Home » Years » 2017 » Beauty and the Beast •••1/2

Beauty and the Beast •••1/2

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Family/Fantasy/Musical, Rated: PG
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2017



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just saw a remake of an old classic.

As the song says, “Be our guest…” and put our patience to the test. Let’s recap:

In France, a beautiful and mysterious enchantress (Hattie Morahan) disguised as a beggar interrupts a party hosted by a selfish prince (Dan Stevens). The enchantress punishes the prince for failing to help the beggar. She transforms him into a beast until he learns to love another and earns love in return. All of his servants are converted into objects around his castle and will not revert back to human form unless the spell is broken.

We’re introduced to young Belle (Emma Watson). She’s a bookworm who can’t help falling into song at the drop of a hat. The local townspeople think she is quite odd with her book learnin’ and all. She is also without a mother but is the daughter to the local inventor, Maurice (Kevin Kline). He’s a bit of a kook too. Well, one day he is on his way to the city to sell his tinker toys when he happens upon a castle with a beast in it. He’s thrown in the dungeon, because he stole a rose.

Meanwhile, Maurice’s horse has returned home without him and Belle is worried. She mounts the horse and rides off to find her father. She finds him locked up in the castle. The beast claims that Maurice must stay. But Belle makes a deal to trade places with her father. And thus begins the oldest story of Stockholm Syndrome ever – a tale as old as time.

Greg, this modern live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous spectacle that leaps off the screen and comes alive musically and visually. My main problem is with the story, which you mention, is that it is a creepy tribute to the Stockholm syndrome that reinforces the subjugation of women. If you can get past this problem and focus on the many positive elements of the storytelling, then there is much to appreciate here.

My favorite part of the movie is a scene early in the story in which Belle’s father describes Belle in terms that describe a hero to a tee – Belle is odd, fearless, and ahead of her time. Apparently these same traits describe Belle’s mother, demonstrating the important role of mentoring in producing a hero. Later we learn that the Beast was raised by a father who was cruel, again underscoring the pivotal role of parenting in developing heroes.

I loved this movie when my daughters watched the animated version in the 90s as little girls. The animation and the music made it a delight. And the running time of just over 90 minutes also made it tolerable for even adults. But this new incarnation clocks in at about 130 minutes and in this case more was not better. I was bored by the extended musical numbers that went on for 5 minutes or longer. And the new songs and plot elements seemed to be mere padding. I much more enjoyed the economical storytelling of the original animated feature.

Having said that, Disney has created a marvel of CGI. The animated characters in this story truly came to life. I’m constantly amazed at the quality and extremes of computer generated images in modern films. If I was bored by the longish storytelling, I was impressed with the craft.

You’re right, Greg, this movie was much like the character of Gaston and fell in love with itself by running about 10 or 15 minutes too long. This problem is endemic to all of Hollywood’s offerings and not just this film. Like you, I was sufficiently dazzled by the CGI to leave the theater content that I got my money’s worth.

The hero of this story is the Prince who commits a moral transgression at the film’s outset and must redeem and transform himself to right his wrong. The key to his transformation is Belle, who transforms him by demonstrating a morally wondrous act of self-sacrifice to save her father. After witnessing this act, the Prince/Beast then does something similar in saving Belle from the wolves. This sets in motion the romance that ultimately redeems the Beast.

We’ve seen women occupying the role of transformer many times in the movies. Apparently, in the movies and perhaps in storytelling in general, men need women to change them. This is often the formula in romantic comedies in which women fall in love with flawed men and somehow change them. I have to admit I’m not a fan at all of this kind of transformation in storytelling, and yet I can’t deny its pervasiveness in stories and fables throughout history.

I think the hero of the story is Belle. It is Belle’s perspective the story asks us to take on. In our book Reel Heroes & Villains we identify two types of heroes: transformed heroes and catalytic heroes. The transformed hero is changed by her experience. But the catalytic hero is a catalyst for change in others. Belle is the latter. She is the agent for change in the beast. It is by her love that the beast comes to care about someone other than himself. He changes from being a selfish cad to putting Belle’s needs before his own. It’s a powerful story dynamic.

And since we’re studying transformation this year, there’s a lot of transformation going on in Beauty and the Beast. As discussed, the prince is transformed from selfish to caring. But Belle undergoes a transformation as well. While she starts out as being kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and caring, she also starts out hating the beast. And ultimately she comes to care for and love him. And while she transformed the beast, she also was the agent of change for all the animated objects in the castle and ultimately the townspeople. There’s a lot of transformation in this story.

But not all transformation is good. Unfortunately, Disney is in love with the premise that ugly people are bad and beautiful people are good. The prince is evil during his beast phase and when he is changed into a kinder, gentler beast, he magically transforms into a beautiful young man. As a professor of psychology I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Do people generally think that beautiful people are naturally more virtuous?

Yes, research on the halo effect shows that people assume that beautiful people are also good people. This story deserves credit for demonstrating that we can look past ugliness and see inner beauty, but shame on this story for ending the tale with the ugly beast being transformed back into a handsome prince. A better lesson for all of humanity would be for Belle to live happily ever after with inner beauty, not outer beauty.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a visual and artistic triumph that tells an ancient story quite well despite its unfortunate glorification of the Stockholm syndrome along with the hypocrisy of outer beauty signifying inner beauty. There is an excellent hero’s journey here, with the Prince’s mistake at the film’s outset setting in motion a heartfelt story of redemption and transformative love. The music here is moving, the casting with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens is perfect, and the visuals are breathtaking. I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

While the Prince/Beast is the main hero, it’s more accurate to say that he and Belle form a romantic duo hero pairing which we describe in our last book Reel Heroes & Villains. The giveaway that they are romantic heroes lies in the fact that they hate each other at the beginning and grow to love each other by the end. The Prince/Beast does most of the transforming; he learns how to love. Belle is his mentor, demonstrating how one loves through loyalty and self-sacrifice. It’s a nice hero story and deserves a hero rating of 4 points out of 5.

The transformation of the Prince is, of course, the centerpiece of the tale, and we’ve discussed it in this review at length. Earlier I described women in storytelling as being the catalyst of male transformation, and I left out the main female transformative agent that sets everything in motion. I’m referring to the enchantress, who transforms the Prince into the Beast and who later rescues Belle’s father thus assisting (albeit indirectly) the Beast’s transformation back into a Prince. This story is saturated with transformation and as such I’ll award it 5 Transformation points out of 5.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes, but plods along at a snail’s pace. Emma Watson is delightful as always and the CGI of the beast, the enchanted castle, and its inhabitants is without peer. Still, I can’t get past the long running time and needless additional scenes and songs. I give Beauty and the Beast just 3 out of 5 Reels.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Belle is the hero of the story. Surely there were dozens of little girls dressed as princesses in the theater and not one beast. Belle is nearly too perfect and virtuous. The villain is the beast and it is Belle’s virtue that transforms him. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

As you point out, Scott, there are plenty of transformations in this film. In our book we identify 5 different types of transformation. We see both physical and emotional transformation in this story. And you might argue for some intellectual transformation for the townspeople as well. I give the transformations 3 out of 5 transformation “deltas.”

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

1 Comment

  1. Cat Brennan says:

    Scott and Greg, I really enjoyed you insight. I”ve not see this latest re-creation of B&TB and I’m not sure I will. Thanks, Guys!

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