Review: The New and Subtly Modern ‘Beauty and the Beast’

MELISSA HILLIER | FLICKR
Emma Watson (Belle) and Dan Stevens (Beast) star in Disney’s latest live-action remake of their animated film, “Beauty and the Beast.”

On Friday, Disney released the tale that’s old as time, “Beauty and the Beast.” Directed by Bill Condon, the live-action film features Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast and Luke Evans as Gaston along with a host of other

Directed by Bill Condon, the live-action film features Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast and Luke Evans as Gaston along with a host of other well known names playing the beloved characters from Disney’s animated classic.

Already, there are whispers the film is expected to set records at the box office with a smashing opening weekend.

Despite all the fervor about the magic of the recently revamped film, there’s something freshly modern about the film’s narrative. While the film does follow the original animation’s storyline closely, including the musical score. The new live-action adaptation remakes the piece for the 21st century.

Of course, at the beginning of the film, the opening narrative is about Belle’s peculiarity. Clearly, for Belle, there is so much more than a provincial life. She is, according to her father, ahead of her time. Indeed, her head is always stuck in a book, and she even has an inventive streak, creating a simple system with a mule that washes the laundry for her, which simultaneously allows her to teach a child how to read.

She is, according to her father, ahead of her time. Indeed, her head is always stuck in a book, and she even has an inventive streak, creating a simple system with a mule that washes the laundry for her, which simultaneously allows her to teach a child how to read.

Belle is not exactly a passive princess. In this version of the film, she (unlike her previously animated rendition who throws herself down onto a bed to cry profusely when circumstances become a bit too strenuous) rips clothes from an enchanted talking wardrobe and attempts to make a rope to scale down her tower’s wall.

The most shocking part of the film’s altered narrative is that, toward the ends of the film, Belle joins the climactic battle between the Beast and Gaston. She is not totally separated from the fight. She supports the Beast against the jealous and over zealous Gaston. What this does is create a slightly more feminist air to the film, a feminism that Emma Watson herself would appreciate.

What this does is create a slightly more feminist air to the film. Feminism Emma Watson herself would appreciate.

Likewise, the film doesn’t stop there with its subtle alterations. LeFou, the devoted sidekick to Gaston who is played by Josh Gad, is given a queer identity.

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Bill Condon, in an article for The New York Times, said. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”

While LeFou’s queerness is not explicitly stated or acted out, it’s painfully and heavily teased at. And at the end of the film, he even dances with another male character at a ball.

Again, the new film takes a subtle but still startling direction towards a more diverse narrative. What LeFou’s queerness symbolizes is a shift towards a more modern storyline.

Still, there are more subtle differences between the new live-action version and the animated rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” However, as small as these differences may be, they give the tale a 21st-century tone. Just as the film’s newfound queerness and feminism broaden the diversity of the film, they help to reanimate and give it a fresh edge for a more progressive world.

Just as the film’s newfound queerness and feminism broaden the diversity of the film, they help to reanimate and give it a fresh edge for a more progressive world.

Overall, the new “Beauty and the Beast” is not simply a real-world adaptation from its animated predecessor. It’s a subtle and progressive rejuvenation from the original, and it should be considered a signal for a changing world.

With that in mind, this writer gives the film a thumbs up. And for those who want to be this film’s guest in the theater, they will be a magical surprise waiting for them as they waltz into a satisfyingly fresh remake of a tale as old as time.

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