25 April 2017

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

Summer & I saw the much anticipated live action film Beauty and The Beast last Tuesday. I don't usually enjoy musicals, and I tend to feel detached from live-action Disney remakes as they are naturally aimed at a younger audience. It can be hard to immerse yourself in a family film when you can already guess the basic plot, and expect the happy outcome of the characters.
Although this is still the case for Beauty and the Beast, it still manages to draw the older audience in, with it's strong characters and minor (often overlooked) plot details. The film is a social commentary on Feminism, Identity and acceptance, high-lighting social issues around both the time in which the film takes place and today. 

The Disney film, with an all-star cast including Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, among others, has already been praised by viewers and critics alike, as it makes it's way to the top of the UK Box Office. At 2 hours and 9 minutes, the musical follows the original story, with some minor yet important adjustments.

A Feminist Film

Beauty and the Beast introduces us to a new, ''modernized'' version of Belle: an intelligent, strong-minded, adventure seeking young feminist who, after moving to an isolated french town with her father after her mother falls ill with the plague, finds herself wanting more than just a safe, simple life her father provides. Beauty and The Beast gives us characters with depth, who aren't one thing or the other, characters who are flawed; it rises above the sexism usually associated with fairy-tales and establishes itself as an inspiring, beautiful film, with moving scenes and exquisite musical sequences.

Belle, more than just a book-worm: a creative, an inventor, an academic

An educated girl with a love for books, Belle is described as 'odd' and 'peculiar' by the other villagers, who, living in the isolated french country-side, didn't share her upbringing: she isn't understood and is frowned upon by others.
This version of the Disney princess still possesses the main character traits of the original, with her kindness and love for literature, but Emma's Belle is most than just a book-worm: she is driven, a creative, an inventor, someone who uses what she has to facilitate her daily chores in order to make more time for her hobbies.
At the beginning of the film, Belle helps her father fix a personal family object, handing him the necessary tools without even giving him the time to ask or tell her what he needs. She puts together a make-shift old-style washing machine, which would do her washing for her as she stood by and read one of her books. When Belle is in the Beast's castle, she quickly forms an escape plan: by using the excess clothing and material from the wardrobe to produce a climbable safety rope (a possible reference to Pirates of the Caribbean's Elizabeth Swan?), a symbolic scene as Belle transforms the traditionally feminine items at her disposal into something practical.

These small details can easily be overlooked by some of the audience, yet these are important elements which contribute so strongly to Belle's character: she is portrayed as a capable young woman, with a love for all things academic (she teaches a young girl how to read as her clothes are being washed) and an understanding of basic engineering, a trait usually associated with men. And yet, she never loses her femininity: Belle doesn't need to give up one part for the other. She wears practical boots and beautiful dresses. She is loving and caring, but won't hesitate to throw a stool at your face if she feels threatened.

Women's rights: obstacles and setbacks

Belle's actions are seen as 'wrong' by the other villagers, despite the fact that she can offer them a chance to develop their skills and modernize their lives. The villagers quickly dismantle her washing machine, a clear attempt to destroy and belittle the technical advances created by a woman. They also frown upon her teaching a young girl to read, a rarity during that time but also in 3rd world countries today.
This scene is such a perfect parallel to the issues faced by girls over time - Women in history are too often marginalized, not recognized for their technical feats and scientific breakthroughs. How many female inventors do you remember learning about at school?
This one short sequence reflects the obstacles women have had to face (and continue to do so): the poor access to education and the way women are perceived by a patriarchal society. 

Young lovers: the perception of women in romance

One scene that really struck me in this film is when Belle directly flirts with Beast, causing him to blush and throw him in to a state of bewilderment. ''Was that a joke? Are you making jokes now?'' A comment which takes the Beast utterly by surprise: he has never experienced this before, he has no friends, little experience with other humans, let alone potential romantic partners. Such a bold, direct comment on his behavior is something new entirely: and a positive comment none-the-less, spoken with glee- rather than a criticism of his 'beastly' features as would be expected. This scene is so wonderfully refreshing: the female lead takes control over the conversation, she isn't a shy girl who just succumbs to the male as tradition often states.

Not only is our heroine strong minded and outspoken, she is also very clear about what she wants, and she doesn't hide it or apologize for it. She refuses Gaston's advances, she tells him directly that she does not want to marry him, clearly stating that she is not ready to have children. To have a female in any film who isn't just a plot device or a romantic partner is refreshing- and yes, even though this is a love story, we get to see a female character directly say no to a man. 

On the topic of romance- I think they got Beast so perfectly right. We see a young man, lonely, angry and sad, fall for Belle, not for her looks but for her personality. When they first meet, not once does he comment on her physical appearance. It isn't love at first sight, far from it: both remain utterly furious at each-other for the situation they are in. Neither are interested in each-other, and love is far from their minds. We see how they grow closer in the film, little moments in which they learn more about each other's lives and each other's passions (the snowball in the face scene was my favorite). These are the moments which bring them together. 
Beast never attempts to put on an act to impress Belle, though he does become self-conscious of his somewhat animal-like manners (when he licks his soup out of the bowl for instance). He talks openly about his feelings, to himself and the furniture, and admires Belle for not being afraid of his Beastly features. One scene which underlines his loving character is when he gives Belle the magical mirror to help her find her father, instead of keeping it to himself. He admits to himself that he has fallen in love with her, yet remains utterly selfless by telling her to go and save her father, and to take the mirror to help. One would expect him to keep it to himself so he could see her again, but the thought doesn't cross his mind: he doesn't hesitate to give it to her, urging her to leave.

Moreover, we have many shots of Beasts eyes, the windows to the soul, to Beast's humanity: his memories, feelings, sadness and loneliness, all always visible for Belle to see. Once in human form, we have a shot of Beast's eyes seen from Belle's point of view, unchanged: a moment of confirmation for Belle that this is still the man she fell in love with. 

Truth and Acceptance

The theme of acceptance is present through-out the film: whether it's accepting who you are or how you feel. The message is clearly given in the fight scene at the end of the film by Madame de Garderobe, who attacks three men with make-up and dresses, 1 of whom admires his new look and embraces it: a small message to the LBGTQ+ community, to someone who doesn't identify as cis-gender, and a positive message to the young audience who have not yet been introduced to such characters.

This moment may have lasted only a short few seconds, but it none-the-less marks progress for Disney who has yet to produce a film with a LGBTQ+ lead.
We can also appreciate the character of Le Fou, openly Gay (though admittedly only very briefly shown in the film), who accepts that he deserves better than Gaston, the man he so admired and looked up to. 

We see how the characters accept their feelings: Beast accepting how he feels about Belle, and vice versa, Belle accepting she ''wants much more than this provincial life'', and finally, Belle accepting Beast for who he is. 

So there you have it: an enjoyable film for all ages, full of messages of love and acceptance, a tale of two lovers who go from hating each-other, to understanding each-other, before finally falling in love. I hope parents take their children (both boys and girls) to see this film as it so wonderfully discusses the subject of equality, identity and acceptance,

What are you thoughts on the film? Did you enjoy it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Holly x

*I do not own any of the images in this post*


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