New Beauty and the Beast Flips the Script on Gender, Race Roles

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*The new live action Beauty and the Beast succeeds on almost every level, and actually surpasses the original in a couple of key aspects.

I know.  I was shocked, too!  

I had trouble believing that Hermione from the Harry Potter franchise would be believable as one of Disney’s most engaging princesses, but within minutes, Emma Watson made me a believer. I should have known she’d be able to handle the CGI-intensive role, as she spent over a decade perfecting her gaze into a green screen in eight Harry Potter smashes.

Watson finds her vocal footing quickly and by the time she scales that clover-lined hillside singing “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” she gives Julie Andrews a run for her money. I fell in love with Watson’s Belle at the exact moment that the Beast did, as will every other father of a daughter. I won’t give the moment away, but have some Kleenex ready. And Watson absolutely nails that critical scene at the end that precedes Belle’s “happily ever after.”

Watson and director Bill Condon conjure up a new image in this Beauty that’s been ignored or missed by other critics. When Belle rides up on her white horse to save the day, as she does two or three times during the film, the image effortlessly reverses over a century of Hollywood’s almost exclusive positioning of men in that critical “hero” role. It’s an image that I won’t soon forget — nor will any girl who sees this film. Belle beat Hollywood’s Wonder Woman to the punch in the hero department by a month or two.

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Speaking of flipping the script, I don’t think there was a single African American in the 1991 animated film, but this “provincial town” is home to several black folks in the ensemble and two in major roles: Broadway star Audra McDonald as the wardrobe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the feather duster. (If you’ve seen the original, those character descriptions won’t seem odd to you at all!)

Maybe next time they’ll cast a black man as the beast / prince. Now that would have really flipped the script!

This new film adds backstories for not only Belle and the Beast but to Gastón and Le Fou, who was widely reported to have been a part of a major ¨gay moment.” It´s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that is barely worth mentioning further…so I’m about done with that…

I will say that the two are hysterical in this film, and I think Le Fou has earned a spin-off movie.  I’ve even got a title:  To Le Fou, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar.

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Pop stars Ariana Grande and John Legend sing the title song over the end credits, and gave it their best, but their incessant runs made me long for Celine Dion (and there was a day when I never thought I’d say that!) and especially the sublime Peabo Bryson.  But truthfully, the score’s so beautiful I could have listened to Kermit and Miss Piggy singing it.

As a stand-alone movie, the new Beauty is just that: a triumph that generations will enjoy.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is in theaters everywhere.

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Catch up with freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.

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