The 2017 remake of Disney’s animated 1991 Beauty and the Beast- was it worth it? Is it different? How does that LGBT plot-line affect the story?
Recently Disney have been putting a lot of focus on live-action remakes of their animated classics and when it comes to films like Beauty and the Beast I can understand why. Live-action mixed with modern animation and CGI adds a level of magical realism to these classic tales that were not possible before.
In terms of how it compared to the the original, the level of detail that went in to the props, set, costume was perfect. It was like seeing the classic we all loved step out in to the real world. Emma Watson was absolutely stunning as Belle, Dan Stevens was a suitably misunderstood Beast and Luke Evans did a great job of playing Gaston, a terrifyingly realistic misogynist. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson did not disappoint in their roles as the Beast’s cursed staff. The music was gorgeous- from the underlying score to the musical numbers we all know and love. My only complaint is that Ewan McGregor could have sung more (but that is a complaint I have about every film Ewan McGregor is in).
The plot did not differ too much from the original either- with many lines lifted almost directly from the original script. Belle’s character is strong- her rejection of Gaston’s advances and the patriarchal norms of the society around her is refreshing for a Disney Princess. The moment where Belle takes her father’s place in the Beast’s castle appropriately frames her as a brave girl making a sacrifice and not a damsel in distress. She shows much greater strength of character than her male counterpart (who is, let’s face it, the most emo of all the Disney Princes).
There were two ‘groundbreaking’ elements of this film that should not have been regarded as groundbreaking. The first one, is that this is the first major live-action Disney feature film to show an interracial kiss. The first interracial kiss on television was aired in 1968, it is absurd that Disney is 49 years behind in this.
The second, and far more controversial was the announcement that this would be the first Disney film to feature an openly gay character. I thought that Gaston’s side-kick LeFou was played well by Josh Gad and he and Luke Evans made an excellent double-act. I did not, however, think that the plot-line was as explicit as the marketing for the film made it out to be. Because of the controversy around it I kept waiting for it to become more than a hint- a conversation, a kiss, an explicitly stated declaration of love, but that never came. In stead, we got one small shot of LeFou dancing with another man at the end. I feel like, if Disney had not announced that LeFou was openly gay I would have left the cinema quietly questioning this interpretation of LeFou’s sexuality and the way that this was subtly explored. I would not, however, have left the cinema thinking ‘Yes, that character was 100% openly and explicitly gay’. If you have to announce a character’s sexuality before the release of a film in order for anyone to really notice it then it is not explicit.
Another reason that this was controversial was that LeFou is really just a gay side-kick pining after their straight, villainous friend. There are many more compelling and interesting suggestions for more major Disney characters who could be LGBTQ+ floating around the internet- Hades, Ursula, Genie, Elsa and Timone to name a few. For Disney to make any of these characters a part of the LGBTQ+ community would be huge, showing that LGBTQ+ characters can be heros, villians, side-kicks and everything in between and are as multi-faceted as they seem to think straight people are.
Disney made a strong statement in the press releases that announced LeFou’s sexuality but did not seem to follow through in the film. I can only hope they are testing the waters for more genuinely explicit gay characters coming soon. Because if you’re not going to update your fairytales to show the social advancements we have made as well as the advancements of CGI then are you really ‘updating it’? Would that money, cast and talent not be better spend on new originals?
And, let’s face it, if you were going to ever so slightly change Beauty and the Beast in the name of representation, the far more obvious choice would be to let Lumiere and Cogsworth stop bickering and release their obvious sexual tension. Are Disney more likely to show a kiss between two men, or between a clock and a candlestick? Sadly, we’ll never know.