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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

When the animated version of Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991, I was a young university student. Disney was going through its Renaissance period at that time and audiences were expecting great things after the success of The Little Mermaid. A group of us went to watch Beauty at the cinema and left absolutely thrilled. Disney delivered!

So many memorable and sing-a-longable songs. So many new and funny characters. And that ballroom dance scene was breathtakingly stunning. Computer generated imagery was in its infancy at that time and this was spectacularly rendered.

Well, that was 26 years ago and a new Beauty and the Beast has come out. My oldest is now slightly older than what I was when the animated version came out! This movie opened here a couple of weeks ago, but we decided to wait until school was back in session because I hate crowded cinemas, so we went on the first Friday of Term 2. The Little Athletics club gave our family a very generous gift of movie gift cards as a thank you for our years of service and we put that to good use!

In 2015, Disney did a remake of Cinderella (reviewed here). The remake was rather different from the original. In contrast, the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast is very faithful to the 1991 animated original. Everything that made the first movie so great is there. Fans of the original in all its glory will not be disappointed.

All the great songs are there and I believe the actors do their own singing, which makes it just a tad more delightful, in my opinion. There are also a couple of new songs thrown in.

The backstory of how the Beast and his household end up in their cursed state is expanded upon. We also learn how Belle and her father end up in the “poor, provincial town” without a mother and wife. These added scenes make the film 45 minutes longer than the original. Whereas the original was just under 90 minutes long, this remake is over two hours. Too much? I don’t think so. Your mileage might vary.

The story is set in France with English-speaking (English-English, not American-English) characters.

There is a more multi-racial cast, featuring both Black and White characters. I didn’t see any Asians, though, but I suppose there weren’t any Asians in 18th-century France. Then again, there probably weren’t any Blacks in France at that time, either. So….?

Belle’s father, Maurice, played by Kevin Kline is little more toned down in this version — not so eccentric —  and we see more of his relationship with Belle.

The “inanimate objects” characters have more speaking parts in this version and sometimes it can feel like it detracts from the main focus of the movie. I suppose it is a way to showcase the special effects.

What about that “exclusively gay moment”?
When producer Bill Condon announced — with some pride — that the movie would feature an exclusively gay scene with LeFou (Gaston’s sidekick), he managed to ruffle a lot of feathers. Some called for a boycott of the film.

Malaysia first considered banning the film entirely, and then softened its stance to “merely” deleting the “gay” scene. Disney said, “No deal. Show the film in its entirety or not at all.” After some more thought, Malaysia decided to show the film without any cuts.

The so-called “gay scene” occurs when LeFou is singing his praises to Gaston. It’s not overt at all — only hinted at —  and if Condon hadn’t made any announcement, the moment would have passed over me and I would have been none the wiser. Then again, I really am not the sharpest knife in the block….

LeFou is depicted as a gay character because Howard Ashman, the lyricist for the original Beauty and the Beast was a homosexual. He died in 1991 from AIDS-related complications. Bill Condon wanted to honour his memory.

What I find really amusing about the whole situation is that Luke Evans, the actor who plays Gaston, is openly gay in real life!

So, go watch it, and remember Howard Ashman.

What about “Beauty-and-the-Beast Syndrome”? Isn’t that a dangerous message?
Many people have voiced their concern that Beauty and the Beast glorifies Stockholm Syndrome, whereby hostages sympathise with their captors and even go so far as to defend them or refuse to charge them with wrongdoing. Others, including Emma Watson who plays Belle, have come out and said that Belle does not show the classic symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome at all. Still others have said that Stockholm Syndrome is a complex issue and there is no one-size-fits-all scenario.

Years ago, I read something called Beauty-and-the-Beast Syndrome, ie,  where one party (typically a woman) stays with an abusive partner (typically a male) not out of fear and helplessness or religious conviction, but because she believes that underneath all that ugliness lies a prince waiting to be released. All the “beast” needs is someone to see past all his rage and anger and to love him unconditionally and she is the person to do that. Sadly, many stay in abusive relationships because they are still waiting for the prince to emerge when, in fact, there isn’t one.

In my opinion, the Beast’s bad temper is worse in this version than the original. Far worse. Maybe it’s because live action makes it seem more real. Maybe it’s because I’m older and more experienced and no longer a naive university student.

Spotting Unhealthy Behaviors in Beauty and the Beast

Perhaps use this as an opportunity to talk with your kids about what is healthy and what is not, what is realistic and what is not.

Finally, because this film is live action, certain scenes may seem more intense and scary especially for younger viewers. In particular the wolves scene and the mob scene may be frightening for very young viewers. Mine are older (youngest is ten) and don’t scare easily, so they coped just fine.


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