Friday April 21, 2017
Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
I enjoyed it. The songs were catchy, the characters fun, and if you’re going to spend two hours watching something it helps to have Emma Watson in it. She’s just a pleasure to look at—even if, by the movie’s absurd light, she’s the village outcast. What an odd village! Everyone is obsessed with Belle (Watson) and Gaston (Luke Evans), but love him (the loudmouthed jerk) and hate her (the polite, studious one). It’s like the 2016 election all over again.
I like the feminist aspect of it. Belle is smart, courageous, proactive, isn’t looking to be rescued, and in the end upends the fairy tale trope: her kiss awakens the prince.
But I don’t quite get why the father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), keeps the mother’s death from her as if there was something shameful in it. It’s the plague; just tell her. And why is LeFou (Josh Gad) considered a positive character? He doesn’t help at all. He’s Smithers to Gaston’s Mr. Burns but without the true loyalty of Smithers. He’s willing to smear Maurice and Belle for the love of Gaston, but once Gaston dies it’s off to dance with the movie’s one other gay character. “Progress.”
And does anyone else have questions about fairy-tale versions of crime and punishment?
It began with hypertrychosis
The movie is based, of course, on the hugely successful 1991 Disney animated movie, which was based on the 18th-century fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which was adapted from the original French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. She, supposedly, was inspired by the real-life story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a 16th-century courtier who suffered from hypertrychosis, or abnormal hair growth of the face and body, but managed to marry and have kids anyway.
So what is the Prince’s crime that he becomes a beast? It changes over time. Sometimes, it’s not even a crime:
- Villeneuve: He resists the seductions of an evil fairy.
- Beaumont: He refuses to let a fairy in from the rain.
- 1946 Jean Cocteau film: His parents didn’t believe in spirits.
- 1991 Disney film: He refuses a rose from a beggar/enchantress in exchange for shelter.
Here, it’s the rose again. Also excessive taxation of the villagers to fund his lavish, lipsticked lifestyle. That should really be the bigger crime. And is it? Did the beggar/enchantress pick him because of the taxes? After all, why would she need shelter? She’s an enchantress. How hard is it to conjure up an umbrella?
If she picked on him for a reason, if it wasn’t simply happenstance, that leads to another plothole: How does Gaston get away with what he does? It’s more than bugging Belle with the marriage proposals; he actually leaves Maurice in the woods to be eaten by wolves. And when Maurice is saved (by the beggar/enchantress) and tells his tale, Gaston convinces the villagers that the old man, with his tales of “magic castles” and “a beast,” is crazy, and arranges for him to be sent to an insane asylum. Moments later, Belle shows up with proof of the Beast, which would make you think the crowd would turn on Gaston—since he was obviously lying before. Nope. He gets the villagers to turn on her, then leads a charge on the castle to kill the Beast.
Yet no spell for him? Or the villagers, who are so easily swayed toward injustice? Just the prince for the thing with the rose? And why are the prince’s courtiers also punished? According to the film, it’s because they were complicit in the Prince’s assholedom. But ... Chip, the boy? Really? And the little dog, too? They’re at fault? And all the adults totally bought into the bullshit and weren’t just trying to survive in undemocratic times? Hell, the courtiers actually got it worse than the Prince did. I mean, what would you rather be—a magnificent beast or a clock?
Moving, and movement
The story is full of such oddities. If the Beast knows that he has to get a girl to fall in love with him, he’s doing a poor, grumpy job of it at the beginning. And though the living household items seem sweet, and in love with love, they have skin in the game. They have to get these two idiots to fall in love—or die. They should be on their game, and condemning every act of incompetence by Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) or Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). BTW: Since this whole thing originated with the French, couldn’t we have hired someone French to play Lumiere (Ewan McGregor)? Was Jean Dujardin busy or something? Could Romain Duris not sing?
I did like how Belle’s loyalty softens his heart, and Beast’s vulnerability softens hers. I like their mutual love of literature. That said, the most moving moment for me wasn’t in the love story but when the last rose petal fell and the clocks and candelabras disappeared into their form without a trace. Yet even here, even as my heart was cracking a bit, my head was saying: Yeah, but really the spell should’ve already been broken. They already love each other. It shouldn’t be a requirement that she say it aloud.
As for the big dance at the end? With the villagers? Those assholes who follow whatever idiotic scheme Gaston has and would probably vote for Trump if given the chance? Release the hounds.