Welcome to part two of my (probably wildly overdone) analysis of the differences between the original animated Beauty and the Beast and the new live-action adaptation that hit theaters recently.
If you missed the first part, you can catch it here. And the warning from the first part still stands: here there be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the new one (I’m assuming you’ve all seen the original and that, as a result, we can continue being friends), you’ll probably want to turn back now lest you run into some stuff that you should not yet know.
I’d also like to reiterate that I did really enjoy the live-action adaptation despite my one beef (Lefou), and that this is primarily an academic exercise to look at the differences between the two. After all, if there is to be Adaptation Expansion, shouldn’t the new stuff really add something?
So here were go, my last two points in my talk about the new Beauty and the Beast. And then I’ll shut up. I promise.
In the original film, the Enchantress is the epitome of the fire-and-forget plot device. She exists to set the events of the film in motion and then utterly disappears, never to be seen again. Presumably, she’s wandering the French countryside fucking with various other royals in preparation for the oncoming revolution.
In the live-action adaptation, the Enchantress lingers in Belle’s village after cursing the shit out of the Prince and magically wiping everyone’s memories of the ENORMOUS castle that is literally right over there.
As a side note, I appreciate that they patched up that plot hole in the adaptation. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more baffled as to how on Earth the people in Belle’s village could not remember that there’s a HUGE castle just down the road.
Anyway, the Enchantress sticks around Belle’s village in the guise of Agathe, a spinster who is forced to beg on the street. It’s suggested that there is more to Agathe than meets the eye roundabout the second act of the film, but you don’t really get confirmation of her true nature until she strolls through the chaos of the battle at the Beast’s castle like a boss, the battle royale just sort of casually parting to make way for her.
Agathe performs a couple of functions in the film that I think were worthwhile additions to the story.
For one, she serves as a general barometer of “goodness” for Gaston. This is useful because Gaston’s more egregiously asshole tendencies have been scaled back a bit. Given, some have been dialed up—where his complaint about Belle’s books not having any pictures has disappeared, he is now calmed by the thought of all the widows left behind in the war he recently returned from. This is a slightly subtler aspect that is gross on multiple levels, regardless of whether it means he delighted in creating widows or bedding them or both.
Gaston’s attitude towards Agathe is dismissive and disgusted—she’s poor and old and homely and is held up as an example of Belle’s future fate if she refuses to become Gaston’s wife. Gaston, in classic asshole fashion, couches this in an air of concern for Belle’s future: his hope is to protect her from such a cruel fate, which means that this new Gaston is a more insidious and manipulative douche than his animated predecessor.
The advantage of having the Enchantress, as Agathe, be a presence of which Gaston is aware goes to further highlight the differences between Gaston and the Beast. Gaston is an atavism, stuck in the same place that the Beast once was. Women are only worthwhile as a commodity while their beauty and youth last. Unlike the Beast, however, he is not ever going to move past this, which is why he winds up a smear on the castle cobblestones.
Agathe also serves to add an almost Greek dimension to the finale, appearing as a powerful force to restore the Beast and his staff even after the ticking time bomb of the magic rose has definitely and absolutely run down. She’s not quite a deus ex machina, as she has been present throughout the film, but she’s very close. The nice thing about this is that she serves as an external, neutral judge of events. In seeing Belle weeping over the Beast’s corpse and hearing her confession of love, it is Agathe/the Enchantress who determines that the Beast has been redeemed, not the mechanism of the rose. There’s probably a lot to be said about the power dynamics of that scene from the viewpoint of feminist criticism, but I suck at formal criticism and will therefore steer clear of it.
To sum up: Agathe was a welcome addition to the story, especially given the somewhat grayer morality presented in the live-action film.
The Beast Likes Books
In the animated version of the story, the Beast just happens to have an obscenely massive library at his disposal. It’s the royal version of, “Oh, the house I bought has a master bath you can park a Mercedes in. NBD.” This isn’t nearly as profound, though, as Belle has had her pick of quite a lot of books from the local bookmonger, but its existence allows the Beast to demonstrate the development of his character by gifting the library to Belle.
In the film, the Beast has actually read the contents of his library, which results in the character being more literate and erudite than his animated iteration. Of course, the live action Beast has more or less avoided, up until meeting Belle, the romance section of his collection. This changes by degrees as Belle catches him reading a book on Arthurian legend, which has plenty of sword-fighting and men of action along with the world-shattering romance of Lancelot and Guinevere.
I think this is a good update for a few reasons. For one, it gives us another insight into how the Beast changes as he becomes further acquainted with Belle: he begins to think that perhaps the romances in his collection are not as cootie-ridden as he had once believed. And while we never see him dive full-tilt into romance, it certainly suggests that spending time with this bright and willful young woman is having an effect on him outside of newly dedicated attempts to use silverware.
The Beast’s fondness for literature also ensures that he has a shared interest with Belle, which makes the relationship feel just a little bit more organic. In the original, the Beast essentially wins Belle over with his clumsy, doofy charm, which works well for a children’s film. But for the somewhat older audience for which the live action version is intended, it wouldn’t be quite enough. Giving the Beast and Belle a common interest brings their interactions just a skosh out of the realm of idealized romance and into the real world. It also lends the gifting of the library to Belle more weight—the library has meant much to the Beast in his isolation, so there’s an extra emotional element in offering it to Belle. The intensity of the gift is dialed up for Belle as well, as the fellow in her village who is mongering books has a very, very small collection (which is probably more historically accurate, anyway).
This change to the Beast’s character also meant that there were some scenes of Belle and the Beast just chilling together reading, which, you know: #relationshipgoals.
The final verdict? The Beast’s perusal of his own library, much like the inclusion of Agathe, was an overall benefit to the story.
So there we are! The end of my unnecessarily long essay on some of the key differences between the animated and live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast. Again, I wanna know what you guys think. Was keeping the Enchantress around as Agathe an improvement? Does a bookish Beast help the narrative along? Let me know in the comments!
One thought on “Beauty, the Beast, and Adaptation | Part II”
Okay. I have very specific feelings on Agatha that are mainly flippant and ridiculous. I’m actually posting them on Friday, so stay tuned.
Though, I appreciate your nuanced and intelligent thoughts on the matter.