Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a “tale as old as time” though it’s anything but stale. This live-action reimagining of the 1991 animated movie retains the original plot while introducing new interpretations of the characters and their backstories. Additional scenes provide parallels between Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens). The Beast’s worthiness is now a forgone conclusion. Life would have been different growing up with a kind father like Maurice (Kevin Kline). The Beast is now worthy of Belle in a way that he wasn’t previously–or is he?
The new plot points don’t gel as well as intended. Scenes showing Belle’s past don’t illuminate anything new. Her key qualities of bravery, intelligence and kindness remain unquestioned. For the Beast, a cruel father seems to be explanation enough regarding his worthiness for redemption. An audience already willing to accept the premise of Belle and the Beast’s relationship doesn’t need these additional scenes. Likewise, an audience questioning the Beast’s growth will not be satisfied with hints of a cruel father.
Despite some moments that aren’t quite as smooth as they could be, the movie does many things well. Sarah Greenwood, an Oscar-nominated production designer, will surely receive her fifth nomination for her work on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The sets are magnificent. Design choices for everything from the castle’s chandeliers to the wall moulding show a marked attention to detail. These sets provide the most compelling reason of all for remaking the animated movie.
Along with reinterpreting scenes and sets in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Disney as a whole seems to be updating their stance on princesses. As waves of feminists have long criticized the depiction of princesses in need of saviors, recent movies like MOANA have made an effort to show the heroics of their female leads. Belle, like Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), declares quite emphatically that she is not a princess.
While it’s great to see the strength these women possess and studio’s attempts to modernize, it seems somewhere along the way, ‘princess’ became a four letter word. The definition of princess is not “woman who needs to be saved”. It’s wonderful seeing Moana risk her life for her people. It’s fabulous that Belle loves reading and recognizes beauty comes from within. No matter how often Gaston (a fabulous Luke Evans) shows off his muscles he will never be the man for her. Belle’s confidence never wavers.
Just as Moana declares “I am not a princess”, so does Belle when she’s asked to put on a beautiful dress. It’s an unprovoked comment so emphatically declared that she looks right at the camera. When did princesses become so maligned? The real issue isn’t with royalty, but this Disney depiction which has remained unchecked for decades. The pendulum is swinging wildly without recognizing the core of the issue. Women–princesses–don’t need to wait around helplessly for the right man to come along (I’m looking at you SLEEPING BEAUTY). The very act of being a princess isn’t what put the women in that position in the first place.
The gorgeous dress Belle refuses to wear isn’t going to magically turn her into a helpless woman the moment she slips it over her head. If Disney wants to work on its depiction of strong women, why not address the question that the only person in town who likes Belle is literally a beast? Belle doesn’t defend the castle from intruders, she doesn’t take part in the final fight. Her only glory is in returning to the Beast.
It isn’t that the movie is bad or particularly different from the animated classic in that regard. Appreciate the movie for what it is, but don’t declare Belle has a new type of strength just because she is not a princess.
For more about princesses and the reinterpretation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, take a look below:
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