By: Brandon Anthony, Columnist
Before I proceed, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I might be one of the very few 90s kids in America who never saw the original “Beauty and the Beast” animated film.
I can already hear you doing your best Gaston impression and yelling, “I say we kill the beast!” at ME, but hear me out first. My shameful under-exposure to this standard American childhood staple actually allowed me a completely unbiased, fresh look at the 2017 remake, does it not? See, I thought you’d warm up.
I came into this new “Beauty and the Beast” film without really knowing what to expect. All I knew was my amazing heroine Emma Watson was in it, it was very expensive, and it was highly anticipated by a vast army of people around my age. To be honest, what truly piqued my interest in this film — aside from my castle obsession and the fact that I’m a sucker for expensive, visually stunning escapism — was my fascination with Disney’s well-founded reputation for influencing young people’s desires (their fears, their perceptions of love and beauty, their understandings of male and female gender expectations and much more).
On an artistic level, this was a truly delightful and expertly crafted film. It delivered all the beautiful visual spectacle and “magical castle” escapism I was looking for and was filled with well-paced action and development every step of the way, weaving together a passionately emotional tale that kept me captivated. The movie was sprinkled with more humor than I expected, superb musical performances (if you’re into that sort of thing) and excellent acting throughout. On the acting front, Watson shines the brightest and is just so heart-warming and loveable as Belle. The character of Belle is more than just a mere “beauty” — she’s extremely intelligent, she has a fiercely independent spirit, she’s in love with reading she’s fearless and yet she still has a heart absolutely open to compassion and love. So who better to bring this wonderful soul to life than Watson? She delivers on all levels.
As for her “Beast” counterpart? He’s no Belle/Emma Watson, but he was still really well done, both on a visual and performative level, and his character was where all the most fascinating character development resided within the film. I mean, in the span of one film, he goes from disturbingly superficial and arrogant man, to the violently angry and bitter Beast, to increasingly more compassionate and loving Beast, and back to a newly transformed compassionate and loving man. Only Belle’s love is what makes this transformation possible (or so we’re led to let ourselves believe).
Do I like that the character of Belle is much more noted for her intelligence, her fascination with reading, her yearning for a life beyond the ordinary, her uniqueness of character, her fearlessness and her compassion, rather than just how beautiful she is? Absolutely. It’s inspiring and fills me with great hope that young girls can look up to similar characters in popular media. Do I like that love is put on a grand pedestal, and we are encouraged to suspend our disbelief and let ourselves believe that “happily ever after” type love is still possible, in a world that all too often leads us to feel that this is a barbaric remnant of naïve times past? Sure. I think when we finally lose that little ounce of hope altogether we’ll have reached the truly dark place in our evolution. Do I like that the character of Gaston is depicted as the stereotypical embodiment of standard “masculinity” and he not only fails miserably in his every attempt to woo Belle, but fails because of his confinement to textbook masculinity? OH MY GOD. YES. The more I think about it, the more I realize just how much the film tried to drill this point home.
Do I like the fact that the whole object was for Belle to fall in love with some vicious, abusive beast who imprisons her (and acts really nasty to her) just because he eventually started being nicer to her? Weird bestiality stuff aside, it sounds to me like some disturbing variation of Stockholm Syndrome, and it’s certainly not an example of love I would feel comfortable showcasing to a hypothetical young daughter or sister of mine. Do I like that the foundation of their love is centered around the fact that the Beast is cursed, and the only way for him to be relieved of the curse is by getting her to fall in love with him? What a genuine incentive for “true love” to occur! And she falls for the whole game, hook, line and sinker, and everybody is just oh so happy about it, viewers included.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable, emotional and mesmerizing film that has everything you would hope for and expect from an Emma Watson-led Disney classic. You should certainly get yourself out to the theaters to witness this historic remake for yourself, but don’t go without a discerning eye and an analytical mind.