To Beast or Not to Beast

Everyone told me it was the same. Everyone was sure I’d love it.

While many of my Christian friends and family chose not to see the new live action Beauty and the Beast because of Disney’s alleged push of a particular agenda, there was never any doubt I’d end up paying the ticket price to see this one. It is, after all, my favoritest of favorites of almost any film. Ever. I expected to come out of it with myriad reasons why the boycott of such a movie was not only unnecessary, but also a bit silly. And perhaps that’s still a conversation we should have. Perhaps we should talk about how this boycott feels like a double-standard to a world that already doesn’t have much respect for Christianity. Perhaps we should talk about how this Christian sort of agrees. Perhaps we should talk about Howard Ashman, the gay man who wrote the music not only for this, but also for a few other amazing Disney animations. Or perhaps we should talk about the impropriety of the three girls in the animation whose voluptuous curves are barely fit into their attire as they basically work themselves into a frenzy over the unrivaled Gaston.

But let’s not. At least, not for the moment. For now, let’s talk about how this Christian actually hopes you don’t waste your money on this film, and how it breaks her heart to write such words.

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of Disney’s animated films. In my overweight, insecure, absent-father, odd-because-I-was-a-Christian childhood, the movie was a reminder to me that all of those things didn’t define me, that they didn’t make me lovable or unlovable. It taught me that age-old truth: a person is not defined by whatever she outwardly appears to be; she is defined by her character and her behavior. It taught me that it was okay to have odd characters for my friends—that the people I trusted didn’t necessarily have to be the people who looked like they were perfectly put together. It taught me that magic, a thing unreal, could still somehow exist as an experience.

We all experienced it together, remember? One of the best moments in Disney history was that brilliant moment in the ballroom when the orchestral music swelled our emotions, and the camera panned up to take in a swirling ceiling, and we all experienced it together as a magical moment. How did someone with a pencil and paper make it happen? It changed the game. Suddenly Disney was no longer a simple, two-dimensional realm. Somehow, Disney had created this new magic—something more than just telling us a fairy tale— and we all saw it happen in that ballroom. For a child, such a moment was magical. Even now as an adult, it stirs my childlike heart that longs yet for magic.

So maybe … maybe I approached the live action remake this classic with higher expectations than I ought to have. But again, everyone who saw the film before me said I would love it, and that, with the exception of the added storyline about Belle’s mother, the story followed the animated film faithfully. Some of my favorite actors and actresses were featured in this film, so I knew I would enjoy their performances. And I suppose I did, at some moments. Mostly, however, I found the tale entirely flat and not magical. I’m not sure how much of it was the production and how much of it was the acting, but it just didn’t feel like a fairytale anymore. And Beauty and the Beast is exactly that—a fairytale.

This, of course, will be something of a personal preference, but one of the things that made the animation magical for me was the music. Music is powerful to affect emotion and creativity and conviction. Or it can be. In the live action film I saw over the weekend, it definitely was not. Vocally, it was flat (not tonally, but in timbre and resonance). Part of understanding Belle’s longings in the animation happens when we hear her long, drawn out vocal yearning. We hear her emotions in her voice when she sings. We don’t really get that in the live action rendition. Or at least I didn’t. I instead heard short, to-the-point moments of scripted notes. To be fair, the singing itself was perfectly fine; it just, to me, lacked emotion.

The dialogue, also, felt stiff and unemotional to me, which was surprising. The actors and actresses portraying these characters are some of my favorites and have previously portrayed some of my favorite characters in television and film. It pains me to say they mostly didn’t wow me this time around.

But more than either of these things, the storyline was simply not true to the animated film. There were several things that disappointed me because they were added or changed to fit this film. It isn’t just that one of the characters is identified as gay—to be honest, he was the best portrayed character in the tale! It was more that this wasn’t just a remake of the animation, but an actual retelling of the tale in a manner that tried to capture the audience of twenty-plus years ago by keeping the same songs and some of the same dialogue and the same characters.

After leaving the theater, I followed up with some of those people who told me it was “true to the animation” and told them honestly that I was disappointed and found it blatantly different than the animation. Oddly enough, they almost unanimously agreed with me. I’m not sure what changed their minds between me not seeing the movie and me seeing the movie, but there you have it: Even those who’ve told me they loved it and it was a true live action remake of the animation seem to have changed their minds.

I would not leave you thinking there were no great moments in this movie. When Lefou realizes he is illiterate? When the Beast pelts Belle with a snowball right in the face? Yeah—there were some great and memorable moments. I LOLed right there in the theater (though strangely, no one else did.)

In one regard, and one alone, this film was better than the animation. Do you remember that magical moment at the end when Beast is transformed back into a man? I remember walking out of the theater with my friend in 1991, and we giggled when we confessed to each other that the Beast was more handsome than the man! Not so this time around! Dan Stevens? Definitely better looking than the Beast!

So, if you can’t see the film because you feel a strong conviction to not support a Disney film with a gay character—good on ya. This is America, and we should still be celebrating our differences and encouraging one another to act in accordance with our own convictions. But if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re on the fence, let me encourage you to pause.

If you want to see a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in live action—this is the film for you. If you’re looking for a live action remake of the animation, a magical tale of a young woman who is odd and out-of-place in her world and learns to love someone who appears absolutely unlovable and undeserving, you might want to just pop in the old DVD. The live action film was perfectly adequate, but for this Beauty and the Beast fan, it was also perfectly unmagical.

Written by Sarah Moore

Sarah lives and works in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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