Movie Review: Beauty and the 3D Beast

The subject doesn’t come up very often here on FBOTU, but I have to confess, there was a time when I was a total Disney queen. My home was adorned in Disney art; I attended opening night screenings at Disney’s El Capitan theater for every new release; I was an annual passholder at Disneyland. I even convinced a cute cast member to give me a private Jungle Cruise boat ride one magical, starry night in the Happiest Place on Earth. I eventually cut way back on my Disney obsession, mainly because I started spending time with other Disney queens and got a glimpse into my inevitable “It’s a Small Gay World” future, if I continued to let my devotion run amok. I rarely give in to moderation, but I made an exception just this once. I cooled my Disney obsession.

With my history as a Disney fanboy, I wondered if I could be objective in reviewing the new 3D release of Beauty and the Beast. Despite my Disney-leaning tendencies, I skipped The Lion King in 3D, mainly because I’ve never been a fan of its distasteful white supremacist message. But there was no way I was going to miss Beauty and the Beast. It’s been years since I’ve seen it on the big screen, so that opportunity alone was a bigger draw than whatever magical new dimensions the 3D conversion promised. I remember seeing the film in its original release at least a dozen times. I listened to the soundtrack on a loop for months. Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever watched it on TV or on DVD.

I’m not a fan of 3D and have only tolerated its use in a couple of instances. So, I wasn’t surprised (nor should you be) that Beauty and the Beast doesn’t need 3D. It is, in fact, a wasted venture that seems to do more harm than good. The 3D conversion has actually made the characters feel somehow more two-dimensional in appearance than before. Instead of immersing the viewer in the film, the 3D just chops up and separates the layers. Instead of enhancing the original rich animation, the 3D diminishes it. It’s a bizarre transformation and wholly unnecessary. However, the theater was full, so if it’s a way to get a new generation to see the film on the big screen, then great.

I’d rather just talk about the movie. I’m pleased (and relieved) to report that the film still holds up. It’s a gorgeous work of art with an incomparable musical score. Boy, do I love that score. It’s haunting, soaring, playful and emotional. It’s the kind of score that conveys the emotional journey of the film so well, you can listen to it by itself and still get the experience of watching the movie. Take, for instance, the soaring strings as Belle runs across the hillside, in full Julie Andrews mode, declaring her desire for adventure. Or the amazing transformation sequence, which takes the simple melody of “Something There” and builds on it until it’s a thundering, orchestral triumph. Still chokes me up.

The characters, story and themes stand the test of time, as well. If anything, the message that even beautiful people can be monsters, and monsters can be beautiful people feels startlingly relevant, considering the flood of attractive, but horrible people that have become pop culture icons thanks to the rise of reality television.

Something else I noticed this time around that I was only vaguely conscious of in previous viewings is just how often Belle is physically threatened by the men in the movie. Gaston’s proposal turns into an increasingly uncomfortable physical intimidation, as he blocks her escape with furniture, then with his own body. When she disobeys everyone’s warnings to stay out of the west wing, the Beast explodes, destroying the space around her, forcing her to flee for her own safety. It’s no accident that the Beast and Gaston share so many characteristics (temper, size, hair). The Beast is ultimately redeemed by his love for Belle; Gaston dies because he only ever wanted to possess her.

As for Belle, she may be the smartest girl in the village, but she’s still only reading at about a third grade level. She’s reading Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White, which are not exactly Voltaire or Rousseau. Her reading choices, of course, appeal to the kids in the audience, so I understand. Still, it’s probably best she’s marrying a prince, because there aren’t a lot of questions about Jack and the Beanstalk on the SATs.

My only complaint is with the animation, which can be very broad and melodramatic at times. What is a fairytale, if not pure melodrama, right? But in a movie that focuses as much on the subtext as it does on musical numbers, I’m surprised the animators let themselves go so over the top in a couple of scenes, eliciting more groans and snickers than they probably intended. One such scene is right after the Beast blows up at Belle in the west wing and then collapses in a traditional “woe is me” pose. The other is Belle’s dramatic flinging of herself on the bed in her room that just reads as too grandiose, even for a teenage girl, and especially for Belle. Both scenes could really have used a subtler or more controlled expression of the characters’ emotions. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise flawless film, but those two moments stood out for me, so I thought I should mention them.

I ended up seeing the movie by myself. Ordinarily, I don’t mind seeing movies alone, because if I waited for friends to join me for all the crap I see, I’d never see anything. But when you’re a gay man in his late mid-thirties, sitting alone in a theater, surrounded by children and conscious that the suspicious glares of a hundred parents are upon you…well, that’s a special feeling that I’m not anxious to repeat. Not until 2013, at least, when The Little Mermaid is re-released.

And speaking of Disney queens, I’ll just wrap this up with two words: “Hey, girl!”