do with being gay. Cartoons caricature these followers as henchmen, goons, fools and brainless idiots. In real life, they're just men looking for direction. War, in particular, bonds soldiers in ways most of us can't understand or appreciate. Many bonds are as strong as family, sometimes stronger, and they'll do anything for their brothers or unit, even if it goes against their own moral codes. With a 'Great War' being indicated in Gaston and LeFou's backstories as the start of their partnership, this leader-and-lackey relationship isn't unusual, no matter the orientation. Gaston's abuse of LeFou's loyalty isn't either. While LeFou is clearly loyal to Gaston in the extreme, his sexuality doesn't have to be - and very likely isn't - part of the equation. (See the issues that crop up when you try to clarify all details and bases?) LeFou, in the new movie, is not a true idiot. He's weak, yes, compromised, yes, but, to his credit, he does show his true colors later in the film when he breaks his alliance and swaps sides. Till then, he shows he's very aware of Gaston's meanness, of the need to temper this dangerous man and bring back from 'the edge'. There's no doubt he admires Gaston in many ways and basks in the town's acceptance by being attached to Gaston's influence, but he's also bothered by it - even from his first scene. LeFou's emancipation from his own personal prison of unquestioning loyalty is a striking moment that's barely recognized or given the credit it deserves. It's not till then LeFou even has a chance to consider a life on his own terms, of his own preference and choosing. His true journey is only just beginning at the end of the movie.
THE FEMINISM MACHINE and Emma Watson's social and political status - has been the primary marketing tool for the film, even more than nostalgia, but the movie only really pays lip service to feminism - highlighting part of the big issue society has today. We have a skewed idea of what feminism is: it's not independence, standing out as being different, or having an "f-you" toward the establishment.
So we can discuss this a little more cleanly, forgive us as we go 'back to school' briefly and get some clear and accurate definitions of Feminism*. Looking at a cross-section of widely available and used dictionaries, we define Feminism as: "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes" (Oxford-English), "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes"(Merriam-Webster), and the Urban Dictionary expands this as:
The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women.
The basic idea of Feminism revolves around the principle that just because human bodies are designed to perform certain procreative functions, biological elements need not dictate intellectual and social functions, capabilities, and rights.
Feminism also, by its nature, embraces the belief that all people are entitled to freedom and liberty within reason--including equal civil rights--and that discrimination should not be made based on gender, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, religion, culture, or lifestyle.
Feminists--and all persons interested in civil equality and intellectuality--are dedicated to fighting the ignorance that says people are controlled by and limited to their biology. (This includes skin color, race, orientation.)
Okay - got it.
As far as the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast goes, this means that:
- independence (alone) is not feminist - unless you are using it to help bridge the gap
- reading is not feminist- unless you are making sure everyone has the ability to be educated
- inventing is not feminist - unless you are using it to improve the lives of everyone
- riding a horse astride is not feminist
- refusing to wear a corset is not feminist (the modern equivalent: just because you're allowed to wear your bikini in public doesn't mean that it's always appropriate or respectful - or feminist)
- speaking your mind is not feminist
- wearing boots is not feminist

(We mentioned this is potentially controversial, right? Hang in there!)

All these things can help - yes - but ONLY if they exist in context of championing, encouraging and empowering all to where there is equality. Alone, any one of the things in the above list is just personal preference - which isn't truly feminist. (Hopefully you get the idea now.)
Today's feminists, for the most part, wave a banner of garbled - and ultimately confusing feminism, urging women to be strong, independent, unique, successful on their own terms. Our previous feminist icons who fought for equality, to aid all of society, have been replaced by independent role models who stand out from the crowd. Who are different. Who are alone. Sadly, they're more about independence than sisterhood. It's more about individual rights, than in making sure everyone has equal rights. Every time we 'assert our feminist agenda' we need to ask, are we helping women (and ultimately everyone) everywhere? Or are we focused on making life better for ourselves first, ultimately transferring the traditional burden elsewhere to another demographic? Its' an important question.
What are some ways Belle have used some of these 'feminist'-tagged actions to truly be feminist?
- she could have shared her machine with all the women in the village, or at least attempted to
- she could have continued to teach reading after being challenged on in - even if subversively (eg via inventive signals and signs, and her father likely would have helped too)
- she could have shown respect to the other women of her village by not showing her underwear (!), perhaps still finding a way to show appropriate social awareness, non-patriarchal-driven modesty and chasteness, general good manners, etc while more subtly adjusting her clothes, and helping other women to do the same
- knowing she planned to ride she could have been prepared to have trousers, or culottes disguised as skirts underneath her skirt, which wouldn't have her exposing her private underclothes
- she could have been more respectful, and clever, in her discourse - speaking her mind while still retaining her manners and all semblance of properness so she had to be respected in return at least
- she could have helped women and other disadvantaged (including the servants in the castle) have their opinions and concerns heard and considered
- she could have had active plans for that gifted and drool-worthy library to share with Pere Robere and the girls of the village
- she could have pitched in with the servants of the castle and helped the Beast see he should be doing the same, rather than being waited on
- she could have encouraged the Beast to put Madame Garderobe in the same room as Cadenza (at least!)
- she could have not dissed (to put it bluntly) most of the other woman in the film

None of the above would have necessarily changed the main plot of the film, though it would have changed the emphasis on the core problem a lot and, yes, it would have been much more different from the original. It likely would have changed a lot about how we got from "little town" to "happily ever after". It might even have resolved some other issues. But perhaps not. Perhaps it only would have highlighted how much of a problem all this really, still is - for us, today.
DID LOVE TRULY BLOOM? Is it truly possible for Belle to come to love the Beast before the rose drops its last petal? We still don't think so. Despite the new pacing which allows Belle and the Beast to get to know and, in some ways, connect with each other, there's still that gigantic issue of Belle's real freedom standing in the way. The Beast never truly sacrifices himself for Belle until the end - a factor which she's never actually aware of, since she doesn't know her 'true love' is the key to breaking the spell. Belle is aware she's a prisoner for most of the movie and while she comes back at the end, by then you would think that was the only choice a decent person would have - to try and stop the mob killing the Beast and all the enchanted staff. Ultimately, Belle still chooses a male who, despite being well read, bathes and is able to dance without stepping on her toes, still has unpredictable bouts of temper, manipulates her and her circumstances, keeps himself apart from others in a class system and encourages her to do the same, has her in his power for almost the whole time they know each other and finally frees her with a great deal of man tears and moaning/singing sacrifice to the point of self harm and destruction when he can no longer have her. Belle sets aside her issues with all these aspects (mirrored in Gaston) and chooses to understand and accept the Beast instead, because... because why? Because he's more educated and classy?

Beauty and the Beast provides us with the character of Gaston, who is your classic, out-and-out, unreconstructed chauvinist. Indeed, he’s so stereotypically chauvinist you might forget for an entire hour that he’s not actually the one keeping a woman prisoner until she falls in love with him. Gaston might attempt to use Belle’s father as a means of coercing Belle to be with him; the Beast is the one who bloody well does it.Structurally, it turns out there’s very little Gaston wants to do to Belle that the Beast doesn’t actually do. However, the latter is excused because he does it while being a beast and hence has identity issues. Not only that, but the Beast’s sexism isn’t as clichéd and common as Gaston’s. If the latter reads FHM, the former reads Julia Kristeva. If Gaston stands for the easy-win, obvious, pussy-grabbing misogyny of the right, the Beast stands for the left’s more refined, complex, long-wordy woman-hating. It’s not for Belle to challenge it, but to listen and learn from it. (Glosswitch at NewStatesman)
No matter how many singing objects distract you and how pretty the glitter is on the falling petals, the heart and bones of this is not a good situation. The biggest problem then, is that this love story, isn't a real love story after all. The next, most obvious, question then is: So, what is it?
REVIEW SUMMARY: People want that perfectly preserved fairy tale rose under an enchanted bell jar. (Who'd have thought the film's central motif would serve so well as a symbol for the entire remake?) Those wanting to be entertained will be entertained. People looking for things to praise will find much, (as they should - many people have worked very hard and should be credited), as will those with a view to find fault. Nostalgics will be satisfied, those looking for some updating will at least acknowledge various efforts, (even if they're underwhelmed by it), and ultimately, we'd be surprised if anyone asked for their ticket money back. 

For now, people will continue discussing this fairy tale, along with its redemptive qualities and problematic issues. For us, however, we hope that the conversation about diversity and representation, especially in family films, is continued and developed, but most of all we hope that the conversation about the need for equality continues. Are we empowering others and teaching the next generation about true equality, including the need for joining to a potential mate on equal terms? Or are we redressing old issues in attractive updates and compounding our problems? Let the conversation continue. Please.

*Sometimes definitions are clearer when you look at the flip side: what something is not. So Feminism is not:
- the belief that women are superior
- that someone has negative views of men
- that feminine things are bad
- the belief that everyone should be the same
- that someone is gay (yes, how backward is it that this must still be stated!)
(Thanks Bustle. If you want to read more about any of these points as well as a couple more, go read their post HERE.)
Note: Images throughout the post are from the Disney film. The ones at the head of the post are from the London premiere and from a poster.

4 comments:

  1. Too bad Luke Evans was not selected to play the Beast. Great Actor and his looks, height, vocal capacity, range of emotions....? What a waste of a handsome rugged face.

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  2. Thanks for putting all your thoughts together on this! Still haven't been able to get out and see the movie myself. I may regret reading all the reviews and spoilers but now it's my substitute for actually getting to watch!

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    1. That must be driving you crazy! I hope when it's time, you'll be able to just forget all the reviews and enjoy it on your own terms and quibbles. ;)

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  3. Throughout my life I have disliked the "strong independent woman" character. For a long time I have thought that the reason for this was how pandering it felt, but I think your article has made me realize the underlying elitism of the archetype as the true reason for my distaste. Thank you for that :)

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