In the 25 years since the animated “Beauty and the Beast” became a hit for Disney, our culture has shifted. Looking back on that classic through modern lenses, certain elements start to seem … problematic.
But the spiffy, new live-action version is here to make you feel less conflicted. It takes great pains to prove it’s a feminist, forward-thinking movie that isn’t secretly about Stockholm syndrome. How? Here are a few ways the surefire hit shows off its modernity. (A few minor spoilers ahead.)
Belle is more than a bookworm
Just like in the animated version, Belle (Emma Watson) always has her nose in a book, but she’s also a wiz around her father’s workshop. She knows what tools he needs before he does and she’s an inventor in her own right, not just her dad’s gofer. She even comes up with a clever way to wash her clothes with the help of a mule pushing a spinning barrel.
She has her own practical fashion sense
Belle makes an entrance hopscotching around her village in a blue dress — much like the cartoon. Except this one’s different. For starters, she tucks her skirt into her waistband, which makes flitting over cobblestones so much easier. Plus she wears boots instead of dainty flats or perilous pumps. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also made sure Belle had plenty of pockets.
“They’re like a tool belt,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “They’ve got useful things in them that she’ll need for doing the different things she does in the village.”
She’s an “activist”
She’s not out picketing in the streets or anything, but director Bill Condon referred to Belle as an “activist” during an interview because of the way she tries to spread the notion that knowledge is power. Not only is she smart and well-read, but she also tries to teach a little girl how to read. She’s met with derision by the other villagers, however. They’re anti-intellectuals who won’t trust a girl with brains.
The movie also reminds the audience that literacy would have been a luxury at the time. When Le Fou (Josh Gad) is singing his big musical number, he tries to spell the name of his best friend — Gaston — but realizes he doesn’t know how.
She’s no shrinking violet
We’ve already seen Belle rebuff the icky, unctuous Gaston (Luke Evans) by the time she ends up imprisoned by Beast (Dan Stevens). But she doesn’t seem particularly scared. She simply plots her escape, and when she’s confronted by her captor, Belle remains combative — at least until he starts to warm up.
“She gives as good as she gets,” Watson told Entertainment Weekly. “He bangs on the door, she bangs back. There’s this defiance that ‘You think I’m going to come and eat dinner with you and I’m your prisoner — absolutely not.'”
She’s not suffering from Stockholm syndrome
At least that’s what Watson has said in interviews. The actress points to the fact that Belle never loses her agency. When Beast asks her if she could be happy at his remote castle, she responds simply, “Could anybody be happy when they’re not free?”
“She’s not falling in love with him,” Condon told the Los Angeles Times. “She understands the terms of what he’s done, she reminds him of it, and he feels ashamed of it. … She very clearly sets up those boundaries. And it’s only when he actually does free her, and long after that, that she kind of lets herself open up to her feelings for him.”
There’s a gay character
The controversy over this subtly embedded detail have been wildly overblown, but that doesn’t change that fact that Le Fou is indeed gay.
Since Watson isn’t a Broadway star, she needed a little assist at times, and you can hear it. That might not be a selling point, but it’s certainly modern.