The enchanting tale of “Beauty and the Beast” has created a surprisingly large amount of controversy for a children’s movie. Bill Condon, the director of the re-imagined, live-action version of the story of Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens) has intentionally created the first openly gay character in a Disney film, prompting many theaters to ban the film. The way that the character, LeFou (Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in “Frozen”), is realized as gay is done in a very nondescript way, as with the other attempts at making this film different from its original, animated form.
The story of “Beauty and the Beast” is familiar for many people young and old; however, this remake does almost nothing new. The script, songs, and even camera angles as remarkably similar to the animated version, and what is new lets down. There are many subtle attempts at developing characters, expanding the plot, and creating deeper connections, but most of these are done in a half-committed style, and in some cases, takes away from the story. For example, Belle is marketed as more of an inventor, like her father, and an outsider. The only indication that Belle is more of an inventor than in the original film is that she is confident in what tools to give her father, and helping him build his creations; however, when she is locked in the Beast’s castle, Lumiere lets her out of her initial cell, and when she and her father are locked away as Gaston rides off the kill the beast, Belle’s father picks the lock. If Belle was the inventor she had been described as, she could have picked the locks, or at least been more creative throughout the movie.
The only change that seems to have made a difference in the film, is that of LeFou being gay, Gaston’s compatriot throughout the story. However, as mentioned briefly above, the way that Condon does this is a wasted opportunity. Instead of committing to the inclusivity of having an openly gay character, LeFou’s sexuality is only discussed briefly throughout, and unclearly. In an interview with The Verge, Condon responded to questions about LeFou:
“He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And [actor Josh Gad] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
In certain dance sequences throughout, Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou end up dancing with each other briefly, but LeFou asks the question, “Too much?” as an aside in the music, and the characters dismiss the event. Later, LeFou is seen dancing with a man in drag, which is the only true moment of LeFou’s potentially homosexual identity. His character is confused, clings to Gaston, and his change in heart overshadows the change in sexuality. In the scene where the villagers attack the castle with Gaston, LeFou has a change of heart and says to any sides, betraying Gaston and wanting to be a good guy. LeFou’s change in character does not have anything to do with his re-imagined sexuality, but considering how insignificant the line about his changed allegiance to Gaston is, it had more of an impact than any action related to his homosexuality. Disney and Condon missed an opportunity to change the heteronormative style of previous Disney films by being far to subtle with LeFou’s character development throughout the film.
Despite this misstep, “Beauty and the Beast” still proves to be an enchanting movie just as its animated predecessor. The large ensemble songs and dance scenes, in particular, “Be Our Guest,” which includes dazzling effects and vibrant CGI, as well as ornate costumes, all coming together to create an enjoyable film for many audiences. Emma Watson plays a terrific Belle, as she was also the very bookish Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series for many years. Each of the leads, and the supporting cast, including Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, all personify the Beast’s servants in a witty, and comedic way, making the performances all around to be a true highlight in the film.
This film is now the fifth live action remake of Disney films, and they all seem to go in a different direction. “Alice in Wonderland” was a new version of Lewis Carroll’s novel, “Maleficent” gave Sleeping Beauty’s villain a backstory, and only “The Jungle Book” has been a true success up to this point by adding original details and drawing on the novel more. “Beauty and the Beast” tried to continue in the style of “The Jungle Book,” but cam up short on originality. There were many attempts at adding original ideas, like LeFou’s homosexuality and the Beast having his own song, as well as adding to the backstory of each character, but most were explored to their greatest potential. However, there were some positive changes, notably in the Beast getting his own song, and many servants receiving larger roles, giving actors of color, notably Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Audra McDonald, a larger role, despite not being on screen.
In the end, “Beauty and the Beast” earns a 7.6/10 for its enchanting, yet recycled script with bland additions to the story. “Mulan” is the next Disney movie to receive a live-action remake, set for 2018. With the many different directions that Disney has taken with these films so far, fans can look forward to a (hopefully) unique take on Disney’s only East Asian princess.