The release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast is barely a few days away. If you’ve read any of my series comparing the 1991 release with Fifty Shades, you’ll know that I consider the animated Beauty and the Beast to be a masterpiece of story-telling that speaks powerfully and truthfully about redemption. However, this means I’m very nervous that I’ll be monumentally disappointed by the new version.
So far, I’ve managed to see two different trailers for it in the cinema. (This has never happened to me before; and it only happened this time because Hidden Figures and The Lego Batman Movie were just too appealing to miss.) Even though Disney are using all the same colours from the 1991 animated film, and they’re reusing the music, and, and, and… it’s already clear they’re making a lot of changes. And I’m not sure I’m happy with them.
The wardrobe’s line about how “the Master’s not so bad once you get to know him” has been given to Mrs Potts. Mrs Potts’ face is at the side of the teapot instead of at the front.
Why? Why did they do this?
The change that really grates is the fact that Maurice is imprisoned for stealing a rose and not because he comes to the castle searching for shelter. I can make some guesses about the reasons for this, and I’ll save judgement until I actually have a chance to see the 2017 version, but I’m frustrated that we’ve lost the parallel that Maurice had with the old woman seeking shelter right at the start. I just… sigh.
All this said, if I take off my rose-tinted glasses, there are some things that, on reflection, even I’ll say would be good to change from the 1991 release. Here they are.
Beauty and the Beast is not Frozen
1. Belle’s dainty dresses
Honestly, look at this picture:
There’s snow collecting on the panes of the windows and her sleeves are only three-quarter lengths. Let’s state the obvious: she’d be freezing in this cavernous castle that, we can reasonably guess, doesn’t have central heating. Belle doesn’t get to use Elsa’s excuse to explain this away. Honestly, I’m tired of images of elegance being incompatible with freezing temperatures. Apparently Belle’s rather impractical shoes will be replaced with sturdy boots. Let’s hope similar happens to her dress.
2. Philippe’s icy chase
It is really, really dangerous to fall into freezing waters, but Belle’s horse Philippe just gallops on through it. Plus, somehow, Belle is able to get Beast onto Philippe’s back whilst Beast is unconscious. I also have a problem with Lefou having to stand outside Belle’s house until she returns. It would be nice to set this up in a way that wouldn’t have Lefou dying from hypothermia.
Fortunately, the trailer for the new film suggests that the unrealism of Beast being hoisted onto horseback is being dealt with. I’m hopeful they’ll improve in these other areas too.
The tired female stereotypes
3. Big breasts and the jealous wife
In the song “Belle”, we have a big-busted younger lady coming to buy meat – and the butcher is immediately oogling over her, to the point where his wife clunks him on the head with her rolling pin. Honestly – why? Why are we normalising a world where men are indiscriminately and uncontrollable attracted to big breasts? And the whole jealous angry wife stereotype… yawn.
4. The wrung-out mother
“I need six eggs!” she cries with her six babies. Lovely positive image of motherhood right there. Lovely absent father too. OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh – this song is all in the context of Belle saying she wants more than what this life offers, but… we should do better. Hobbiton didn’t have these stereotypes, but that didn’t stop Bilbo wanting adventure.
5. The brainless blondes
As a blonde, I am just so, so tired of the blondes swooning over Gaston. I don’t know why pop culture values blonde hair so highly; I have blonde hair myself – it’s just hair. Other hair colours have their own splendour to be appreciated. Meanwhile, it doesn’t help people like me to be pigeon-holed as brainless just on account of our hair colour. Honestly, the best thing about these blondes is that they provide a handy cross-over with the blondes at Grey Enterprises in Fifty Shades. (Read the rip-off of FSOG chapter 1 here.)
6. The door that opens outwards
Unlike most doors, the front door to Belle’s house opens outwards. It’s set up this way so that Gaston can tumble through the door when Belle refuses his proposal. On its own, I could live with that, but when Gaston enters he never actually closed the door. Plus, in the next scene when Belle asks if Gaston has gone… the door opens inwards.
7. Belle’s book illustrations
Belle opens her book that she’s just been given from the library, shows a picture to the sheep singing “Here’s where she meets Prince Charming”. Later Gaston says there are no pictures in the book. Belle gives a great rebuff saying some people like to use their imagination… but it’s still a mistake.
Messages about sexuality and consent
8. Lumiere and the sassy feather-duster
I’m torn. I’m really, really torn. On the one-hand, the feather duster is a sexually expressive and confident female character, who is attracted to Lumiere not just for his French charm, but also for his ideas and bravery. So, I think she’s got a lot going for her. But there are some aspects of how she’s treated that really bother me.
When Belle leaves her room for the first time, the feather-duster and Lumiere are in a consensual-non-consensual exchange. One could ask if this is propagating the myth that a girl’s ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’ (and for the record, that’s one nasty myth), but the voices convey the fun. The feather duster is even biting her lip in anticipation of Lumiere chasing after her. This scene could be a door-opener for conversations about distinguishing a teasing ‘no’ from a serious ‘no’. (Children have tickling fights – this concept is relevant to them.)
Except that when she complains that he’s burned her before, he like… ignores it and carries on. No apology, no “Yeah, sorry about that, it won’t happen this time”, nothing. Instead he carries on and when he sees Belle has left her room, Lumiere just drops the feather duster without apology and chases after Belle. No, this is not how to treat someone but Lumiere totally gets away with it. Do better, Disney.
9. The transmisogynistic moment
So one of the mobsters is utterly repulsed by being dressed in women’s clothing. OK, in context, this has been done forcibly to him and he might quite reasonably object to that, and it’s not like the combo is especially flattering. But this moment seems to be far more about hatred of feminisation than the violence of misgendering. Maybe if the mobster is so hateful of feminine dress, you could say he is getting his just desserts. But this is only a fleeting moment that gets passed by very quickly. People (and children) will just see the image at a basic level and be influenced by it. And the basic message is that a man in women’s clothing is an object of horror. We can do without that.
My guess is that this moment will be left out. For one thing, Lefou will be presenting as the first overtly gay character in a Disney movie, and if they’ve gone to the effort of being more LGB aware, one hopes that they will be more T aware too. (No guarantees though.)
10. It’s a girl!
Chip, the feather-duster, Lumiere and Cogsworth all call Belle a girl. For one thing, I’d like to think she’s a young woman.
Possibly the biggest strength and weakness of Beauty and the Beast is that it’s a fairy-tale; the visual is symbolic. Belle isn’t special because she’s beautiful; she’s special because she has wisdom, bravery and integrity – which are illustrated by her beauty. Of course, that’s not something many children will understand when they see this film; but then to try and get them to understand this too soon will break its storytelling power.
But if the narrative can shift the focus away from the idea that Belle helps Beast to learn to love because she’s a woman, or because she’s beautiful, then that could be a good thing. I note that in the trailer Lumiere refers to Belle as ‘the one’ who will ‘break the spell’. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Of course, I’d like to see a version of this where there is no romantic interest at all. But I think the odds of that are slim.