Modern Beasts and Where to Find Them

Video Transcript

Welcome to Sulzbach Talk! I’m your host, Jonathan Sulzbach. The podcast does feature an optional video component, which I suppose makes this a video podcast, but it’s just me with a laptop, a webcam, and some hyperactive eyebrows. You may watch it if you wish.
Now then, let’s begin!

Beauty and the Beast. A tale as old as time. Every retelling introduces a few new wrinkles, and these latest wrinkles seem to be ruffling feathers. From the appearance of the Beast to the casting of Belle, to the alleged changeup with regard to LeFou’s sexuality.

On one hand, LeFou is a prime character to receive tinkering because his characterization is minimal. On the other hand, because he’s so minor, changing anything about him will generate curiosity. That’s one of the appeal of remakes: we find ourselves wondering, “What’s going to be different this time?”

To say that LeFou is pertinent to the story is rubbish, therefore changing him in this capacity is a head-scratcher. Truthfully, I think the film is seeking to justify its existence, and this is one of its changes toward that goal. The animated version did so much so well, it’s difficult to imagine topping it.

If this change bothers you, don’t see it.

Personally, I have never cared for the story. It commits two crimes: first, it presents a deeply unsettling scenario, and second, it celebrates a dangerous ideology. The scenario is a romance that blossoms due to manipulation, and the ideology is that the love of a good woman can tame the savage beast.

In principle, true love, that is self-sacrificing love, can warm even the coldest of hearts and produce lasting change.

Consider Logan, if you will. It’s the swan song of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character. Logan has long been portrayed as more beast than man. Snikt! He’s got claws. His sense of smell is heightened. He’s a mutant! His hair is wild. By all accounts, he’s more beast than man. The trailers make it clear that the presence of a young girl in Logan’s life effectively pulls at the few remaining strings of humanity in him.

That’s a positive spin on the lady and beastly man dynamic because it presents Logan in a paternal role. It fleshes out a part of him that has become ingrown through weariness and apathy, and there’s no captivity or romance involved to muddy his motivations.

Consider the Hunchback of Notre Dame, whose Quasimodo is a pitiful and deformed being with a heart of gold. He doesn’t get the girl, Esmeralda, and while tragic, he’s a genuinely good guy.

Ben Grimm, aka the Thing from Fantastic Four… orange and covered in boulders, he’s not too pretty. But he’s got a good heart, and that’s what Alicia Masters, who is blind, loves about him.

Kong: Skull Island is in theaters, and while I haven’t seen that yet, the original is famous for this line: “It was beauty killed the beast.” Tragic, but profoundly touching.

Where things go astray is in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, can seemingly tap into Bruce Banner’s beastly persona and soothe him out of angry mode. Consider how easily that relationship could go sideways. Hulk smash spider! Yikes.

Fast forward to Fifty Shades of Grey and you’ve got a terrible relationship built on a foundation of selfish pleasure. Presumably. I have neither read nor see it.

Now imagine a real relationship: a man treats a lady poorly, the lady loves him too much to leave, and she hopes against hope that her man may someday love her.

You could easily reverse those roles, but the point remains. It’s a bad relationship, and that’s the kind of relationship Beauty and the Beast develops.

If we’re strictly talking about beasts, the four-legged variety such as cats and dogs, then yes! Rescuing and rehabilitating stray animals will bring about incredible change in their lives. Those videos on YouTube turn me to mush.

But people? People can be selfish. People can be manipulative.

To the story’s credit, Beast lets Belle go free. That shows he does care for her more than he cares for himself, at least after a certain point. But, as a storytelling mechanic, it’s unforgivable that their romance blossoms amidst Belle’s captivity. Thant’s akin to Stockholm syndrome.

Beast creates the only conceivable environment in which this can happen. What develops between them does so unnaturally because the scenario is manufactured. Their romance is built on a foundation of selfishness and manipulation.

Phew, doc! That’s heavy.

Let’s shift gears onto a lighter topic…

The appearance of the the Beast. The effects work looks like the creative team couldn’t commit to either a cartoon-y feel or a realistic feel. What’s left is this middle-ground effect that my eyes struggle to resolve.

I’d have liked them to go the route of Ron Perlman’s beast from the late ’80s tv series. At least with prosthetics you’ve got the actor on camera, able to speak, able to bring a presence, able to give you true eye contact. That’s just my opinion.

What do you think? Does this version of beast work for you? Or does it fall into the uncanny valley?

OK, that’s about all I care to say on this topic. But I’ll leave you with a quote I feel is apropos.

It’s as though we were made for each other: beauty and the beast. Of course, if anyone else calls you beast, I’ll rip their lungs out.

—The Joker (Batman ’89)

Thank you for listening, thank you for watching. Please do chime in with a comment, a thumbs up, a thumbs down, an observation, an anecdote.

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Once again, I am Jonathan Sulzbach. Good night and adios!