TV & Movies

Does Beauty and the Beast Live up to the Hype?

Is the tale as old as time still magical the second time around? Our editors, Ava Baccari and Ishani Nath, saw the film and answer the questions on everyone's mind

Beauty and the Beast review: Maurice and Belle sit down at a table in Beauty and the Beast, the live-action reboot.

(Photo: Laurie Sparham/Disney)

Welcome to After the Final Rose: the Beauty and the Beast edition. Disney’s latest blockbuster, the live-action reboot of the 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast, hits theatres March 17, and there has been no shortage of speculation about the film. We sent two of our editors, Ava Baccari and Ishani Nath, to the premiere to find out if the movie—starring Emma Watson, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor and more—delivered on its promise of magic and modern-day relevance.

Is this film the feminist masterpiece that we were promised? 

Ava: Seeing this film made me remember why I first fell in love with Belle as a child—her spunk, her dream to have a grand library lined with floor-to-ceiling books (it’s been mine ever since), how she gives Beast a piece of her mind even when he can so easily overpower her—I loved and aspired to all of it. As Emma Watson steps into that role now and inhabits all those same traits, it’s pretty clear to me that Belle was already the feminist icon Emma imagined her version to be. The Disney heroine we’ve been promised since it was announced that Goodwill ambassador Emma will be our new Belle, is, to me, ultimately one actress’s take on a cartoon character who was pretty badass from the start. I don’t want to devalue the work Emma does in this role to champion Belle’s newfound feminist sensibilities; yes, she’s now an inventor and problem solver in her own right, and she lays out the parameters for her captivity, including plotting her own Rapunzel-like escape (some damsel-in-distress intertextuality going on, I’m sure), but the reality is that it’s hard to imagine a feminist overhaul to the script without actually rewriting the ending. And to be honest, I was constantly asking myself throughout the film, “Is this feminist enough?” Is it OK that the Beast saves her from a pack of snarling wolves? Where’s the girl power I was promised? It’s pretty clear that the power dynamic will never be subverted, as Belle is still mortal and a big strong Beast can and should swoop in to save her when her life is in danger. Whether or not it’s anti-feminist to be perfectly OK with that narrative is just not something this film sets out to explore.

Ishani: I totally agree, this film made me realize that the Belle I watched as a kid was way more of a boss than I ever gave her credit for. Disney princesses tend to get a bad rep for being damsels, but tbh some of Belle’s most empowering moments were straight from the original 1991 film. It’s clear throughout the film that Disney was trying really hard to comment on gender and sexism—such as showing that only boys were attending school, or having Belle get in trouble for teaching a young girl to read—but it ended up feeling really heavy-handed. Plus in the end, she still gets her “happily ever after” by marrying her prince charming, a trope which nowadays is seen as an outdated idea for happiness but is obviously crucial to the original story. Ultimately, it left me wondering if the only way to send important messages for modern audiences is to come up with new, modern stories (e.g., Frozen and Zootopia) rather than trying to force old classics into a new mould.

What was it like to watch this movie as an adult?

Ava: From the opening musical number where Belle proclaims with a dreamy far-off look that “there must be more than this provincial life,” I finally got it. Belle is all of us. She’s the ultimate millennial, still living at home with her dad, more educated than the local guys she deigns to reproduce with, thirsty for the real world outside of her sleepy small town and singing about her woes. Sound familiar, guys? She’s the naval-gazing, self-important ingénue wanting to make something of her life—all with her head stuck in a book. Or smartphone. Either way, she eventually moves out, finds love and settles into a castle in the French countryside with a prince. There’s hope for us all.

Ishani: I was so ready to go full-on nostalgic and fall in love with Belle and the Beast as a fairytale couple, but as an adult I found it hard to get on board with the idea of lusting after a Beast, no matter how well-dressed and human-like he seemed. Maybe it’s because instead of being animated, this film went all out on the special effects and made British hottie Dan Stevens truly looked like a large animal, or maybe it’s because as an adult, I am now *unfortunately* aware of the concept of beastality. Either way, as Belle’s relationship progressed with the Beast, it felt like I was watching a young woman fall in love with her rescue pup—which got very confusing at the end when she kissed him.

Disney tried to be more representative of LGBTQ and racial minorities in this film, was it successful?

Ava: The dynamic between the ultimate jock-douchebag alpha male Gaston and his trusty beta sidekick LeFou was a baffling one. At first I thought that LeFou (played by Josh Gad) would be fawning all over Gaston (played by Luke Evans) and his brazen masculinity. (We knew going in that LeFou was Disney’s first gay character. What we didn’t know was how he would be portrayed.) Turns out: the “exclusively gay moment” the director promised us wasn’t a moment at all. Apart from dodging Gaston’s frequent bro-like comments to have at the ladies he himself passes on, we don’t really see that LeFou prefers men until a fleeting look is exchanged between him and another male character—who is dressed up in Marie Antoinette makeup and hair—at the end of the film. And then we just know. It’s subtle. Like blink and you’ll miss the reference as it sails over the heads of anyone under the age of 12. But it’s there. So I guess that counts as a win.

Ishani: I am all for more representation in Hollywood, and Disney clearly put in some effort to represent visible minorities in this film. From the very first ballroom scene, it is clear the chorus is half white and half black, but once again, I didn’t see anyone from any other backgrounds, such as Asians, Latinos or Indians—and yet, that’s not what stood out to me most. For a film set in 18th century France, I was left wondering whether casting a black actor as the town leader, for instance, was progressive or an attempt to satisfy the diversity component. It turns out that in fact, there was racial diversity in 18th-century Europe and even some evidence of black noblemen. With that in mind, it was nice to see a larger range of faces represented in such a powerhouse blockbuster.

Related: Is a Gay LeFou Really a Step Forward for LGBTQ Representation?

What did you think about the additional backstory that was added?

Ava: The subtle nuances we learn about Belle and Beast in the film ultimately don’t serve to enrich these characters, other than giving us a few extra scenes for Belle to really fall hard for Beast in a way that proves only he gets her, OK? They both suffer from absent parents and their behaviour from a lack of mother (hers) and father (his) is a textbook example of this. Beast was a classic spoiled rich kid crying out for love and attention from his parents as he sought comfort in shiny things and beautiful people. Belle was a sheltered farm girl who never knew her mom but asked a lot of questions and shared an unexplained affinity for roses. Yes, their parents left them both emotionally stunted, but they found love (for themselves, each other and eventually, their parents) in a way that most of us hope to one day do as well.

Ishani: In addition to the parents’ backstory, the film attempted to flesh out the character of the old witch that cursed the prince, and at first, I was super intrigued. Agatha, as we learned she is named, is v. mysterious, and in the original, she has such a big impact on the story but literally disappears after the intro, so I was game to learn more about her life and how she fit into this Disney world. Unfortunately, it feels like something got lost in editing because as the film reveals her name, her rando forest dwelling and her magical powers, it seems like it is building up to some big reveal. Could she be the Belle’s mother? Could she be the Beast’s mother? Is she in fact the narrator? *Spoiler alert* no to all three. When it comes to the new film, Agatha is once again, left out in the cold. #JusticeForAgatha

Was it as magical as the original?

Ava: I’ll put it this way: the film is everything I wanted La La Land to be but wasn’t. In La La Land, I wanted magic and a happy-ever-after based solely on finding true love. Basically everything Disney had already taught me. What I got instead was a harsh reality that love and following your dreams are mutually exclusive, and you better choose one now and be content with forever looking back to second-guess your decision. The end. Also, the singing and dancing wasn’t so great. But here. Here. It was as if Disney literally brought the 1991 animated film to real life. I felt like I was transported to my childhood, where my dad was mouthing along to the banter between Lumière and Cogsworth (French accent and all), and I was frightened by the creaky castle. After the fanciful and Broadway-worthy rendition of “Be Our Guest,” I literally want to leap up from my seat for a well-deserved standing ovation. The people sitting a few rows in front clearly shared my same sentiment and broke out into an applause. It couldn’t have been more on cue.

Ishani: OK, while it may not be evident from this Q & A, I really did enjoy the film. If you can go in and watch it for the nostalgic fairy tale that it once was, it definitely delivers on its promise of magic—particularly since their special effects budget was clearly massive. From the on-point recreations of classic scenes to the sing-along-worthy numbers, this movie is enjoyable from start to finish. The songs, costumes and sets combined with the unmatched capacity of Disney to make fantasy feel like reality makes this film a must-see on the big screen. 

Related:

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