Sorry, I just really wanted to use one of those cheesy thematic post titles that I told you last week I wasn’t going to use. Before I move on to other topics (such as, possibly, another Fantastic Beasts post next week, since the Blu-Ray is coming out tomorrow!), I want to share a few more observations about Beauty and the Beast (the live-action Disney adaptation released earlier this month, as if I needed to clarify that).
- Last week I wrote about literacy, which crops up a number of times in the film, and I later posted on Facebook that the literacy issue is also an issue of wealth and poverty. Many of Belle’s fellow townspeople would probably argue that they are too busy working to have time to read or even learn to read, and there’s also an access issue: clearly the town has a shortage of books and of educators (and the limited resources that do exist are allocated almost exclusively to boys). Meanwhile, the Beast in his castle can afford a magnificent library and, as a member of the leisured class, has plenty of time to read the books it contains. Maybe I’ve just read A Tale of Two Cities too many times, but the castle storming scene in this film had definite French Revolution overtones for me, especially when I remembered the Prince’s pre-curse ball we witnessed at the beginning of the film– lavish and luxurious almost to the point of being laughable, and very Marie Antoinette-style. I don’t think the filmmakers were trying to make a political point necessarily–after all, the Beast isn’t really the bad guy, and it’s hard to pin down the exact time period (as it should be in a fairy tale)–but the contrast is definitely there. Two more things to consider on this topic: a. The Enchantress is portrayed as an impoverished outcast. b. On the other hand, it does appear that the Prince’s castle was a source of steady work for some people in the village. We learn at the end of the film that both Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth were married to townspeople.
- If you’ve read my review of the Walt Disney World restaurant Be Our Guest, you know it really bothers me that in the original animated film, Belle doesn’t get to eat during that iconic song. I argued that this results from the misguided idea that a fairytale princess could never be seen to eat because eating is somehow a coarse, unfeminine, embarrassing activity. So I was happy to see that in the new film, Belle at least appears to be hungry (she frantically reaches for several dishes as they dance by), but disappointed that, in the end, she still doesn’t get to eat anything–and that she walks away from the table seemingly okay with that.
- Before the film was released, someone told me she’d heard that Belle has to save the Beast in the wolf attack scene. This is not true. The scene plays out almost identically to the parallel scene in the animated movie. The Beast is perfectly capable of saving himself (he is a beast, after all), but Belle does have to help him get back to the castle. So rather than an in-your-face attempt to make Belle a proper 21st-century feminist, this scene is actually a lovely example of two people caring for each other in a budding relationship (well, a relationship that’s about to bud). Because Belle was already such a strong character in the animated version, there was really no need to update her to make her extra tough, so I’m glad there was no attempt to do so. The reason Disney’s Belle is still one of my fictional role models is that she’s both brave and kind (like Disney’s 2015 Cinderella), capable and feminine.
Please continue to send me your thoughts about the movie!