Beauty and the Beast

Last week’s Disney movie was Beauty and the Beast. I remember going to see this at the late showing on opening night, back in the day when I could manage to go out to a movie that started after the time I’m usually in bed now. I wouldn’t even start watching a movie that late at home these days. Ah, youth. It seemed to be a movie specifically made for me. We had a brunette, hazel-eyed Disney princess who liked books! Having moved to something like a “poor provincial town” when I was a teen, I related to her not fitting in. I even went as Belle for Halloween the following year (and was terribly disappointed when no one at the party had any idea who I was supposed to be. Most people thought I was doing Maria’s nun outfit from The Sound of Music, which looks nothing like Belle’s blue dress. Not to mention that I copied Belle’s hair just about perfectly).

But looking at it now, I have some issues with this movie. For one thing, the setup doesn’t entirely work, and that makes me increasingly uncomfortable with the “moral” it teaches. Supposedly, the prince is punished for not letting the old woman in, since he judges her by her exterior, not what’s within — but she goes on to curse not only him, but all the servants in the household, who had absolutely nothing to do with it. So maybe he judged her correctly? Not to mention, it says the last petal on the rose will fall in his 21st year, and later Lumiere says it’s been ten years, so he was 11 when this happened. I think he kind of had a point about turning her away if she’s the kind of person who’d curse a child and his whole household for not letting a stranger in. And this isn’t even in the original fairy tale. I’ve seen a version in which he’s cursed by an evil fairy for refusing to marry her, I’ve seen a version in which it was someone trying to take his estate, and I’ve seen a version in which no reason at all was given, so this was something Disney made up. It doesn’t seem like they thought this through, and they must have realized it, too, since they corrected it in the live-action remake, where the prince is an adult and is more openly obnoxious, and they give a reason why the servants share the blame for him being that way (though I think that one’s a bit of a handwave). I actually think it would have worked even better if the person he rejected really was a poor old person rather than an enchantress in disguise, and then the enchantress showed up in defense of the poor old person. Then there’s no deception going on and you don’t have the issue about her being a pretty mean person while he’s being lectured on judging by appearances. I’ve also always found it amusing that he breaks the curse given to him to teach him to see past appearances by falling in love with the most beautiful girl in town.

As much as I love Belle, there is a whiff of “not like other girls” to her, where the girls who don’t share her interests are treated as being shallow and siding with the bad guy. That’s another thing the live action version fixed by adding her making an effort to tutor the girls in town. Then there’s the bookstore big enough to need that rolling ladder in a town where only one person reads and she borrows the books. The adjustment in the live-action version in which Belle merely borrows books from the local priest’s small collection makes a lot more sense, as does the fact that she’s reading Shakespeare, not just fairy tales.

But once the movie gets going, I forget the nitpicks. The whole sequence from the attack by the wolves where they save each other through the ballroom scene is totally swoonworthy. I remember how stunning the computer-animated ballroom scene was when this movie first came out. I’m not a huge fan of their computer animated character design, and I think this is one of the better uses of the technology, having the more realistic and graceful hand-drawn animation against the vivid computer-animated backdrop. I also loved that, for once, the couple actually got to know each other as people before they fell in love, and they went through a real crisis together. It wasn’t just one dance, and then they were ready for marriage. It’s even left a little vague as to whether they got married right away. There’s no obvious wedding scene.

Although Belle is the one who gets the “I want” song, the Beast is the actual protagonist of this movie. He’s the one with the goal. We learn later that he considered that she might be the one who could break the curse the moment she said she’d take her father’s place, though you can see the realization on his face. So his goal is to get her to fall in love with him and break the curse, though the servants have to remind him that he also has to love her, and he has to behave like someone she could love. Gaston, our villain, is set up as a foil to the Beast, someone who’s vile inside while attractive on the outside. He’s even more of a beast than the Beast is.

They may not do any real traveling in this movie, but it still fits my romantic fantasy road trip pattern. We have the Bargain of Belle agreeing to stay with the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. There’s all the Bickering of him demanding she join him for dinner and her refusing. They come under Attack by the wolves and save each other. That leads to Bonding as they get to know each other, culminating in the big Dance. After that, there’s the Departure, in which she returns home to check on her father, and the Return, when she comes back to assist the Beast.

I’ve realized that the Departure/Return doesn’t necessarily have to involve the protagonist. In this case, the way it signals that he’s changed is that he lets her go and accepts his fate. But then she returns to the normal world and realizes she doesn’t belong there (not that she ever did, so this isn’t much of a change).

In my pastor’s sermon on this theme last weekend, he focused on the passage from the Bible about how it’s not the things you take in that defile you, but rather the things that come from within. It’s what’s in your heart that matters, and the condition of your heart also affects the way you see other people. Though he focused on the prologue in using this as an illustration, and that’s the part I don’t think is done very well since she’s actually pretty cruel and he wasn’t entirely wrong.

My personal connection to this one is that I saw the actor who voices Gaston as Lancelot in a production of Camelot — with Robert Goulet as Arthur (so no pressure at all). Just imagine that voice singing “If Ever I Would Leave You.” And he’s quite physically attractive in real life, too. I’ll just assume he doesn’t share Gaston’s personality.

My pastor has ended that sermon series, so now I have to figure out for myself what to watch. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. I haven’t seen Pinocchio, Bambi, or Dumbo in a long time, but they’re all a little depressing. Any votes for what movie I should tackle next?

2 Responses to “Beauty and the Beast”

  1. Debra

    The Princess and The Frog? Peter Pan? (with the new one to compare it)

    • Shanna Swendson

      Princess and the Frog might be a good one, sticking with the Princess theme, and I love that movie. The last time I tried to watch Peter Pan, I couldn’t get through it. The sexism was really bad — with all the female characters hating each other out of jealousy over Peter. I want to watch the new live-action one, though.

Comments are closed.