The Film (3/5)
A woman is held captive by a brute of a man who intimidates, controls, and verbally abuses her, but she can see something in him and eventually loves him just enough to bring out the good in him. Tale as old as time, indeed.
That’s kind of unfair but also kind of not.
By this point we’re all familiar with Disney’s seminal animated classic and all of its accolades, but watching it now as an adult (for the first time since I was a kid) I’m left a little baffled. I mean sure, it’s gorgeously drawn and animated, the songs are great, and it sits nicely in the Disney Renaissance Period.
But, well, it’s also kind of gross. Kind of. On the surface it has noble intentions; it makes a case for seeing the good inside of someone as opposed to judging books by their covers, and it doubles down on that case when it makes a point to skewer (and subsequently make a buffoon of) the men who think their physical assets entitle them to what (and whom) ever they please. It even tosses a nice little hi-five to the benefits and general awesomeness of non-conformity.
But all that stuff about not judging books by their covers? The writers really go out of their way to make those covers ugly as hell. The whole conceit of the film is about Belle being able to see past the Beast’s, well, beastliness, to the good man underneath. Here’s what she has to overcome to see that good man:
He kidnaps her father and locks him in a dungeon because he got lost and needed help
He only let her father go if Belle agreed to be his prisoner forever
He demanded she have dinner with him, and when she refused he locked her in her room and refused to feed her at all. (“If she doesn’t eat with me, SHE DOESN’T EAT!”)
He’s absolutely horrific to her. Textbook abusive relationship. And that’s compounded by the fact that from word one their relationship dynamic is that of captor-and-captive, which nobody seems to really pay any heed to. When Belle escapes, she frames it as HER breaking a promise. Later, once they have that first big romantic dance scene, she talks about missing her father and uses the mirror to see that he’s in trouble. So the Beast decides to grant her freedom from being a captive and her response is to be grateful. He’s finally (FINALLY) decided to stop imprisoning a woman he supposedly loves and the entire scene is written and played as benevolence on the Beast’s part. What?
Now I know, I know, it’s all shorthand; big broad exaggerations meant to illustrate emotional beats in the easiest, most recognizable way possible; it’s a fairy tale! But here’s the deal – they actually tried to write Belle with some agency and power over her own life. You can see it in the smart, capable way she deals with Gaston. But because they went SO exaggerated with the Beast, they end up undercutting everything they tried to craft with Belle. Not to mention when he does actually set her free, the little enchanted furniture pieces are disappointed! They’re not repulsed that this supposedly good man took an innocent woman captive or tried to bully and intimidate her. They’re actually sad that he let her go. And again – I get the intention; they’d come to care for her and their sadness was in having to say goodbye to her. But because of everything that had happened and been written beforehand, it plays like they never really cared about her at all, and only saw her as their ticket to breaking the curse and being humans again. And it all comes back to those first few moments - the second they started Best and Belle’s romance with that captivity dynamic, it threw everything else entirely out of whack, tonally.
And for everything that’s good about this movie; the art and animation, the music, the performances – the one thing that they missed (and the one thing that could be considered the single most important) was the writing. It’s half-assed, and it takes two characters who could have been rich and layered and developed a substantial romance that delivered on every single intended message, and sold them both out with a single plot beat that threw everything else off the rails.
Gorgeous. The 1.78:1 1080p transfer is crisp and while in some places it sort of shows the imperfections of lines and the contrast between the hand-drawn and computer animated stuff, it oddly adds to everything.
The only thing keeping me from giving it a five out of five is some sound mix issues, especially noticeable in the first “Bonjour” song. Everything gets a little muddled in places and it’s hard to make out lyrics or even a separation of sound. The only thing I don’t know is if that’s a problem with the source recording or if it’s an issue with the disc master. But either way, it’s a small, small thing.
You got three versions of the film (Theatrical, Extended, Sing-a-long), a retrospective of Disney composers, a featurette about Paige O’Hara and her experiences playing Belle, a BTS thing showing some voice recording sessions, a featurette about Walt Disney and the role of fairy tales in the history of Disney Animation Studios, a little ’25 Fun Things About Beauty and the Beast’ piece, and a commentary.
I’ll be honest, I ran out of time and didn’t get to watch all of these things, but I did watch a couple of them and they were well-produced, so I can’t imagine the rest of them not following suit. It’s a packed disc, and sure to bring fans lots of things they’ll enjoy.
The movie has its fans, and I don’t begrudge them their fandom. There’s a lot to like, it means well, and it has noble thematic ambitions. But ultimately, the half-assed writing just muddles and mixes its messages, and ends up selling it a bit short of its full potential.