Firstly: HERE BE SPOILERS.
Guys, I am so serious, if you haven’t seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie yet and you think spoilers might, well, spoil it for you, DO NOT READ THIS POST. I do not want that on my conscience. I’m going to count to five and then I want you gone, okay? Ready?
Well, if you’re still here, then you are obviously okay with spoilers. But I should probably also warn you that this blog post is going to be ridiculously nerdy and probably a bit screamy. I love Beauty and the Beast the fairytale (obligatory mention of my book) and I love Beauty and the Beast the 1991 cartoon (and I saw the UK tour of the musical four times) and I’ve also seen (and recapped) a whole bunch of other adaptations sooo… I’ve got opinions, is what I’m saying.
Well, if there’s anyone left after all those warnings, then I want to assure you that this blog post is very well-planned. I even wrote notes during the movie! … On my hand. In the dark.
So you’re in (or on) safe hands, is what I’m saying. And I’m sure I’ll figure out what I was getting at as we proceed.
Okay, first of all… I liked it. It did a great job of being faithful to the original while adding something new, it made me laugh, it made me cry—and visually, it was utterly, unbelievably beautiful. There was some stuff I would have liked them to do differently, but overall I think the filmmakers did a brilliant job of reinterpreting the movie to be enjoyed by people who loved the original, plus a whole new generation.
Soo… let’s dive in.
I predicted in my trailer analysis that Luke Evans as Gaston would steal the movie. I wouldn’t say he necessarily walked off with it completely, but he certainly borrowed it without permission for a bit.
They fleshed the character out, giving him a military background, and made him… well, not more or less evil, but a different kind of evil. In the cartoon, he makes an abrupt jump from “guy whose self-obsession makes him oblivious to other people” to “straight-up scheming villain” when he hatches the plot to get Belle to agree to marry him by threatening to have her father taken away to the asylum. It’s elaborate, and premeditated.
In the new movie, he’s kind of more spontaneously evil. Instead of having Maurice thrown out of the tavern and then musing “Crazy old Maurice…”, he agrees to go with him into the forest to look for this alleged Beast, only to snap and leave Maurice tied up for the wolves when Maurice says something he doesn’t like. Later, when Maurice reappears in the tavern—with an unflattering story to tell about a certain hunter—Gaston is blindsided and comes up with the “Maurice is crazy” thing seemingly on the spot. He’s less of a schemer, but his impulses have graduated from selfish to deliberately cruel.
I loved Lefou, and I’m trying to figure out to what extent that’s because of the media hype around the “announcement” that he’s gay. I suppose that made me pay special attention to him, looking for a “gay moment”—but I think I’d have been intrigued by what they’ve done with the character anyway. I’ve always thought that Lefou loved Gaston—maybe platonically, maybe not, and in my headcanon I don’t think he knew either—without necessarily being on board with everything he does. It’s an unhealthy love, a worshipping love, the kind of love that overrides your sense of self in a way that sounds romantic but actually just quietly destroys you.
Lefou doesn’t come out of the new movie’s plot looking innocent. He’s right there when Gaston leaves Maurice to die, and he gets a direct choice between Gaston and doing the right thing when Maurice asks him to back up his version of events—and he chooses Gaston. But he expresses guilt, and he hesitates. And it is Gaston he’s been choosing, not evil, because, when Gaston finally abandons him, he’s able to choose goodness, switching sides mid-battle.
Whereas our last glimpse of him in the cartoon is him running out of the castle in terror with the other villagers…
… in the new movie, he gets to come to the ball at the end. And yeah, he gets the “gay moment”—a dance with another man while everyone else falls into boy-girl pairs. (This is by no means the only moment that indicates Lefou might be into dudes.)
Ultimately, Lefou takes the chance Gaston turns down. The Beast shows Gaston mercy, that a person can reject the monster inside themselves (I’ll come back to this!), and Gaston murders him. (He gets better.) But Lefou sees goodness and mercy and he takes it, and so he survives to get a chance at happiness.
I’m actually starting to wonder if Lefou’s story might be my favourite part of this!
Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs Potts
They’re pretty much as you remember them—which works for me, because I remember them very fondly! I didn’t feel as though they got as much screen time, though. I suppose the servants were the cartoony comic relief in the original and this movie, while not un-family-friendly, isn’t trying nearly as hard to entertain children. Most of the servants’ scenes were either cut or changed to include Belle and/or the Beast.
There were some changes I really liked, though. The servants at least talked about standing up to the Beast. There’s a funny bit where Cogsworth pretends that he was totally just about to—revealing that he knows he should, but is too frightened. The Beast’s intimidation of the servants is played mostly for laughs in the cartoon but, in this movie, I felt like they were addressing how miserable that relationship would be. The Beast was presumably horrible to them when he was a Prince, and then his selfishness got them cursed—and then he continues to treat them badly, with the added super-fun-yay bonus that they’re objects who literally can’t leave, many of whom the Beast could smash without effort.
Also, I felt like they were all a bit more upfront about pushing Belle and the Beast together because they need to be free. You don’t dislike them for it, because you can feel their desperation, and I think it added depth.
The servants also feel responsible for the curse. Conveniently, I thought, since it comes at just the moment the plot needs you to feel sorry for the Beast, but I’ll come back to that. This isn’t new—there’s a scene in the stage musical where Cogsworth wonders aloud why they had to be punished by the curse, and Lumiere says it’s because the servants raised the Prince and are therefore responsible for the way he turned out, and they take a very similar approach in this movie. Honestly, I find this unsatisfactory (how do you raise a child who could have you executed for denying his smallest whim without spoiling him, exactly?) but it’s better than no explanation at all.
She’s still the independent bookworm we know and love, but we get a little more of her backstory—mostly, what happened to her mother, and how her absence affects Belle and Maurice. This answers a question we didn’t get answered in the cartoon, and also gives a bit of depth to her sadness about being trapped in the “poor, provincial town” she dislikes so much.
We also get a bit more depth to the villagers’ dislike of Belle, seeing specifically what they’re suspicious of—her education, a rudimentary washing machine she builds, the fact that she teaches a girl to read in a time and town where they only teach boys.
I’ve always felt that it’s a little unclear what Belle wants out of life. She sings about wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere” and apparently uses books to escape into adventures, but, when she talks about what she likes about books, she talks about romance. Here that’s confused further, because when offered a magic book that will literally take her anywhere she wants, she chooses the windmill in Paris where her parents lived when she was a baby, until her mother died of the plague. Now that I think about it, that sort of dovetails with the song “Home” from the musical—maybe what she wants is actually home, and that becomes clear to her once she’s trapped away from the place she’s always known as home. This is yet another thing I’ll come back to.
(Incidentally, while none of the songs from the musical are used in the new movie, you can hear the melody of “Home” when Belle first enters her bedroom. I’m pretty sure that’s what the “H” scrawled on the back of my hand denotes…)
Ultimately, though, in both movies and the musical, you sort of have to hope that it is romance she wants, because that’s the ending she gets. A castle probably can’t match a family windmill for homeliness.
Whereas Belle seemed to be a fairytale fan in the cartoon, here her literary poison of choice is Shakespeare. Her favourite is Romeo and Juliet – which Belle reads to the Beast in the extended version of the cartoon. As another nerdy aside: the equivalent scene in the musical has them reading King Arthur, which the Beast reads in the new movie. It was nice to see both versions of that scene get a nod!
The Beast must be the character they’ve changed the most for this movie. They’ve massively toned down his violence, his temper and his childishness. I’m happy about that, because I’d become increasingly uncomfortable with those aspects of his character. And, honestly, I think they had to. In a cartoon, you can get away with painting in broad strokes. You don’t take the Beast’s roaring and furniture-smashing any more seriously than you take Gaston’s claim that he eats five-dozen eggs every morning. But I think this movie wanted to be taken seriously as a romance, and you just can’t have a romantic hero exhibiting that kind of threat. I honestly think that scenes people have happily shown their kids for twenty-five years would have looked shocking if perpetrated by a photo-realistic Beast on Emma Watson.
Instead of being violent and angry, then, this version of the Beast is more… snobbish. Even though he’s been slouching around a building that’s falling apart and shredding animal carcasses in his bedroom for who-knows-how-long, he starts out thinking Belle is somewhat beneath his notice. It gives the romance a slightly Jane-Austen vibe, actually—something that really peaks after the ballroom scene, when he says something like “I suppose it’s too much for a creature like me to hope to win your affection?” It’s very difficult to picture the cartoon Beast saying that!
Another change: he can read. I mean, it was always a little odd that he couldn’t. In the new movie, he even says he had “an expensive education”, which makes more sense. Not only that, but he likes to read. That makes more sense too, given that he’s had a lot of time on his hands in the Land Before Netflix. But, more importantly, it gives him something to bond with Belle over.
It’s always the Beast’s journey that’s the most interesting, and there were some nice moments that showed that development. For instance, I’ve always thought it would be good if the Beast acknowledged the effect his actions and the curse have had on the servants, and that does get addressed here. Firstly, there’s quite a nice conversation with Belle where he notes that the servants always stop laughing and joking when he enters a room. And then, when he lets her go… he actually apologises to them for not being able to set them free!
The Beast Belle meets in the cartoon is, as far as we can tell, the same person he was when the Enchantress transformed him years earlier. In this movie, I felt like she was joining his journey already in progress. He’s not raging at the injustice of it all, he’s not clinging to who he was and what he used to have. He’s just… well, reading, mostly. He doesn’t even really seem to be thinking about breaking the curse—he describes himself as having received “eternal damnation”, and his “damnation” isn’t even permanent yet. The servants have to persuade him to even have the feeblest stab at breaking the curse. I think you can interpret that as, like… he’s stopped thinking of himself as a Prince who deserves everything and now sees himself as a Beast, who deserves nothing. What we see him do during the course of the movie is decide that he’s not that either—which we see when he tells Gaston “I am not a Beast”. Disney’s continued refusal to officially name him (his semi-official name is “Adam” but lol, no) means that we don’t really know who or what he is, but he’s no longer a Beast.
Here are a few changes I found interesting.
- The Prologue. They added a line or two about the curse making everyone not in the castle forget all about the people who were. This cleared up a plot hole or two (how did nobody notice that a prince totally disappeared?) but also had further-reaching implications than I expected, in that both Mrs Potts and Cogsworth turned out to have missing spouses. (Cogsworth was not pleased to see his, which I’m choosing to take as confirmation of my Lumiere-Cogsworth ship.)
- They added a few elements of the original fairytale back in. Belle asks her father to bring back a rose, he steals one from the Beast’s garden, and that’s what puts the Beast in a kidnapping mood. Unfortunately, the movie never really explained why the Beast was so upset about the rose, so it ended up making less sense, I think, than just imprisoning him for trespassing.
- They left the timescale much more open to interpretation. In the movie, the Prologue says the rose will bloom until the Prince’s “twenty-first year” and Lumiere claims “ten years we’ve been rusting” in Be Our Guest. They changed it to “many years” in Be Our Guest and didn’t mention a time at all in the Prologue, as far as I remember. Given that the missing spouses mentioned above weren’t noticeably older than Mrs Potts and Cogsworth, though, I suppose maybe it wasn’t actually that long?
- There’s that magic book I mentioned earlier. This was such a cool idea, but… it didn’t really go anywhere? Belle and the Beast use it all of once, for a purpose that doesn’t really advance the plot, and then we never see it again.
- What the book does do is give Belle an opportunity to refer to the castle as “home” as in, “let’s go home”, which goes with what I said above about her looking for home, and which the Beast looks adorably pleased about. There were a few nice moments like this, although I have to admit I’d have liked to see the romance expanded a little more.
- They used an idea from the musical I really like. The servants become increasingly more object-like as time passes and the curse becomes more fixed. Although this led to…
- …an absolutely brutal climax to the movie. We saw all the servants become truly inanimate objects as the last petal fell and… I don’t know, maybe I was just too invested (HAHAHAHA, there is no “maybe”) but I thought that was horrifying. A great, emotional piece of storytelling, but… horrifying.
My goodness, this post got long. Two final nerdy points, since I’ve just figured out what the squiggles on my hand mean:
- The song “Gaston” (which, by the way, was a huge highlight and had me grinning for the entire number) contains extra verses and a bit where Lefou tries unsuccessfully to spell “Gaston” that were on the soundtrack to the cartoon but not in the movie.
- The village was named “Villeneuve”, which is the name of the author of one of the most famous versions of Beauty and the Beast.
If you made it through this entire post then… wow. You and I should be friends.
Again, I did really like this movie—despite some of the ranting I did above. Maybe I should go and see it again tomorrow. Oh, wait, I already have plans to do that…