Thursday, April 3, 2014

Disney's Beauty and The Beast

When I was a kid, I had this beautiful Disney picture book of Beauty and The Beast. I realized I'd never seen the movie version of Beauty and The Beast (I mean the Disney one, of course - animation is the only way to watch fairy tales, for me.) So I decided to watch it as part of the Once Upon a Time VIII challenge, Quest on Screen. Anything that falls in broad genres of fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and mythology counts and Beauty and the Beast definitely fits at least two of those.

If you know the story, you can skip down to what I thought!

Story: Once upon a time, a spoiled, selfish and unkind Prince was cursed by an enchantress for his arrogance. As punishment, he was transformed into a hideous Beast and his castle, and all who lived there were placed under a curse. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the Beast concealed himself inside his castle. The only thing that could save him was an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a Beast?

Belle is introduced as this pretty young girl who always has her nose buried in a book. She and her father, a budding inventor, are ridiculed by the townspeople, who find them very odd. Then we meet Gaston, a popular and handsome but brutish hunter. He wants to marry Belle, much to her confusion and distaste.

One day, Belle's father gets lost in the woods, is attacked by wolves and seeks shelter in a huge seemingly abandoned castle. There, he is observed by a curious anthropomorphic candle stand and a clock and soon all the servants, cursed to spend eternity locked away with their master as non-living objects, greet and serve their rare visitor. When the Beast awakens and sees the intruder, he bursts into a fit of beastly anger and he holds Belle's father prisoner.

Phillipe, his darling horse, arrives home alone and a frightened but determined Belle sets off to find her father. They reach the castle and the household is immediately abuzz with the arrival of a girl, who might be the one to break the curse. To set her father free, Belle makes a bold deal with the Beast, to switch places with her father and stay captured in the castle forever. The Beast is awed by her sacrifice, and in a moment of inspired kindness, offers her a room instead of the prison cell.

At the insistence of his servants, the Beast invites Belle for dinner. But she declines, proceeding to fume in her room. He requests her to get out, then forces her, and then guiltily shifts back to pleading her, only to lose his temper and declare that if she ever wants to eat she has to do it with him. But Belle is not one to be scared by threats. At night, she sneaks out of the room and at her request for food, the entire cutlery and crockery of the castle burst into delightful song and make her the grandest French meal in the history of cartoon.

On a mission to explore, in a forbidden part of the castle, Belle comes upon the slowly withering rose, stored carefully in a glass jar. It's the young prince's room, complete with a torn apart picture of a handsome young man. Just as she's about to take a closer look at the mysterious rose, the Beast arrives and hides it. He angrily pushes her away from the precious remains of the flower and roars at her. Angry and insulted, Belle leaves the castle with Phillipe.

In the woods, the dreadful wolves attack them. A brave Belle is fighting them, when the Beast arrives. He chases off the wolves and is wounded in the process. Belle stays, if reluctantly, to help her saviour. Back at the castle, as she nurses his wounds, we notice in the Beast an almost childlike quality. There's something very human about him arguing with the girl. Belle thanks him for saving her life, and he responds with a touched "You're welcome." It seems to be the first time that someone has thought of him as more than a beast. Over the following days, Belle brings out the good in him, till ultimately, he changes into someone worthy of her love.

Of course, the troubles are far from over with the horrible Gaston plotting to send Belle's father to an asylum and blackmailing her into marrying him. Belle wants to leave the castle to save her father, and despite only the last petal hanging on to the rose, the Beast lets her go, wondering if she would come back.

What I thought: The thing I like the most about this story is that the characters are gray (except Gaston, whom I hate on principle.) Belle isn't completely good just the like the Beast is not wholly bad. Belle takes unthinking risks, she can be a bit of a nose-poker (like entering his part of the castle when he'd expressly asked her not to) and she does let the Beast sway her mind with gifts (the library.) We never know why the servants are punished, but perhaps not all are as pitiable before the curse either as they appear during!

I think this is the only Disney story where the heroine is not in love with the idea of love. Here, love develops gradually and for a reason, it's neither love at first sight nor prophecy. Belle isn't different because she's a reader. Belle is unique Disney heroine, because while she does read fairy tales and dream of adventures and princes in disguise, she isn't waiting for love to happen to her. And in this story, love is hardly the only thing on her mind. Remember, she chases after her father, not Prince Charming.

I don't accept the accusation that this story sends the message of loving a man despite the fact that he abuses you, of bearing with his tantrums. It's about giving people a chance. Belle doesn't discount any of the Beast's angry comments or bad decisions - whenever he shouts at her, she shouts back. If he tries to hurt her, she fights him off. But she is open to the idea that he could be good. When she first sees him in the light, she doesn't judge him by his appearance, even though he scares her. She gives him the benefit of the doubt.

But the story is not just about Belle's forgiveness or second chances. At its heart, I always see it as the Beast's story. It's about meeting someone wonderful and falling in love with them and transforming yourself; becoming unselfish, trying harder to turn into the best version of you for them. As that fabulous Angela Lansbury song goes, "bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong..."


The quintessential Disney-ness of the movie with its charming music and the at once enchanting and funny animation only adds to the magic. This is definitely worth a watch!

Do you like Disney movies? How did you find Beauty and the Beast?  Which is your favourite fairy tale adaptation? Any recommendations?

13 comments:

jenclair said...

I do like the Disney movies, and grandchildren do as well. Have you read Zel by Donna Jo Napoli? I read it for this challenge several years ago and thought it was an excellent retelling of Rapunzel.

As for my favorite Disney fairy tale films: Snow White and Cinderella.

Priya said...

jenclair - Thanks for stopping by my blog. I have heard of Zel and I have recently developed a thing for retellings - so I might try it. Thanks. Cinderella is a favourite, but as a kid, and I know this is weird, I was scared of the seven dwarfs. I never got around to watching the movie, that may be why!!

marveloustales.com said...

Aww...this is one of my favorite Disney movies! I love your insights on Belle and the Beast--yes, yes, yes, and among the many reasons I love this movie!

Priya said...

Cheryl - Thanks!! I loved it too and this won't be the last time I watch it. :)

Viktoria Berg said...

I haven´t seen this for a long time, but I remember crying when the wolves attacked the beast. I am generally not a big fan of Disney turning my favourite stories to saccarine, but on the other hand they spread the stories. I made an artwork featuring Rapunzel some ten years ago, which no one understood, and lately, every Swede seems to suddenly know this story. Another thing: I have noticed that little boys are now playing Disney princesses, "kicking ass" as it were, so something has clearly happened to the way the archetypal princess is turned out!

Priya said...

Viktoria - Well, I guess those who like the stories in their original forms wouldn't approve of their Disney-ed versions. I am not the biggest fan of the soppy Disney romances either, which dilute characters to the barests minimums, but they do still hold this magic for me.
I think you mean the recent popular Rapunzel adaptation: Tangled - the imagery and effects were great, they supposedly spent six years perfecting her hair! But you're right. Disney has come a long way from the Sleeping Beauty style of films, Brave had a well, brave princess, they had their first African-American princess in The Princess and the Frog recently, and Frozen - well, that's just the most unlikely and touching take on 'true love' Disney's ever had.
Okay, so this has become a very long reply. But I do recommend you to watch Frozen, if you haven't already. :)

Fence said...

I do enjoy the Disney classics, not that I've seen them all yet. Yes, they do have their problems, and it is important to recognise and highlight those problems, but there is something so wonderful about them as well.

I'm not sure what my favourite is. I think I probably know The Lion King the best because children I used to babysit regularly had it on repeat when I was a teenager. I loved Frozen as well, and Brave.

Priya said...

Fence - True. The Lion King was charming, I loved Simba. Disney has this way with animal expressions that are just adorable. But if we're counting the animal-stories, I loved Bambi too! Thanks for stopping by. This post and all the comments have made me really nostalgic. :)

Lynn said...

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite Disney films - I really do like it. This has made me want to go and find it and watch it again.
Thanks
Lynn :D

nishitak said...

I love Beauty and the Beast - it's probably the only Disney love story that feels modern to me. We love Frozen around here too :)

Priya said...

Lynn - I'm glad. Hope you enjoy it all over again. :)

Nishita - I agree, it is unlike Disney's usual tales. I'm sure you do, I have yet to come across a person who didn't like Frozen!

Joy said...

Hopping over from Once Upon a Time VIII.

I like Disney movies and I always claim Belle as my favorite princess because she likes to read! Terrific thoughts -- your review makes me want to watch the movie again.

Joy's Book Blog

Priya said...

Joy - I know, I can't think of any other Disney princess who loves books, either. :) Thanks for stopping by!

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