Beauty and the Beast has broken the Disney box office record for the highest opening weekend for a live action remake and made £18.4 million in the UK its opening weekend alone, but what is the cause of its success? Is it profiting on nostalgia or breathing new life into a classic?
You could be quite cynical about this film, but there’s no dispute that it’s also pretty magical.
Before seeing the film I had my reservations, the 2015 remake of Cinderella left a lot to be desired with its overly sickly sweet nature and passive protagonist Cinderella, if there’s one thing I hoped from this film it was a stronger adaption of a Disney princess. The first thing you notice about the film is colour. Characters and story aside, director Bill Condon successfully creates a fairy tale world that is extremely visually pleasing. This is most evident in the film’s opening number ‘Bonjour’ immediately immersing you into a hyper-musical reality that throws you right back to 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast, with the scene almost mirroring its original yet modernised with vivid colours and beautiful aesthetic. The singing starts here and rarely ceases throughout the film with new song additions created by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, the new numbers are honestly hardly memorable and you find yourself waiting for the classic songs you’ve remembered since childhood.
If you didn’t fall for Emma Watson when she walked on stage at the UN and delivered for HeForShe speech, be prepared to. Belle is predominately a faithful adaption of the 1991 animated film version but with a couple modern touches no doubt inspired by Watson’s campaigning for gender equality. Belle has been upgraded from avid reader to avid reader and inventor with a quick wit and harem pants under her dress to show a more practical, feisty Belle. The pants aren’t only the notable thing about her costume, Disney has perhaps learnt from the backlash of Lily James’ miniscule waist in the live-action Cinderella film by allowing Watson’s request for Belle to roam corset free and as the film’s target audience is families and young children this is the Belle I would want my younger siblings to see, a princess who champions reading and realistic waists.
One of the film’s biggest successes is Le Fou played by Josh Gad, once your mind gets over seeing Olaf from Frozen’s voice in person, Le Fou provides frequent comic moments throughout the film and leads one of the film’s most arguably iconic songs, ‘Gaston’, this song will no doubt be stuck in your head for multiple days. Le Fou created somewhat of a media circus when it was revealed the character would be portrayed as homosexual, to the extent that even a Russian MP called for the film to be banned in his country due to the characters sexuality. The film deals with Le Fou’s sexuality as simultaneously something and nothing. Nothing because his sexual orientation is only hinted at and confirmed subtly, and something because its modern touches to the story like this that make it more accessible and reflective of society for today’s audience.
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yeah, maybe.
Two named women? Yup, especially if you count all the former women turned household appliances
Do they converse? On multiple occasions
Not about a man? Here’s my issue, Belle has multiple conversations with female servants-turned-objects but they are almost always about the Beast or about the imprisonment the beast has forced her into. The conversations only occur because the Beast has trapped her, so arguably you could disregard all conversations that happen as a result of a male imprisoning her. There is however, a sweet scene at the start of the film with Belle teaching an unnamed girl to read, though this scene may not help the film to pass the test, it’s hard to ignore as it represents the championing of female education.
It’s not perfect, few films are. Yes, the special effects are impressive and the classic songs will be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future, but despite giving the Beast more personality than the previous film it’s still pretty hard to believe that Belle would fall in love with someone who holds her prisoner. Flaws aside, you have to consider this film from its target audience, children. The scenes and settings are beautifully shot and the modern touches such as Le Fou’s sexuality and Belle taking on the role of female inventor show progression from the classic film, if only slightly, but it is progression that I would rather my younger siblings watch. I myself would probably rather see a film version of Angela Carter’s Beauty and the Beast where Belle is transformed into a tiger-like-beast at the end, but as far as Disney films go, this film is nostalgic, fun and really aesthetically pleasing.