Tale as old as time that should stay in the past

by Allison Estremera, Staff

It’s a tale as old as time. Many Disney aficionados place the original, animated “Beauty and the Beast” as one of the company’s best films, as well as one of the greatest animated movies of all time. It has the distinction of being the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and has made great strides in solidifying animation as a legitimate form of art in the eyes of the public. So naturally, when Disney announced that a live-action “Beauty and the Beast” was in the works, expectations from fans were quite high.

Starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast, the film borrows heavily from the original animated movie, with a few new plot points and songs thrown into the mix. Audiences get quick peeks into the backstories of Belle’s parents, the Beast and even Gaston.

Some of these additional scenes and dialogue provide a refreshing reversal of expectation, as the film would otherwise be an almost shot-for-shot remake of the animated movie, but all too often the introduction of new elements raises more questions than it answers. With these moments also come new songs, though the additional musical numbers pale in comparison to the classic tunes of the original (but that may be due to how iconic they have become since the movie’s release).  

For a large budget production, the CGI character designs left much to be desired, with beloved characters like Lumiere and Cogsworth becoming more creepy and unsettling than charming and whimsical. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it appears that the animators went out of their way to make the Beast appear as conventionally attractive as possible while in his beast form. The resulting “handsome beast” does a great disservice to the film, as the beast appears to never truly be the monster he is built up to be.

One of the more controversial changes to the story came in the form of LeFou, Disney’s first openly gay character. While many in the LGBTQ+ community rejoiced at Disney’s step towards more inclusive representation, others were in an uproar over the character, causing the film to be given higher age ratings in other countries and even banned outright from some theaters.

However, the controversy is undercut by the fact that Disney relies on subtext to hint at LeFou’s attraction to men. This is mostly apparent in his interactions with Gaston, which are treated as more of an unrequited crush than the blind admiration of the original character. In a commendable moment of character development, LeFou realizes that Gaston is not the perfect being he claims to be, which speaks to the manner in which infatuation can cause one to overlook someone’s flaws and shortcomings.

A scene towards the end of the film finds LeFou dancing with another man, with a quick look into each other’s eyes being all Disney gives the audience before cutting away from them, never to be seen again. The scene does not live up to the hype of the controversy, and its sincerity comes into question when, a few scenes before, the film asks its audience to laugh at a man for wearing a dress. While there should be more to a character’s personality than their sexuality, it is clear that Disney wanted to appeal to both the LGBTQ+ community and more conservative viewers at the same time. However, in their attempts to create a character and storyline that can be read in two very different ways, in the end they succeed in alienating everyone.

The biggest question this film raised was: why? What was this adaptation doing that its predecessor could not? While there is no doubt that the world will see adaptations of the original story until the end of time, Disney’s trend of adapting their own adaptations is rapidly losing its charm. Regardless of the newer content added to the film, Disney’s live-action rehashing spree reeks of a way to make easy money for the company. While this movie is not the worst of this new school of Disney filmmaking, it will always exist in the shadow of the original.

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