February 4, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

watched Disney's Beauty and the Beast for the first time since i was a little kid. it held up pretty well, but this was always one of my favorites. one thing that really impressed me that i didn't really have an appreciation for as a kid was how gorgeous the backgrounds are. maybe some of the best i've ever seen in an animated film. one thing that kinda bothered me though was i didn't really like the style or whatever the background/extra characters were drawn in...i get that they have to be simpler than the main characters, but they just seemed too much so, and they seemed rounder, cartoonier, like Warner Bros. style instead of Disney. i guess it's not really a big deal, but it kept getting to me for some reason.

there are kind of a lot of weird stylistic choices in this movie.

one of the main reasons i've been wanting to rewatch it was that i've read a few feminist blogs/essays commenting on how sexist Disney films are, and the messages they are inundating into youth, especially young girls. (this is probably the best one i've found.) something i kept reading about Beauty and the Beast was that, in a nutshell, it's basic lesson is that if a woman stays with an abusive beast, he'll turn into a kind prince. i think this is a bit of a simplistic viewpoint. i find the relationship between Belle and the Beast to be perhaps the most dynamic and interesting of all Disney relationships. yes, things start off rocky when your new room mate has locked your dad in his dungeon and you have to barter for his life. but they actually spend time together, get to know each other presumably, unlike other Disney romances that blossom after one chance meeting and a song.

the Beast is abusive, i make no excuses for him there. but coming at it from the perspective of someone who intimately knows people that have been abusers, i can kind of sympathize with Beast to a degree. still, that gives him no right to continually traumatize and intimidate Belle, and she finally tells him as much and leaves, only returning when he saves her freakin' life, which i guess is pretty redeeming. (yes, i know it's lame that she has to be saved at all, but to her credit, she's holding her own against the wolves before Beast shows up. but yes, she still has to be reliant on a man, argh.) i guess i see it less as a woman putting up with an abuser and more as a woman realizing that, although deeply flawed, an individual may be worth her time once he realizes he must treat her with respect. it's something that happens in the best relationships: people bring out the best in each other. but obviously i'm in the minority, and i'm not sure very young viewers would understand how complicated and multi-faceted people and relationships can be.
i guess in the dvd i got, there's some new scene/song added in that was originally cut from the movie. i really didn't like it or think it was necessary; it was obviously animated recently and therefore didn't match up to the rest of the movie and it didn't really add anything to the plot (there's a REASON they cut stuff out of movies, people who make dvds!), but there was one little thing i liked about it. there's a tiny scene where Belle and Beast are in the library reading together, and Beast admits he's almost illiterate, and Belle helps him along. this is both a touching moment, and perhaps the most intimate scene that reveals how close they're becoming up until the big ballroom dance thing.

another thing i can't help but like is that the dashing, handsome, muscly guy ends up being the villain.
although, when Beast transforms, he's probably the hottest prince ever, so it's kind of a draw, i guess.

things i don't like include Nafu, or whatever Gaston's sidekick's name is, reinforcing the stereotype Disney always has of short, squat, fat people being comedy relief not to be taken seriously, and they're usually evil or aligned with the evil party. also love, love, LOVE how Belle starts off in the movie, an alienated, educated daydreamer who is beautiful but doesn't use her beauty as a commodity, who wants adventure and something more than "this provincial life," only for her "grand adventure" that she longs for to end up being giving up her life for her father's to live in a dingy old castle with a beast who she then marries, the end. it kinda gives the impression that if young girls long for a better, more exciting life, marriage is the answer.

man, the scene where Belle fumes about Gaston's arrogance in presuming she'll marry him, and she runs outside and there's that beautiful sunset over the fields of grass and the forest as she emotes with her arms and proclaims "i want ADVENTURE in the great, wide SOMEWHERE! i want it more than i can tell!" wow, that scene got me so fired up as a kid, even at 6 or 7 or however old i was, watching that art combined with that sentiment on the big screen in front of me, i was absolutely riveted! and it still holds up, that scene still gets me. i just wish that Belle was the Belle we got through the rest of the film.

and while i admit it's a little sad that Disney doesn't try harder or realize the effects it has one children and our culture in general, especially on things like gender roles, it also feels unfair to me to lump all of this blame on Disney when their movies are just retellings of folktales and fairytales that go way, way back, and therefore embody a different set of morals and values than we embrace today.

i was actually kind of impressed with how closely the Disney version followed the original story in this particular instance. Disney's Beast is more of a jerk, but that kinda makes more sense as to why he would've gotten cursed in the first place.
maybe i'm biased, because i just love fairytales in general, and sometimes it feels like a conflict of interest, being a feminist and loving stories that reinforce gender stereotypes and portray women as sleeping, obedient, paragons of purity and virtue and at the same time sexual desire, to be conquered, raped, protected, but never empowered. there's a great deal of romance to be found in suffering. maybe that's why i like fairytales and saints. as a young girl, in love with my own suffering, i fell in love with the unbearable but saintly suffering and love of the little mermaid when she turned to foam rather than kill her only love. my love knew no bounds for the little match girl who finally saw heavenly paradise as she froze to death in the street. the ones that feature tragedy and pain and make martyrs of its princesses are the most compelling to me.

i really like Beauty and the Beast being in a Rococo-type setting. i like the visual juxtaposition of opulence and  daintiness with the frightening beast.


ross said...

great post! :)
i never really liked Beauty & The Beast much compared to the other Disney fairy tale movies. maybe i should give it another shot. i have like zero patience with the beauty/beast trope, though, it's also really annoying on a sexism level because it's always the man who's the beast and the women who either de-beasts him with her womanly hotness, or is the only one able/willing to love him. it's never a human man and a beastly woman, because really, who could EVER love a monstrous woman?! forget it! :| it's a good thing Belle looks like a supermodel. it falls in line with everything else ever that only values women for their looks, and for men it doesn't really matter as long as they have a good heart.

i don't think even though Disney bases their stuff on old fairy tales with outdated gender roles, you can still hold them accountable. they change so much about each story that it's almost a totally new thing, and sometimes they even change the core moral like they did with Little Mermaid. i think there are plenty of ways they could change other aspects about these stories to have them be more socially responsible, but i guess the main problem is that Disney is run by traditionalists who don't want to upset the status quo since the status quo makes them money. maybe someday, though.

even though the Prince is pretty hot, i always felt they should have kept him the Beast at the end. the Beast character was so much more charming and you'd spent the entire movie with him and being charmed by him and everything, and then at the end he's just some dude and you have no reason or time to get attached to him. :\

are you going to write posts like this for any other Disney movies?? the Kaylie Does Disney series???

Kaylie said...

thanks, Ross!! glad you liked it! :D

dang it, i meant to mention that somewhere about the beauty/beast story always being only about a male beast/female beauty and how much that sucks. totally slipped my mind. there's the obvious sexism there, but i think it also might have to do with deep-seated psychological tropes believed as truth at the time; like how the beast could basically represent the raging male libido and giving into all carnal and basic instincts, and the pretty young virginal girl who represents christianity, purity, morality, and self-control is the only thing that can "tame" this "beast."

i understand what you mean too about wishing the Beast didn't have to change; i felt particularly strong about it as a kid. as an adult i understand more readily that he's the same person and everything, but as a kid it really bothered me when he transformed.

heheh, a Disney series, that might be fun! XD what movie/movies do you think i should do??

ross said...

sorry i wrote so much. :|

you could do all the animated fairy tale movies, maybe skip the non-folklore ones like Hunchback, Lion King, Lilo & Stitch, Jungle Book, Rescuers, etc. or if you have a lot of time on your hands, do all the animated features! XD

Jazz Sexton said...

Ross, that is a great point about beastly women! The B&B trope definitely reinforces the idea that women must be nurturers and do not have the capacity to be beastly. I'm going to look around and see if I can find a retelling with a beastly women. It seems like an idea someone *must* have touched on by now.

@Kaylie So a couple weeks ago I was singing "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!" in the shower when I realized Belle never found that type of adventure. She's limited to the castle and her village, and at the end I imagine just the castle and its grounds. It is unsettling how settling into marriage is the problem at the beginning of the film, yet it becomes the solution by the film's end.

By the way, Gaston's sidekick is LeFou which is French for The Madman, and also sounds like The Fool.

Kaylie said...

right on, Jazz!

maybe it's just wishful thinking, but i like to imagine that after Belle and Beast get married, she uses her new funds to travel the world and maybe open up a huge university of higher learning in her old village or something. ;)

Jazz Sexton said...

Dude, so awesome! I never thought of Belle opening up a school but that would be a perfect ending for a retelling. Hmm, I'm feeling inspired.

AllyJS said...

I liked your take on this. Although I have heard the interpretations that Beauty and the Beast mirrors an abusive relationship and I do see why, but I couldn't buy that Beast was just a jerk. I loved the redemption and I loved that Belle was a heroine who loved books.