Beauty and the Beast

The story of Beauty and the Beast, as told by Disney in the 1991 animated film, is one where the messages conveyed are contradictory to their standard “handsome prince defeats the monster and gets the girl and saves the day” tropes that we’re used to. In this story, we see a selfish, self-absorbed girl who delights in singing about how she’s so much better than everyone else in the town, despite not contributing anything of significance to the day-to-day life of the villagers. This is our introduction to Belle, the “heroine” of the story.

Everyone in the town has the same attitude towards her; she’s a bit odd, and they tolerate her, but no one has any strong feelings towards her one way or the other. We are led to believe that their attitude is based on Belle’s voracious reading, but I contend that it is because of the way she acts towards them. I also believe that the only reason they even tolerate her and give her the time of day in conversations is because of the town hero, Gaston, tells everyone to leave her alone because he’s attracted to her. And as the song reminds us, everyone loves Gaston. Gaston who shares every character trait with classic Disney heroes- he’s handsome, muscular, skilled at hunting and fighting, courageous…the list goes on.

Now we see a few things that Gaston does that get painted in a negative light; plotting to have Belle’s father Maurice admitted to the asylum. Now, this is totally justified because Maurice already has a reputation for being rather, well, eccentric to be polite about it. Then he comes back from being gone for several days raving about a monstrous beast holding Belle hostage in its castle. Now this town doesn’t look as though it’s the most technologically advanced place on earth, and this wasn’t set in a very progressive time period so this is an acceptable reaction based on those factors. And what is Gaston’s reaction to Belle revealing that the Beast does indeed exist? Kill the monster, of course. Exactly what any Disney hero would do.

How is he the villain again? Oh right, we’re supposed to not judge a book by its cover…except for Belle, whose name literally means “beauty”. What’s the deep character trait that’s revealed about her again? Is she nice? She has no hidden inner quality that should make us want to root for her other than the fact that she’s given the most screen time. I hear you out there, reader. I hear that you’re saying “But she saw past the Beast’s ferocious exterior and learned to love him!” Okay, but let’s consider the whole reason why she agreed to stay with the Beast in the first place- to take her father’s place in a noble gesture that is completely rational, as her father actually contributes to society as opposed to Belle, who contributes nothing.

Now let’s discuss the entire reason the story even exists- the prince getting cursed. Now we are to believe that the prince is cursed because he is a terrible person who refused a one-eyed old woman a place to stay during a cold winter’s night in exchange for a single rose. He refuses, and the old woman reveals herself to be an enchantress who wanted to punish him for his petulance. As a result, he is doomed to be a beast forever unless he’s able to find love by his 21st birthday. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But what about during the “Be Our Guest” song when Lumiere states “Ten years we’ve been rusting/Needing so much more than dusting”. Now when the Beast meets Belle, the rose is already wilting with only a single petal left. That means it’s nearly his 21st birthday, and if it’s been ten years that means the prince was changed into the Beast when he was ten.

What does this mean? It means that a ten-year-old prince was inexplicably answering the door of his giant castle, despite the evidence of hundreds of servants (shown during the “Be Our Guest” song, all the forks, plates, cups, etc) who should be doing that for him, especially since it seems as though he had no parents. Also taking into account my original point that this film takes every trope and turns it on its head, a child is punished for refusing to let a stranger into his house. Is there something wrong with that lesson? I know the whole message of this movie is “beauty is only skin deep” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” but every single other Disney movie warns us of an old woman offering you anything because it’s either poison or some sort of evil enchanted item. Ask Snow White how that worked out for her.

The whole premise of the film flies in the face of logic and every single lesson that Disney has ever put forth. You might argue that Gaston was only nice to Belle because he wanted her to like him, but how is that any different from what the Beast did? There isn’t any difference. They both had the same motive, but Gaston was just more upfront about it to her face. He didn’t hide behind gifts or promises; he told her exactly what he wanted. She didn’t like Gaston, but that didn’t stop him from trying to impress her. He didn’t resort to kidnapping and waiting for her to succumb to Stockholm Syndrome. And he was trying to the right thing when he went to kill the Beast, because it had already kidnapped and imprisoned two of the townsfolk, and he had proven that he was a vicious creature when he saved Belle from the wolves. Gaston was only doing what he thought was his duty as the clear leader of the town and its protector.

And of course, none of these facts address the fact that the people of this village do battle against sentient, anthropomorphic furniture and now suddenly have a prince ruling them. They also seem to forget about the prince, and the castle and presumably the long-standing royal family that presided over their village at the very least. None of them had any concerns when they suddenly stopped getting any royal decrees? And how does a teapot have a son that’s not only a cup but clearly less than ten years old? The Beast aged, why didn’t the rest of them? Also, why are the servants punished for what was perceived as a slight by the prince? In addition to all of this, their prince suddenly needs to know how to govern. That’s forgetting the fact that the prince is forced to fall in love with literally the first female he’s ever met after being transformed into a Beast without having any real peer bonding experiences. I understand that there is a necessary suspension of disbelief in any film featuring a magical castle full of candlesticks trying to have sex with feather dusters and snooty clocks reprimanding suits of armor from casting their gaze at the backside of the insane inventor’s daughter as she toured said enchanted castle, but this movie takes that to an unheard-of level. Once you sit down and really think about it, you realize that this isn’t a heartwarming tale of love conquering all but rather a story of a vicious monster regaining his humanity after the kidnapping and brainwashing a woman who thinks she’s better than everyone else. What kind of lesson is that, Disney?

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