More Beauty and the Beast thoughts: Be my guest

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Beauty and the Beast

I wanted to come up with a clever title for this post, like “A Tale as Old as Time and as Fresh as 2017,” but that’s actually pretty cheesy, and since I’m surely the millionth blogger to enter this discussion over the past few days, there’s no point in trying to be original.

Well, I really enjoyed Beauty and the Beast.  For me, it struck exactly the right balance between appealing to the nostalgia of people who were seven-year-old vicarious princesses when the original animated Disney movie was released (e.g., me) and providing the psychological depth and historical detail that has come be expected of fairy tale adaptations in recent years.  I want to focus on the latter and tell you about an innovation that I appreciated in each of the two categories that I just mentioned.

  1. Psychological depth: In the animated film, Belle and the Beast–and even Gaston–were already surprisingly fleshed-out characters, but many of the minor characters were pretty flat (and I’m not talking about the 2D animation).  One of those characters who gets some new depth in the new adaptation is Maurice, Belle’s father.  The animated Maurice was exceedingly absent-minded and a rather clueless father, leading us to wonder where Belle got her good sense from.  (I also always wondered why he was half Belle’s height and perfectly spherical.)  When Gaston had him thrown into the asylum wagon, I felt bad for Maurice, but I kind of saw Gaston’s point.  In the live-action film, Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) is still a bit of a dreamer–perhaps even more so, since he’s now portrayed as an artist rather than an inventor (in a neat twist, Belle is the inventor!)–but his speech and mannerisms are abundantly rational, which underscores the cruelty of Gaston’s and the townspeople’s insistence that he is crazy.  Maurice gets added depth from the film’s revelations about Belle’s mother, who (this is not a spoiler; you find out very early in the movie) died of the plague in Paris when Belle was a baby.  I like how many of the recent Disney movies are either showing two-parent families or at least making it clear that it takes two people to make a baby.  (At the end of this one, we discover that there’s a Mr. Potts!)
  2. Historical detail: The fact that Maurice and Belle came from Paris is also significant because it explains why Belle is even literate, let alone the insatiable reader that we love her for being.  The first few scenes of the new film subtly but clearly demonstrate the low priority that has been placed on reading and writing, especially for girls, throughout much of history and even in many places today.  (I have a feeling that Emma Watson, a well-known campaigner for women’s rights, including the right to education, may have had some influence on this aspect of the movie.)  Notice, especially, the tiny collection of books Belle has to choose from in her town in this version.  Instead of the good-sized bookshop of the animated film, here we see a single shelf of volumes that appear to be owned by a clergyman, probably the only other educated person in town besides Belle and Maurice.  The literacy theme comes back in the Beast’s castle, when we learn that not only does the Beast have a really nice library (cue all the Hermione references you can think of) but that he also has apparently read most of the books in it.  I think this is the moment when Belle starts falling in love with the Beast–when she realizes they’re intellectual equals.

I don’t think I’ve quite done justice to the film yet, so I’ll probably return to this topic next week.  Meaenwhile, go see it, and let me know what you think!

things that made me happy this week

I couldn’t settle on a single topic for this post, so I’m just going to make a list of things that brought me a bit of delight over the past week, in hopes that it may be interesting and useful to others as well.  I guess you could call this my T(t)hanksgiving post, since next week you better believe I’ll be blogging about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

  1. Finding the soundtrack to Fantastic Beasts on Spotify today–there’s nothing like listening to the score to get you excited about a movie (not that I needed it in this case)
  2. The full trailer for Beauty and the Beast, released yesterday.  Besides the fact that this is a remake of one of my very favorite Disney movies, I also love that the anticipation is giving me a way to bond with other fans, including my children’s lit students and some of the women in my family.
  3. Speaking of my students (in all of my classes), they’ve been making me happy all semester.  These groups of students are fun and smart, they seem to like me (teachers, let’s not act like that doesn’t make a huge difference in our personal morale), and they seem to actually be interested in what we’re reading.  And those things aren’t necessarily true every semester.
  4. Finding three Christmas tree ornaments over the weekend: a wooden “Peace on Earth” ornament from The Funky Junk Shop in Forest, VA (where I also found a cozy and flattering shirt that I’m now in love with) and a felt baby chick and a vintage Shiny Brite brand bulb with the solar system on it, from The White Brick House, also in Forest (where I also found a vintage Virginia state bird and state flower glass to replace one from my set that I had broken).
  5. Cooking and baking, for myself and for others.  For myself, I’ve been making some chard-based recipes featured in the December Better Homes and Gardens, and they’ve been delicious so far.  Last night I baked an apple pie for a Thanksgiving dinner being hosted by a friend’s local ministry (and the crust actually looked presentable, which is definitely something to be thankful for), and tonight I’ll be making some treacle fudge for the International Candy Tasting at work tomorrow.  And I’m already looking forward to making sweet potato souffle this weekend for my friends and next week for my family.  (I also made some last week just for me–I’d like to keep up this “one sweet potato souffle a week” trend as long as I can stand it.)
  6. The cardio funk class I attended last night at the YMCA.  When people think of my good qualities, rhythm is not normally near the top of the list (or on it at all), but I think that’s part of the reason why I enjoyed this class so much–I knew I wasn’t going to get the moves exactly right, so I just focused more on the cardio than on the funk and had fun laughing at myself.  Tonight…Zumba.
  7. Volunteering with Safe Families for Children, an organization I’m excited to be involved with as it gets off the ground in Central Virginia.  Saturday morning I got to help with registration for a conference for foster and adoptive families where SFFC had a big presence, and it was so much fun to see all these hospitable, compassionate people showing up eager to learn and be encouraged.  Yesterday and today, I’ve provided transportation for some young single moms, and I’ve enjoyed talking with them and playing with their cute kids.  I know they say that helping other people is a big mood-booster, but more than that, I love getting to know all the many different people that I encounter through these opportunities (and this is coming from an introvert).
  8. The beauty right outside my house as winter approaches.  This week, highlights have included a flock of blue jays in the backyard; a huge and colorful woodpecker that landed on my feeder a few days ago, looked bewildered, and then flew away; the incredibly bright supermoon on Sunday and Monday nights, and the hard frost Saturday night/Sunday morning (the coolest part was in the morning when the sun started melting the frost where there weren’t any shadows–my lawn was half white and half green).

I could keep going, but it’s time to go make a chard stir-fry.  You should seriously consider taking half an hour to write down things that have made you happy this week.  It isn’t hard at all.

Be Our Guest

As you know if you read my May post entitled Disney Memories, Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney animated movies. In that post, I wrote about what an excellent role model I think Belle is. (I don’t agree with the assessment that she’s a victim of Stockholm syndrome; I think she makes an independent and well-considered decision to pursue a relationship with the Beast.) But there’s one thing that bothers me about the portrayal of Belle, and that is that during the classic song “Be Our Guest,” practically a hymn to fine dining, she doesn’t actually eat anything. Sure, she takes a little sample of the grey stuff (and apparently finds it, as advertised, delicious), but after all the song’s fanfare about how she’s going to be sated with food as well as with music, she walks away from the table having eaten essentially nothing.
This post is not going to be a diatribe about the unspoken assumption that a Disney princess couldn’t possibly have a physical body that needs to eat, drink, rest, etc., although I think it’s important to discuss that assumption. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a recent way in which Disney has gone some way toward correcting the missed opportunity for somebody to actually eat all that food that Lumiere and co. prepared with such gusto.
Earlier this year, Walt Disney World added a new section to Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. Aside from the fun roller-coaster called the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a throwback to the first Disney movie, the new section pays homage to two animated features from the early 1990s, now a nostalgic time for people in their 20s and 30s: The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The visual focal point of the area is the Beast’s castle, which, unlike the iconic Cinderella’s Castle, is merely a cluster of decorative turrets on top of a huge faux rock formation, giving the impression of a large castle viewed from a distance.
Inside the “rocks” is where the culinary magic happens at Be Our Guest, a full-service restaurant with a French-inflected menu and majestic decor that should please young (and older) princesses looking to step inside their favorite movie, as well as adults who prefer a grown-up atmosphere. Guests can eat in the West Wing, an authentic (if better-lit) re-creation of the Beast’s gloomy Byronic bachelor pad, the Rose Gallery, where the centerpiece is a larger-than-life music box featuring a dancing Belle and Beast, or–where my family was seated–the Ballroom, with a breathtaking high ceiling and tall windows looking out on a dim “French countryside,” where it’s perpetually snowing. Guests are allowed to tour all of the dining rooms, as well as the vestibule with its beautiful tapestries and stained-glass depictions of scenes from the movie. Periodically, the Beast (announced by a striking selection from the film’s musical score) sweeps through the dining room and enters his study, where (as a commanding voice from above informs us) he will be receiving guests.

I ordered hot tea because I often do in restaurants and because I had a cold (alas) and thought it would feel good on my throat. I wasn’t thinking about Mrs. Potts and Chip, but I was delighted when my little teapot and cup arrived (plain white, no faces) and my sister reminded me of the connection. Everything on the menu looked good; I chose the braised pork, coq a vin style, served with creamed cauliflower and asparagus. It was excellent, and I can only imagine how much more excellent it would have been if all my senses had been working properly. Others in my party ordered ratatouille, sautéed shrimp and lobster in a pastry crust, and lamb with a side of buttered celery root, and everyone really enjoyed their meal.
For dessert, we were invited to try the grey stuff (a dessert featuring grey frosting atop a chocolate shell), and everyone else in my family did, but I chose, mainly on the basis of visual appeal (we were shown the desserts table side), a beautiful triple chocolate cupcake topped with a raspberry and a chocolate square embossed with the restaurant name. It also happened to be delicious.
Although we didn’t end up going into the study to meet our host, we felt royally welcomed and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I tried to enjoy it for Belle, too.

Disney memories

Last night while trying to fall asleep, I chose my five favorite animated Disney movies (not counting Pixar) and figured out why I like them so much.  They can be categorized into two I loved when I was a kid (1 and 2), one I liked as a very small child and later rediscovered for different reasons (3), and two that are my favorites now and probably always will be (4 and 5).

1. Sleeping Beauty.  I think it’s accurate to say that this movie inspired my first experiences with cosplay.  As a little girl I used to put on a blue dress and pretend to be–no, not Princess Aurora, but Merryweather, the chubby fairy who doesn’t speak but always seems to be indignant about something she can’t articulate.  I was an odd little girl.  I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I still think it’s beautiful and effectively scary.  Am I excited about the Maleficent movie coming out next week?  Not really, though I’ll probably go see it.  I have a hard time with Angelina Jolie.

Merryweather

2. Pocahontas.  This movie came out when I was 11, and I was really into it.  I had a lot of Pocahontas merch–I remember a nightshirt, when nightshirts were a big thing, and a necklace that I took apart so that I could string the beads onto other necklaces.  I was an odd tween.  I knew all the lyrics to “Colors of the Wind,” and of course I still do, because you don’t forget songs you learn in childhood (which is why I still know the lyrics to most of The Eagles’ greatest hits–another story).  Pocahontas also gave me my first crush, at least the first I remember.  And no, it wasn’t on John Smith, but on Thomas, the naive and timid redheaded sailor (voiced by Christian Bale) who accidentally shoots Pocahontas’s boyfriend Kocoum.  Some things don’t change.  Again, I still think this is a beautiful movie.  I know people complain about the historiography, but it was never intended as a documentary.

Image

Thomas

3. Bambi.  As a child, I had a Bambi stuffed animal, and I liked Thumper (I remember quoting, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” still good advice for most contexts) and Flower, the really cute androgynous skunk.  Then I guess I got “too old” for Bambi and kind of forgot about the movie until one family trip to Disney World; I believe it was the one shortly after I graduated from college.  We were at Disney Studios watching one of those compilation films about the magic of animation or whatever, and suddenly the frantic pace of the clips slowed down and they showed that scene in which Bambi steps out into the clearing and asks, “Mother?” and the stag–Bambi’s father, though Bambi doesn’t know it–approaches and says, “Your mother won’t be with you anymore, Bambi.”  Standing in a room full of tourists, I started weeping.  It was embarrassing, but cathartic.  I still think that’s a brilliant scene–no music for emotional manipulation, just the stark colors of the deer against the snow and that spare, heartbreaking dialogue.  (Ok, I’m tearing up while writing this.)  Bambi is like that in general–a very simple story, no flashy songs and a small cast of (non-wisecracking) characters.  The animation is beautiful.  I am not ashamed to say that I own a Bambi t-shirt.

4. Beauty and the Beast.  I liked this movie when I was a kid, but didn’t truly appreciate it until I grew up.  I’ve always identified with Belle because she likes to read, but now I see that there’s much more to her.  She’s a lot like Jane Eyre in that she has just the right combination of strong will and empathy to be able to transformatively love a selfish and deeply wounded man while still retaining her own identity and protecting herself emotionally.  This, too, is a beautiful movie.  Of course the songs are great, but so is the score.  The settings are so atmospheric: the gloomy castle perfectly matches the Beast’s mood, and the forest outside it is truly desolate.  And I love the way the prologue uses animated “stained glass” to tell the Beast’s back-story.

5. Peter Pan.  This is one of my favorite stories, period.  (It’s Victorian, and it’s magic.  Therefore, I love it.)  The Disney movie isn’t a perfect adaptation, but there’s no such thing.  Certain things about it are perfect, at least to me, like the iconic image of the children flying over the nighttime silhouette of London, something no previous adaptation was able to capture and no subsequent one has attempted to try.  The songs are very good, especially “You Can Fly.”  I also love the way the musical sequences add to the character development in subtle ways.  (For example, the song “Following the Leader” seems like nothing more than a fun romp, but it illustrates the idea, which is barely latent in the J.M. Barrie story but makes perfect sense, that John Darling would see Peter Pan as a rival.)  I know most people think of Tinkerbell when they think of this movie, but I could take her or leave her.  For me, it’s about Peter, who is one of my favorite trickster figures, and the Darling children, who react to being essentially abducted from their home in fascinatingly different ways.  I also like the Lost Boys.  And the Peter Pan ride at Magic Kingdom is wonderful.  Yes, it’s a really short ride with a really long line, but it’s totally worth it.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!