Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, released last Friday, maintains the genuine love, dancing silverware and marvelous princess castles that moviegoers adored in the 1991 animated classic. However, with the pressures of remaking this beloved Disney animation comes the challenge of adding some contemporary twists. Disney accomplished just that with this movie.
In addition to revamping the plot and the film’s euphonious soundtrack, Disney built up the animated characters into symbols of progressiveness and modern times. Belle (Emma Watson) joins the line of other new Disney princesses, such as Elsa from Frozen or Moana from Moana, who are steadily redefining the image of a Disney princess. Belle, once equated with princesses such as Jasmine, Cinderella or Snow White, is now being reinvented through Watson’s defiant, strong and independent character.
In one scene, Belle invents a washing machine that frees the little girls from chores and allows them more time to learn how to read. This is just one example of how this princess’ image is shifting from a character who is overly dependent and has a wrist-sized-waist to one with qualities of leadership and innovation. Leave it up to Emma Watson to contribute to this evolution; her long role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films made her a dominant role model for female strength in the movie industry.
But Belle isn’t the only inspiring role in this Disney film. Lefou (Josh Gad), who is the lackey to narcissistic hunter Gaston (Luke Evans), appears to be gay and at times questioning his sexuality. While it is not completely clear that this character is gay, director Bill Condon admitted in an Attitude magazine feature that this was one of the tweaks he has made from the original. Although this does not dominate the film in the slightest, it is the first time Disney has ever included such a character.
Nevertheless, there has been some backlash. According to vox.com, a drive-in theater in Alabama has boycotted showing the film, the Russian government is considering prohibiting the movie from airing and the Malaysian film censorship board requested that Disney cut the gay scene completely (the studio refused). This criticism has occurred despite the character never explicitly saying he is gay or being in any obvious homosexual relationship.
Despite resistances to debut the film, Disney’s 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is truly remarkable. Yes, the acting is strong, the song and dance numbers well-versed, and the sets and costumes outstanding. But Disney’s progressive attempts are admirable and suggest a promising future for this huge movie corporation. For a business with a consistent track record of perfect, damsel-in-distress female roles and all-around heterosexual characters, it is refreshing to see more and more Disney films move toward change and modernity, regardless of the audience’s reactions. And, of course, it is always nice to witness an intricate dance number between a teacup and candle.