I went into Beauty and the Beast with somewhat low expectations. The cartoon version was always one of my favorite movies, and I hadn’t heard the best reviews of the remake. One of the reviews I found most striking argued that there was something forced, strange, and off-putting about the story being live-action in the first place. Hand-drawn animation gave Lumiere life. As a CGI candlestick, he was awkward, stunted, unappealing. I googled images of the two and, sadly, agreed.
I wondered if maybe a fairy tale was better off really left a fairy tale. Totally make believe. Totally imagined.
I went to see the movie anyway. Now, I thought plenty of things did fall short. I didn’t love the new songs, there were some cheesy/forced moments, and the “Be Our Guest” scene seemed particularly disjointed and incomplete. The realness of the whole thing did feel quite different and more limiting in a way. But as I kept watching I found myself captivated by this limitation. And by the end I had decided that the realness was entirely appropriate and exactly fitting for the story— more fitting, in a particular way, than the cartoon.
So much about the cartoon Beauty and the Beast stuck with me throughout my childhood. But I always found pretty much everything after the Beast’s final transformation to be fairly forgettable and anticlimactic. Why? My husband would say it’s because the Beast was so cool-looking (a “French buffalo-linebacker”) and should have just stayed that way. Ten-year-old me would have said that the prince just wasn’t very handsome (therefore, somewhat agreeing with my husband). But now, having seen the live-action version, I finally get it. The cartoon transformation wasn’t a full transformation. In many ways, it was a step backwards. The cartoon Beast was more memorable than the cartoon prince. The cartoon Lumiere was far more charming and lovable than the cartoon waiter. Chip was so much cuter as a cup. All the characters were at their best in imaginary world. The transformation seems like an epilogue, an obvious result of everyone’s salvation, but a rather boring one.
But in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, the final scene is incredibly moving (and, in my opinion, makes the whole, flawed movie worth it.) I won’t spoil it all, but let me just put it this way: this scene is one of the best visualizations of the Christian concept of the final resurrection and reunion of humanity in Heaven. Watching it during Lent I kept thinking “this is a perfect Easter movie!” The final scene feels so right, so complete, and so beautiful.
So, sure, the live-action Lumiere is limited and grotesque, but shouldn’t he be? He’s a human soul trapped in a candlestick! Certainly, the charm of personality should shine through, but I’m not sure he should look too likable. He should be a bit off-putting. And the Beast- I’m not sure he should look so much like a big, cuddly, buffalo– more like a strange, contorted, horrifying once-man. We have to see the real pain of the situation to long for the salvation.
Now, I’m not bashing the cartoon. It’s such a wonderful movie. It did so many things better than the live-action and 90% of the things the live-action did well it owes to the cartoon. But I think the live-action has the unique ability to more fully expound upon the very point of the story— that when we separate ourselves from love, we are incomplete and trapped. When we let love rule us and guide us, we become complete and free, and able to set others free too. The live-action Beauty and the Beast gives us a literal and delightful demonstration of how love makes us fully alive.