Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Rachel, Ryan Sheely, and Matthew Wrather overthink the remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and ask all the important questions: Is it woke? Why a remake? When is it set, and what does our knowledge of French political history add to the plot? And are the songs any good?
Subscribe: iTunes Other Apps
- Peter Fenzel: @fenzelian
- Mark Lee: @goestotwelve
- Ryan Sheely: @ryanmsheely
- Matthew Wrather: @mwrather
- Beauty and the Beast: the original French version
- “False Equivalence” from ShortPacked!
- Baroque and Rococo design
- Early Modern France
- “The Real Beauty and the Beast”
So the 90s Beauty and the Beast was written by Linda Woolverton. Here’s some stuff on her and why Belle is a feminist character:
Woolverton went on to do a version of Alice in Wonderland in which Alice wears armor and swings a sword about. Then she wrote Maleficent, in which a classic female villain is reinterpreted into a subversive female heroine and also quite literally smashes the patriarchy.
Point being, the mission of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, in all its incarnations, has been to realign the original story to be more in harmony with progressive and egalitarian values that allow for a more diverse set of perspectives. Which is an undertaking that will probably always require rebooting in order to be successful.
What I’m wondering now is if the animated Beauty and the Beast was the beginning of Disney’s modern attitude towards its classic fairytale subject matter. Since around that time, the company has been less comfortable with the stories that it used to adapt so frequently and has either tried to remake the idea of princesshood as an ideal (Mulan, Frog Princess) or simply take the piss out of it (Enchanted).
Speaking of Maleficent, my understanding is that live-action remakes like the new Cinderella and Jungle Book are a part of the same project of updating the inclusiveness of Disney product but I haven’t seen either one so I can’t say for sure.
On wokeness, I have to ask: does it mean anything that Hermione Granger is Belle? Emma Watson has spent her post-Hogwarts career alternately pushing away from (Bling Ring) or embracing (Perks of Being a Wallflower) her most famous bookish fantasy film alter ego. Does her status as a feminist speaker in real life connect to her portrayal of a feminist… uh, kidnapping victim?
Can we talk about the ending? I get why it ends with the elaborate ballroom scene: it provides visual symmetry with the beginning, same as how the animated version begins and ends with the stained glass window. (Side note — that also has the effect of positioning the whole story as a myth not to be taken literally, kind of like a bible story.)
But wouldn’t it have been great if it instead showed the Prince and Belle back in the village, teaching people how to read and how to use the Donkey 5000 washing machine?
(H/t to my wife for coming up with this idea)
Yes, that would have been the better ending. If Beauty and the Beast were not a remake and this was the first time filmed, the picture would have ended in the village but no one considered that as an option. The basic beats of this film are too firmly established in the publics mind.
Like the Bible, there is a standard Disney canon that cannot be easily altered. No Beauty and the Beast story coming from Disney can stray to far from their translation. The Maleficent film got away with it because this was an adaptation of older cartoon before the Disney renaissance. The Old Testament of cartoons if you will. Today you can make a film about a possible crazy Noah or an Exodus film with any plot twist you want.
But if you make a New Testament movie with Jesus and you don’t follow the cannon…people will get upset about changes.
Upon further reflection, I do realize I’m trying to force a hero’s journey ending onto a non-hero’s journey story. In other words, I’m expecting Belle to “return” to the village as the “master of two worlds.” Sure, she wants “much more than this provincial life,” but rather than finding fulfillment and bringing it back to her people, she finishes her story in the castle, which is a significant horse ride away from the village.
In other words, I want a “Moana” solution to a “Beauty and the Beast” problem.