The Re-imagined Beauty and The Beast

      When Disney’s Beauty and The Beast surfaced in 1991, a 7-year old boy with Cerebral Palsy struggled to understand himself. That boy was me. Consequently, I fell in love with Belle.  I was “the funny boy, with his nose stuck in a book.” Belle did not have Cerebral Palsy, but she was smart, genial, and quirky like me. She loved her father and her father adored her.

My relationship with my father was anything but lovely. So I latched on to Belle’s fearless, quirky bravery, and the notion that beauty is allowed to be subjective. Like Belle, quirky people are complicated because their quirks alienate them from others.

Last night, I went to an early viewing of the new “Beauty and The Beast”. I expected that the hope of the old film would be renewed for a new generation.Unfortunately, “there is something there that wasn’t there before.” I should say to all reading this: I’m a senior level English major in college, now.

What I’m about to say reflects new knowledge about literature, fiction, and narratives. So, here is my fairest assessment.

Because the remake assumes the audience knows the original story, the initial plot structure falls flat. The original film was embraced by  audiences because it built the narrative around the characters.

The new film seems to build the characters around the narrative. That’s a difficult mission to complete if the editing and screenwriting team misreads  the intelligence of its audience. Viewers of this film come to the movies because they loved the original work.

The task is to connect with those people.  If the new work is excellent, maybe new audience members are  gained. For that to happen,there must be unity of time, place, and action.

The first major story arc includes an elaborate ball with the prince, his subjects, and other dignitaries. Then, the enchantress, the curse, the rose and epic special effects wipe them all away in an instant. The ball attendants were fixtures destined for dramatic effect, who served the prince.

The audience has sporadic details about the castle’s existence but that information is disconnected to the larger story. It’s as if someone said: Insert these characters here and let viewers decide whether the characters matter. The point is: If one decides to write an elaborate cast of castle characters, tell us something about them before they are banished in suspension.

The story setting was also confusing. Where are we, raced through my mind as I revisited “the provincial life.” Where does this story take place? Gaston and Lefou’s costumes were reminiscent of  Union and Confederacy times.

If Beauty and the Beast is set in France, why are British clothes and British accents present?Belle teaches a kid to read and the townspeople ridicule her because “one reader in town is enough”. The film is a fantasy-romance. What’s romantic or fantasy driven about this? Where’s the purpose? Were the producers injecting social satire into a innocent story?

   Belle’s reputation for quick wit and humor was integral to the original film.Belle was a bit more sarcastic, even a bit satirical in the other film.

When viewers observe Belle’s exchanges with Gaston, the tone is altogether different. When she closes the door in Gaston’s face, humor is absent. She’s supposed to laugh at Gaston’s ignorance.

Instead, she seems contemptuous and lacking compassion. Her interactions with the Beast seem dispassionate. There is an over-bearing intent to cast Belle as a fearless, independent girl. She’s too morose.

When she does express happiness, it looks manufactured. Gaston rarely smiles and when he does it’s certainly with a superior evil.

The Beauty and The Beast of 1991 had a recurring allegorical focus. It was less aware of itself. The re-visited film seems overly-aware.

The original film had two critical scenes that support the “fantasy” that Beauty and The Beast captures.

The first scene is the sensational “Be Our Guest” musical number that signifies Belle’s arrival to the Beast’s castle.

When viewers see the new selection,they might be disappointed. The “Be Our Guest” idea is girded by anticipation.

Lumiere, Cogsworth, The Wardrobe, Mrs. Potts, and Chip are supposed to cheer Belle up because she’s lost her father and freedom. When they bicker, they are supposed to be friendly about it.

These characters just seem old, jaded, and scary.They don’t have the excitement that communicates that they are truly excited to have a guest. Mrs. Potts and Plumette are the only characters that make any attempt at preserving the soul present of the original story.

Belle’s fascination with the castle is mixed at best. She’s very curt when she finally joins the dishes for dinner. At the end of“Be Our Guest” there’s no way to believe that she enjoyed the performance.

The tempo of “Be Our Guest” feels lukewarm and languishing. It misses the allegro and fortissimo that colors such an epic song. It’s supposed to be lively and bombastic.

     The second climax is supposed to be the “Tale as Old as Time” selection. It sets the tone for Belle and the Beast’s evening of tenderness. Instead, it feels wasted. There’s no communication between them about how great they look.

There’s simply a dance that’s forced and inauthentic. What the writers do instead is: give the Beast a new song. The beast sings his song when he decides to set Belle free to return to her father.

The film has great music but the singing is lackluster. The only powerful singers seem to be Audra Mcdonald and Emma Watson.

The “gay moment” was far less gay than headlines suggested.

        If  Lefou was gay, it’s nonchalantly implied. Someone must be overly-observant to see it. If there were any other gay moments, maybe one could gripe about the Wardrobe dressing a guy in a dress.

Let’s be realistic, though. One is happily naive if he or she believes that France is a country without a gay community.

We’re talking about a country that built a reputation for the famed cabaret of Moulin Rouge. The Beauty and The Beast of today wasn’t horrible, but there is something there that wasn’t there before.

As a fan of Beauty and The Beast, I left the theater visualizing Chip asking:“What’s there, Mama!” There’s obviously something missing and I don’t know what it is.

That’s a terrible truth when I obviously wanted to love this new film. GO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF. I hope you appreciate it more. However, if you’re left scratching your head when it ends, don’t say I did not warn you.

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