I should by saying that, although I’ve seen the animated version, it was only once or twice, and a long time ago. I can’t really do a direct comparison, so I’m not going to attempt it.
On to the film itself. One of the possible delights, or possible terrors, of seeing a well-known story converted to a film is that you have to cope with the adaptation process. Perhaps fairy tales are particularly good, or Disney are particularly good, or both but I felt this story moved along as it needed to and made its points. The heroine was suitably heroic, the villain kept just shy of moustache-twirling and the beast was suitably aggressive looking while mellowing from bitter to pleasant and plausibly lovable over time. The cast of additional roles, the singing clock, candelabra and so on all worked together and with the big three characters as well.
The songs, although this isn’t one of the classics that I, at least, have seen dozens of times, all worked well as I expected. There is a fair amount of razzmatazz added in several of the numbers, while others are smaller and almost intimate as befits what it ultimately a love story, and a story in which love conquers all.
The antiparallel story of the Beast, who is (supposedly) foul on the outside and pleasant within, and Gaston who is handsome on the outside and foul within it laid on very thick here. I appreciate it’s for a film aimed at children, and it’s live action so Pixar wouldn’t go near it, but I can’t help feel it would have been better handled by them. I’m guessing this is a throwback to the original and, although it’s not always true, often in musicals the villains are bigger and in harsher relief and perhaps that is what is going on here.
There has been quite a bit made in the press of LeFou being gay. I’m assuming, having seen it, they mean that he’s dancing with a man at the wedding. Honestly, that’s not the clearest indicator of being gay you could ever have. Ah well. The director says he’s meant to be gay and that’s the clearest signal for it I saw. If that signals being gay, the opening scene shows a hell of a lot of lesbians!
There are a few issues with the film. I think Emma Watson is pretty but we’re told Belle is hands-down the most beautiful woman in the village. There were quite a few attractive women in that village and depending on your tastes you might think she’s not even the prettiest of them. That might seem harsh, but when the entire village is telling you “she’s the prettiest one here but she’s odd” and she isn’t standing out in a rather beautiful village, it jarred a little. She was, however, clearly odd: she was the only one not to cover her hair as a demure maid should! She charges out of the castle into the middle of winter in a ball gown too. It looked spectacular but how did she not die of exposure? I’ve mentioned LeFou being gay (or not) and while I understand his role was prescribed by the film they were adapting, we have a frankly incompetent comic sidekick to the villain as the gay character. Would it have hurt to have made Cogswoth gay instead and have had, ok a rather prissy, somewhat cowardly character, but at least a good guy?
I’m not the only one of us that thought the Beast was far more attractive than the Prince (sorry Dan Stevens) but I was happy to see the thing that made Belle really start to fall for him (rather than pity him and be willing to look after him) was the size of his… library.
Beauty and the Beast won’t be for everyone. Unlike Pixar movies, this is aimed more squarely at children in the Disney tradition. But three of us over 50’s went to see it and I’m sure we’ll see far, far worse films this year and far less entertaining ones too.
Bechdel test: There are female characters who aren’t women and there are conversations (and sung interactions) but a lot of them are about male characters (well, the Beast). But Mrs. Potts and Belle have a conversation about Belle being brave and so on, so I’m going to say yes.
Russo test: My feeling is, in any other film, I’d say no. However, LeFou is clearly identified by the director as being gay and he passes the other parts of the test, so I’m going to grudgingly say yes.
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