It’s a Tale as Old as Time–well at least it is for me. The original version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was released a year before I was born and was a treasured part of my childhood. I have a home video of me opening the book and movie version for Christmas when I was about four years old and for the rest of the day I was attached to the book, turning the pages and ogling at all the pictures. That love for Beauty and the Beast has stayed with me all my life. I’ve seen and performed in multiple play versions of the story and is definitely one of my favorite tales of all time. When the trailers for the live action remake were released needless to say I was skeptical. Remakes are generally a bad idea in my opinion and the trailers didn’t do much to alleviate that fear. Then came the wave of controversy a few week before the film was released about one of main characters, Gaston’s underling, Lafou having an “exclusively gay moment”. Christians everywhere were up in arms about the film’s stance, screaming boycott and making cases as to why Disney is the Great Whore of Babylon or what not. Admittedly director Bill Condon confirmed Lafou’s sexuality while also mentioning that he wishes he could “rip pages out of the Bible” which did little to lend support for the film in conservative circles. For a brief time I considered not viewing it myself but as a public servant of the moviegoer community I knew it was my obligation to give it a view. So as a longtime fan of the story and a connoisseur of controversy let’s dive into it. There’s no need for a plot synopsis as just about everyone is familiar with the story so let’s just jump into some pros and cons.
As far as remakes go, this one isn’t half bad. The musical numbers are just as delightful as ever–wave after wave of nostalgia hit me as Alan Menken’s phenomenal score rushed throughout the film bringing the most magic out of any convention presented. A couple of new songs are performed that weren’t in the animated version including an amazing solo delivered by the Beast that was a rousing and majestic triumph. The cinematography is flashy and whimsical and the editing is well done. Colorful costumes, characters, and sets makes for delightful journey through fantasy that’s easy on the eyes and endearing to the heart.
Here’s what’s the most amazing thing about the film–something I’ve rarely seen in a movie. This will be talked about more in the cons but the first half of the film was less than magical. Everything just seemed dull and trotted along at a leisurely and somewhat grudgingly pace. Belle was low energy, the Beast was unintimidating with little depth or authenticity, and the film was becoming more and more forgettable as the minutes dragged on. But then the strangest thing happened. From the ballroom dancing scene where “Tale as Old As Time” is sung to the end of the film everything changed. It’s almost like the directors switched out mid movie and the film finally found its footing. Even the characters changed in their choices, depth, and authenticity–I’m telling you it’s like a whole new film and I enjoyed it much more for last forty five minutes to an hour. Get ready for an intravenous of magic that slowly drips into your soul for the first half and rushes through you for the second half. Weird example, I know, but that’s seriously how it feels. I was so ready to roast this film and then it flipped on me and actually turned out to be good. You’ll walk out of the theater either satisfied or exuberant but it definitely gets better as it goes on.
As mentioned before the film starts out slow. Everything seems contrived, the characters seem less than endearing and somewhat campy, and you get the general impression that you’re being spoon fed at tale that’s old as time that’s also repetitive and unoriginal. In other words, the emphasis on the word “remake” is proclaimed loud and clear. The problem with a live action reinventing of a beloved classic is that there are certain expectations that you have going in and many times the “real life” versions of the characters prove to be disappointing. Take Gaston and Lefou for example. Contrary to the director’s vision, these two suffer from “bad chemistry” syndrome and don’t seem to click at all during the film. It would appear as though Lefou’s obvious gay affection towards Gaston does not play as well as a giddy fanboy interpretation does and the relationship found in this remake seems to drive the two farther apart rather than bring them closer together. Lefou is incredibly boring and not delightful in the least and Gaston managed to caricature the chauvinist male even more than the original and ends up being less than entertaining. I’ll say this though–he has a great singing voice. The chemistry between the palace appliances suffers as well. Cogsworth (Ian Mckellen) and Lumiere (Ewen McGregor) are both fantastic actors in their own right but their portrayal as the memorable duo from the classic film is not as memorable as I would like. Chip and Mrs. Potts relationship isn’t bad but still not as loving and close to home as previous versions. The biggest travesty as the beginning of the film is the underwhelming Beast who looks like the love child between Chewbacca and some creature from Pan’s Labyrinth.You could have called the film Beauty and the Least. There’s nothing scary about him and his role as the strong dominating presence is unimpressive and unconvincing. This gets better as the film goes on and we get to see the soft side of his heart but the contrast between savage beast and the gentlemen is nearly nonexistent.
In summary the first half of the film is supported by a great story but the originality suffers and then the second half is where we see the undertaking of a more adventurous spirit and the magic that the whole film deserved.
Since there’s been so much controversy over Disney’s first gay character (which I think is pretty ironic considering they chose someone who’s name literally means “The Fool”) I decided to talk about his portrayal in the film. First of all I’ve heard that sexuality is subtlety portrayed throughout. I would not say that is true. Throughout the film he is constantly throwing suggestive looks at Gaston, draping his arms around him, and saying a provocative comment here and there. At one point Gaston is talking to his reflection when he is interrupted. He looks into the mirror and says, “I’m not done with you yet.” Lafou takes his place at the mirror and says, “I’m not done with you either.” In another scene he goes up to the girls who fawn over Gaston and says, “It’s not happening ladies” in an possessive manner. He also references the fact that he’s very clingy when Gaston asks him why he hasn’t found a girl and at the very end of the movie when everyone is dancing with their true loves, Lefou is seen dancing romantically with another man who we also believe is gay based on an earlier scene where he is dressed in woman’s clothes. I think we can agree that these signals might be subtle but certainly noticeable. It’s up the viewer as to what they want to do with that info. Young kids probably wouldn’t pick up on it but to me it seemed pretty obvious what they were trying to do.
There’s not much to say other than what has been said. The film starts out as a lackluster excercise in mediocrity and trancends to a impressive retelling by the time the story wraps up. This is primarily because it’s hard to butcher a good story such as this but I have to give credit to the casting and smooth and assured direction towards the end of the film. As far as the introduction of Disney’s first gay character it’s up to you as to whether or not you want to support the film with your money. Some people take that decision very seriously and that’s fine. Whatever you do, don’t violate your conscience for nostalgia or popularity’s sake. But if you do decide to go, be discerning, enjoy the film, and have a great time. I think you’ll find it to be quite delightful.
Daily Diatribe Score: 7.5/10