Nitpicking Over Beauty and the Beast Changes
By Chris Chan (@GKCfan)
Note: All comments and observations in this essay are my own. I have not seen these concerns voiced anywhere else, but if anybody else has written about them, I swear that this is just a case of critical minds nitpicking alike. Also, SPOILER WARNING for the movie.
The live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast appears to be a runaway hit. Based on the 1991 animated classic, the new version hews very closely to the original movie in many respects, including the basic plot, many recreated scenes, and a lot of the original music. There are also a lot of changes, some of which distract from the movie. I’m not talking about LeFou being gay, or some of the characterization alterations, or the addition of some new songs. I’m talking about some of the newly added scenes, which led to some big questions and other points that just don’t make sense when viewed critically.
For example, shortly after Belle takes her father’s place as a prisoner at the castle, Lumiere lets her out of the cell. Upon seeing the walking, talking candelabra, Belle freaks out and throws a stool at him. I get that it might have been intended to make Belle seem proactive and capable of defending herself, but come on– it’s not like Lumiere was trying to set her on fire. Several scenes earlier, Belle was complaining about the villagers who attack things that they don’t understand. Sure, she’s never seen a sentient candelabra before, but when something’s talking to you in a friendly manner, even if it’s a light source, doesn’t it make more sense to ask questions first and throw stools later?
Later in the movie, there’s a scene where the Beast shows a magic book that the enchantress gave him that transports you anywhere in the world you want to go. Clearly, it actually takes you there, not just to an imaginary version of it, because Belle retrieves her childhood rose rattle from her old home. The scene is supposed to answer what happened to Belle’s mother, but the way the Beast figures out what happened doesn’t really make sense. He finds an old-fashioned beaked-nose doctor’s mask off to one side, used to prevent the wearer from catching the plague. If the doctor were attending Belle’s mother as she was dying from plague, would he really take off his mask before he left? Today we know that it’s unlikely that the plague will spread from a corpse, but at the time wouldn’t the doctor wear his mask for as long as possible? Why would he take it off? And if he left it, why wouldn’t he retrieve it? It just seems unlikely that the doctor would leave his mask there.
Also, nothing’s said about the number of times you can use the magic transporting book in a day. So if Belle thought that she actually had to get home to save her father right away– no time to waste, not even to change into a dress that would be easier to ride in– why didn’t she just take the book to transport herself to the village to rescue her father? It would have been a lot faster.
I’ve always had a problem with the curse the enchantress cast. In the original animated movie, the prince must be eleven years old at the time of the curse (though they’ve made the prince much older in the new version, and the curse’s duration is no longer specified as ten years). Yeah, the prince was a spoilt child, but was this really a proportionate punishment for a boy? It does make more sense if the curse was inflicted on an adult man. However, it never seemed fair that all of the servants were cursed, too. The new live-action movie adds a line about the servants being culpable because none of them did anything to stop or correct the spoiled prince. But come on– what exactly were the scullery maids or the footmen supposed to do? If any of them had said one word, is it more likely that they would made the prince behave, or if they’d wind up in the dungeon, cast out in the gutter, or executed. And don’t forget Chip– he was just a little boy– how could he be expected to make the prince a better man? Frankly, the enchantress increasingly seems like the real version of the story– by appointing herself judge, jury, and executioner, she cursed a lot of innocent people for the flimsiest of reasons.
Additionally, the curse has been widened, to wipe all memory of the castle from the nearby village. As the closing scene illustrates, the spouses of some of the central characters were living in the village. The transformation curse is clearly stated to be placed “on the castle and all who lived there.” So were the Cogsworths living apart? Didn’t seem like that from Madame Cogsworth’s response at the end. Was Mr. Potts not living in the castle? It sure seems like the enchantress broke up families.
Due to the massive personality changes exhibited, it seems as if the curse made Madame Cogsworth and Mr. Potts unpleasant to Belle and prone to rioting, since they’re very different after the curse is broken. So the enchantress, who started the curse because one prince wasn’t very nice, cast a spell to make a whole village less nice and dumber. Doesn’t that destroy any semblance of moral authority that the enchantress might have? I guess Belle and Maurice weren’t affected by the village curse because they moved there, and maybe that explains why the priest liked books and was nice too, because he may not have been in the town when the curse was struck, but that also means that the nastier villagers weren’t responsible for their actions. The enchantress was responsible for the personality issues, so the angry mob was really her doing.
Following that line of logic, couldn’t Gaston have been affected by the curse? Yes, there are lines about him being “away at the wars,” so we can’t rule out the possibility that he wasn’t cursed and he was just doing what came naturally. Still, maybe the whole reason Gaston was such a jerk was because of the enchantress’s curse, which means that Gaston is just another victim in all of this, and he wasn’t really responsible for his actions because he was magically molded to a personality that really wasn’t his own, like Mr. Potts and Madame Cogsworth.
Also, it seems like Belle was just too late to voice her love– the curse clearly states the whole love thing has to come before “the last petal falls,” but unlike the animated movie, where she says those three little words a second before the rose is denuded, here, she’s clearly at least a minute past the deadline. The enchantress is actually there to grant an extension and break the spell, but it’s like she’s doing it out of generosity and not because her terms were met. When they do the live-action version of The Little Mermaid, are Ariel and Eric going to tell Ursula that it shouldn’t matter if their kiss of true love came half a second after the sun set, Belle and the Beast got some extra time, so why shouldn’t they?
I’m not trying to bash the movie, which I liked but thought that it wasn’t nearly as good as the original. Still, the problems I’ve mentioned were additions to the storyline that didn’t really work for me, because they lead to questions that aren’t easily answered by the existing content in the movie.