Film · Queer Filmmakers · Review

Beauty and the Beast: Classic remake, or remade classic?

This gotta be the shortest delay for a Disney live action remake right? I mean we had Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty by any other name) followed by Branagh’s Cinderella, then Favreau’s The Jungle Book and David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon; but Pete’s Dragon came out in ’77 and never really hung about in the public consciousness. Beauty and the Beast dropped in 1991, got that best picture nom, and was in the VHS collection of all them rad nineties kids. We ain’t digging up some lost gem here, we looking at one of their best received flicks of all time.

That leaves the remake in a bit of a bind. It was never really going to be able to win, not really. Change too much and they’d be tarnishing a classic, change too little and then what’s the point the remake in the first place, outside of the business perspective of course? I guess it’s in the flesh, and spring-boarding off of 2016’s Zootopia what better way to confuse a new generation of young furries? Why else would they make the beast so sexy? All part of Walt’s plan, by the 100th anniversary of his death they’ll be screening high quality gay furry porn into cinemas all over the world and nobody will even have noticed.

I’m considering deleting that last sentence, but I think I’ll leave it there for the moment.

Like, but seriously though, the film seems like it wants to engage in a subtle form of reinvention. Take the much talked about Lefou (Josh Gad) whose ambiguous status as a queer character is here solidified and allowed to take on a role more nuanced than the fey=bad trope that the original fell into. At the same time of course, The Beast, in a previous life as a Prince is cruel seemingly as a direct result of his foppishness, and a second queer character introduced as a foil to Lefou is handled with much less tact.

Y’see, it wants to be all updated and all modern but can’t really manage it, we say that these fairytales are timeless but really, in their telling, they take on the characteristics of the period. For a text that is all about toxic masculinity it seems very stuck in the eighties, Gaston is still exactly as he was before, and look, we don’t need a scene where he DMs abuse at women on twitter, but we cannot pretend that we exist in the same world that we lived in prior to the publication of The Game.

It tips and tips at these, an early chance to comment on the disempowerment of women in patriarchal society isn’t really capitalised upon, nor is the economic irony of The Beast’s employees literally becoming his property. And when it comes to the main driving force of the romantic plot here, not a whisper, it’s kinda unfair really, we all deserve our fairy stories, but it still ain’t great. In this case Imma stick with the argument that you know what you’re getting going into this one, to stay an engaged audience is to partake in an act of consent with the film, and it really helps here that this story being told from Belle’s point of view.

Cos Emma Watson is that part. I’m not sure I can imagine anyone else playing it. Not sure anyone else could play it, maybe someone we ain’t seen yet, some ingénue perhaps, Lily Cole could’ve probably done something. I’m sure they paid Watson a lot for it, worth everything. Luke Evans too, I think between this and last year’s High Rise and The Girl on the Train we’re seeing him get tired of his unproblematic hero roles, he has a great chemistry with Gad and I hope he rolls into some more dramatically interesting roles from here.

Dan Stevens and the associated animators deserve some credit too for The Beast, spectacularly realised here, also the only one to tackle a wholly original song for this piece, it sounds a bit like they’re aiming for that best original song Oscar. I actually quite like it but compared to Howard Ashman’s lyrics running throughout the rest of the joint it just feels a little worthy. I honestly ain’t that huge a fan of many of the orchestrations they’re going for here either, we got much of Menken’s original compositions but it feels like they’ve been busied up in a way that just don’t feel right.

But that’s a curse that plagues so much of the damn thing, even with the additions its two and a bit hour runtime felt a little awkward on it. It has one of the distractingly overactive cameras in a film I’ve seen recently. You can get away with one or two shots that rotate 360 degrees around a focal character in a film, this one I think almost tips into double digits. And as soon as the animated characters start turning back into humans you may as well start throwing the credits up onto the screen right there and then, so pleased is it with itself that it can snag all these stars. There’s just this little strain of self-satisfaction running through here, like it knows it’s gonna be a hit, and a little bit of me is turned off by that.

Try as I might to rebel against it though, it’s still Beauty and the Beast, all the core stuff is still there and so and so most of the magic is there. Oh, it all well and good to say, ‘Go back and watch the original.’ but the original ain’t in the theatres no more, and for this versions flaws, the original don’t have no good queer representation, it don’t have no good representation of people of colour and it don’t got a real version of that yellow dress that is probably in some wardrobe somewhere just ready to be worn.

It’s hard to dismiss that.

beautyandthebeast

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