Why Beauty and the Beast Isn’t a Great Screenplay: Part 2
written by Tony DiGerolamo (Mike’s comments in Bold)
So Belle’s just sung the “I’m so very much an oddball in the village even though I’m the hot chick” song. Next up is Gaston, probably the most popular character in the film.
The first thing Gaston does is shoot a goose out of the sky. This clearly establishes Gaston as the bad guy because what little girl in the audience wants to see an animal die? Gaston is a handsome blowhard and hunter that wants to marry Belle. His lackey, Lefou, is frequently abused by Gaston, reinforcing Gaston’s badness.
Shooting the geese is a very smart way to visually show that Gaston is BAD. Films need to move quickly, so imagine how awful things would have been had the story taken a few minutes to set up Gaston as being bad. It works simply here and fits in nicely with the song.
But there’s little real motivation as to why Gaston wants to marry Belle. It’s clear he doesn’t love her. The implication is he has to have the best maybe. But seriously, the three blonde chicks love him and they are just as hot. Why he picks Belle over them is never made clear. The writers miss an opportunity to give the two characters a human connection by using Gaston and Belle’s shared past growing up in the village. His song is awesome and his conceitedness, pretty hilarious.
And speaking of human, Gaston’s lackey, Lefou, throughout the movie exhibits very non-human traits by doing things that defy physics and anatomy over the course of the film. In my view, this is a clear rule breaker. You don’t set up the rules from your Universe and ignore them. The set up is that this is a fairytale universe, but Lefou is human. He should not be able to push his lips all the way through a tuba that’s smashed down on his head. If he can do that, then why can’t other characters perform similar feats of stretching? Bad call Disney writers. And let’s face it, he’s just goofy. I realize this movie is for kids, but you did kill a goose already. Buck toothed idiot sidekicks are really just, well, passe.
Tony is spot on here. LeFou breaks the rules of the world and is one of the things in this movie that really bother me. The rest of the movie feels tonally consistent. LeFou feels like a cheat, as if they were trying to please the kids. Weak choice there.
Next up, is Belle’s dad, the inventor. Disney has some strange obsession with oddball inventors, from the guy who made Flubber to the World’s Strongest Man. In a medieval fairy tale world, do we really need a guy that can build wooden machines? I guess it’s cute and wacky for the kids.
He and Belle have a really nice house, but it’s never made clear what exactly he does in the village. He’s attempting to become a world famous inventor, so one can assume that he’s either an “average inventor” inventing stuff locally or he tinkers in his spare time while doing something else. You’d think with all the books Belle reads, she’d be able to do something more than just hand him crazy tools.
Explaining the dad a little better would have been a nice touch but also would be unnecessary to telling Belle’s love story with the Beast. Storytelling is very tricky…you need the perfect balance of all the elements. Everytime to explain something, it causes logic problems later. So sometimes you have to gloss story issues over or sweep them under the rug. I’m sure they knew that this character was illogical but had to let it slide to tell the larger story. Because LeFou is so odd and illogical, it makes Belle’s dad acceptable. See how one thing sets up the next?
So, with all the characters established, we’re already on shaky ground here. The time period is vaguely medieval, possibly French. There’s a generic “village” with a mysterious bookstore, an inventor and a hunter. Not much else in the way of an economy or jobs, but hey, it’s Europe. Now we move on to the conflict.
Again, we don’t need to explain everything, especially in this romantic comedy genre. If this were a serious drama then this first sequence would be AWFUL. But we’re in a musical comedy so we’re afforded some gaps in logic and story.
Maurice, Belle’s dad, goes to the “inventor’s fair” or something. Along the way, he gets lost and stumbles upon the cursed prince’s castle. He’s captured by the shadowy Beast, who we do not see. Maurice is first welcomed by the prince’s staff of magical items: talking candlestick, talking clock, talking teapot, etc. We’re not given a reason why these things talk. And even though the Beast wants to be left alone, he locks up the old man.
NOTE: This is the ‘inciting incident’ of the film. Prior to this, things were ‘business as usual’. Gaston wants Belle, Belle wants to read, Maurice dreams big. But the minute he gets captured it sets off a domino effect of cause and effect which forces Belle to take action.
Meanwhile, Gaston makes an utter ass out of himself proposing to Belle back at the village. Gaston is funny because he’s so conceited and rude, but at this point he’s just stupid. Belle clearly expresses no interest in him and he goes all out to propose. Again, the writers miss an opportunity to make this area more gray. You don’t feel sorry at all for Gaston when he’s kicked out of the house, he’s just annoying. Always write the characters at the height of their intelligence.
Eventually Maurice’s horse returns and Belle goes searching for her father. She finds him in the castle and is caught by the Beast. The big reveal is, well, you can see him. He’s a Beast, but he’s actually a pretty well designed beast. I mean, if you’re going to be cursed to look like a beast, you could do a lot worse than this. When you build something up to the audience, the longer you put it off the bigger the reveal needs to be. The Beast is just not that ugly and he should’ve been. Plus the fact that he was on all the merchandise and movie poster probably gave him away anyway. But nevermind, he confronts Belle.
Tony is spot on here.
The marketing clearly showed the Beast, so revealing him in this way has no effect. That’s not a fault of the storytelling though. That’s where marketing needs to do what it needs to do and there’s no way around it.
Belle offers to switch places with her father, which points to the nobleness of Belle’s character and why we like her. The Beast agrees and sends dad on his way in a magical stagecoach. But that begs the question, if the can just lock up the dad, why not lock up Belle too?
Here we’re at the end of Act 1. We have a very clear turning point. Belle had a normal life (even though she’s an outcast because of her beauty and smarts). But now she’s entered the ‘special world’ of the enchanted castle. As an audience member we want to know A) How will Belle escape B) will Gaston continue to make her life horrible C) will the Beast get the curse lifted. These 3 major questions are what keep us interested in watching the film through the end.
Later in the dialogue it’s revealed that the servants and the Beast believe Belle might be the one to lift the curse. As established in the opening sequence, if the prince can fall in love and have someone love him even though he’s a beast, the curse will be broken. The candlestick and clock also add that they will be returned to their “human form”.
Back the truck up, what? So the servants were cursed too? They didn’t kick out the old woman in the opening sequence, the prince did. Why are they being made to suffer? So here’s another rule: Don’t offer up such important info late in the game. We’re already in Act 2, it’s late to introduce extra convoluted subplots. It would’ve been just as easy to establish that the prince, his castle and servants were all cursed too in the opening sequence. And since some of the animated furniture talks and some doesn’t, does that mean some of it wasn’t human? It’s a little confusing despite the classic singing of the song “Be Our Guest” by Jerry Orbach.
The servants getting cursed should have been setup in the prologue. I’m willing to bet the storytellers tried that at one point but this extra story issue probably confused the audience. Having a Prince cursed is a big idea, and when you add in another big idea (the servants were cursed too), it was probably too much for the audience to accept.) So the storytellers chose to hold that info back until later.
Whenever you tell a story you’re going to run into problems like that. Things that seem logical suddenly don’t work when you try them. I’ve written several scripts where simple things that worked in a pitch suddenly didn’t work in script form! A story is an organic thing and will let you know what it needs. It takes on a life of it’s own and you simply have to let it be (even when you know there are flaws or logic gaps).
And speaking of the next act, tune in for the next post.