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Improving Beauty & The Beast

Jondee here at the Be Our Guest Restaurant,

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Beauty and the Beast is set for release on March 17th, next year. This is another in the line of Disney live action films with Jungle Book and Cinderella (2015), both excellent movies.  Then, Maleficent (2014), and Alice in Wonderland (2010) and it’s sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, what do they all have in common? Screenplays by Linda Woolverton who also happened to write the Beauty and the Beast animated film. The problem I had with her B&B was that the feminism was so heavy handed, like all of her films, that the story problems become glaring. The premise is a peasant girl who nags a Beast until he turns into an empty, glam rock star prince. Thankfully, the live action B&B has a screenplay by different writers; Evan Spiliotopoulos (who worked on Huntsman: Winter’s War, but also the Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure and Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning) and Stephen Chbosky (who wrote the film musical Rent). I feel the funny, action and interesting parts of the animated film were due to Brenda Chapman who wrote the story (also Brave) along with her team including Chris Sanders (he created Lilo & Stitch), plus the songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The film also has a director, Bill Condon, who has experience with musicals in Dreamgirls (2006), adaptations like the two part Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, and most likely he brought Ian McKellan, his collaborator on Mr. Holmes (2015), to the part of Cogsworth which is brilliant. So here are the problems with the cartoon and how the live action film could fix them.

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First, a character arc, Belle (Emma Watson) is the same person at the beginning of the cartoon to the end.  So she can start lonely, kinda outcast, but starts to relate to adults and furniture through the Beast. Next, the heroine and her love of reading. This is different for a Disney princess of course, but what purpose does it serve in the story? In the animated film it’s a gimmick. The live action film can make her reading, which is great, purposeful. Belle could read up on castle construction to understand passages to try to make her escape or to help the castle inhabitants to ready a defense against the villagers, maybe her reading makes her aware of Gaston’s attentions, and she could read up on royalty (which the villagers in the cartoon are incredibly ignorant about with a castle next to them, no one is interested in looting it?, this should be the primary reason why the villagers try to get to the castle). Belle does not have to know everything about the Beast (Dan Stevens) from her books or the enchantress that places the curse. She’s an enigma too, again a gimmick, was she happy that Belle broke the curse? I can see her in the live action film as a old woman who goads Gaston (Luke Evans) into assaulting the castle. The happy village is confusing too, if the castle is cursed, then why is the village thriving and happy? The happy medieval village is cartoony, the villagers could be happy they are not being raided or forced to fight in a war, and who exactly is taking over the land if the rulers are gone with the Beast’s castle?

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The most incredible thing about the cartoon is the happy servants turned into dishwear. If I lost my favorite body parts and turned into a broom, I wouldn’t be happy.  No, the furniture in the cartoon love it, and sing all the time. I hope this is dealt with in the film, maybe a song, “I know we are in a funk, but this curse wiped out our junk.” Gaston is a weak character, yes, he’s a blowhard male, ha ha, but this was better explored in Once Upon a Time, a misunderstanding of Gaston through La Fou. In the live action film, he could be a defender of the village against raids, why they idolize him, which would also be why they would follow him to the castle. Lastly, Belle’s attitude towards the Beast, this is a total misunderstanding of medieval dynamics. Yes, there has been no royalty for a decade, but I think the live action film should be more about understanding each other, not just a superior female, but both together.   They can figure out that they can compliment each other; he getting over his royal attitude, and Belle her loneliness, maybe his attitude was from loneliness. Maybe at the castle attack, the Beast sacrifices himself not for Belle, but protecting an old lady (the enchantress) from Gaston, which starts his redemption and then finally collapses from his wounds as Belle saves him. If this is all dealt with in the live action film, it would be an improvement over the “classic” like with Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and make a great film. Oh, and the title Beauty and the Beast song should be sung by Belle and the Beast not a tea kettle.