Nerds are popular, at least in Hollywood. This paradox has grown in recent years as Marvel, DC, Warner Bros and other Studios continuously churn out comic book, superhero, and sci-fi films grossing large Box Office numbers. But not all of us grew up reading comic books; and despite what the internet declares, not every Marvel movie or TV show has been perfect. Reviewers play a large part in how a film’s received and remembered; but art is a sliding scale, there is no right or wrong. How can you accurately gauge a film’s quality when you lack a diverse critique?
Watching the credits for Beauty and the Beast I found myself smiling and thinking “I get it now”. Sure, the movie isn’t perfect, but the inherent joy I felt watching the film overshadowed the flaws. I finally got to see Belle, The Beast, Gaston, and other characters from my childhood in real life! Well, in hyper-realized real life, but in the flesh at least. I suddenly realized how much I enjoyed Gaston’s songs when Luke Evans pranced around and belted out “Kill the Beast”. Shot-for-shot recreations brought back memories while new story lines – such as plucking a white rose, a beat from the original fairy tale – satisfied my adult sensibilities. This time around Belle’s the inventor, and upon finding herself locked in a room she forms a plan – tying together strips of fabric, creating an escape-rope – instead of hopelessly flopping down on a bed in tears.
The 1992 animated Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of the best films of all time. It’s famous for being the first animated film nominated for Best Picture at The Oscars. What beat it? Silence of the Lambs. Such a contest is on par with The Wizard of Oz losing out to Gone with the Wind in 1940. While 2017’s Beauty has its faults – and if you read the reviews, there are many – it also gave me a sense of much needed happiness; I finally got to see this childhood classic come to life. Even with some pitchy singing and questionable script changes, I loved it. I loved (almost) every minute.
So why is there such a disparity between Beauty and the Beast’s reception and other recreations such as, say, Captain America: Civil War? Not everyone loved Civil War, some even felt underwhelmed. So lets break down the numbers. The opening weekend grosses of Civil War and Beauty fell within a few million of each other according to Box Office Mojo. Their cinemascores are exactly the same. Yet on Rotten Tomatoes Civil War holds a 90% rating, while Beauty sits at 71%, barely registering as ‘Fresh’. Why the wide margin? A 2016 study revealed that 73% of reviewers are male. I wonder how many of them spent their childhood reading comic books versus watching Belle tame a Beast.
I played my part and paid for an opening-weekend ticket to Civil War. While I grew up with my nose in books, they tended to be dense word-filled pages; an illustrated chapter heading, like in Harry Potter, was a treat. Upon leaving the theater, I wasn’t riding high on a wave of nostalgia having finally seen Iron Man and Captain America clash (admittedly, epically). In fact, I found the film bloated and lacked stakes. Even as the group splintered, taking sides until the ultimate stand-off, you know a superhero won’t kill another superhero. Not simply because they are almost indestructible, but because that’s their whole gist. It’s what differentiates them from the bad-guys and the likes of us regular-folks. They’re better. It’s their biggest weakness and their greatest quality. They’re superheroes; and it’s why we love them. So why did so many people love this visual virtual stand-off? Perhaps because it took images only seen in hand-drawn pages, or imagined in daydreams, and made them real life. Why were people seemingly able to overlook the faults, and praise the film? Because they honestly enjoyed themselves. And for me, that was Beauty and the Beast.
The box office success of Beauty and the Beast once again confirms there is a market for nostalgic, female-driven movies outside of comic books. Even more, it proves there is an audience – a money spending one at that. As simple as it may sound, we need diversity in reviewers to convince the studios of this fact. How many reviewers represent anything different than the studio heads themselves? America – and the ticket-buying audience – is becoming more diverse every day. We need reviewers who represent that diversity. Hollywood Execs need to remember there’s more outside the ‘Comic Book market’. Just because a bunch of (mostly male) critics don’t think the 2017 Beauty and the Beast held up to the 1992 version, doesn’t mean it wasn’t thoroughly enjoyed. And it’s definitely profitable.