Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend my beloved Popular Culture Association in the South conference this year; being laid off has had the paradoxical effect of giving me plenty of time to think up paper/presentation topics but no income to share that work, but such is life. Since there have been a few ideas bouncing around in my head--midnight breakthroughs, all--I’m going to share them with you. I’ve written with the assumption that my audience is familiar with the films I’ll be discussing, so consider this a pre-emptive spoiler alert. Read on!
For Part 2, return next Wednesday. For Part 3, return the Wednesday after that.
While Beauty and the Beast isn’t my favorite Disney movie, it IS my mother’s, so I’ve seen it many times, and I do appreciate the hell out of it for several reasons. If ever an animated film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture, this was the one (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs), and it should have stayed that way, except the AMPAS made some changes a few years back that allowed for more leeway when it came to animated films breaking into that category. But I digress.
In addition to admiring the artistry of the film (those stained-glass windows! the special effects! that ballroom!), I feel it’s one of the better “princess” movies, thanks in large part to Belle’s spirit, personality, and moral code. For example, has anyone else ever noticed that she is willing to sacrifice herself on at least two occasions in order to save her father?
First she rides into the forest with Philippe and trespasses in the Beast’s castle to find Maurice. Once there, she cuts a deal with the Beast, offering herself up in exchange for her father’s freedom, in spite of his protests. Later in the movie, she leaves the castle--admittedly, with the Beast’s blessing--to help Maurice, who has fallen ill. This is one dedicated daughter.
Yet, in defiance of the expectations of her time, she refuses to sacrifice herself for the other men in her life. From the outset, we know she doesn’t give a fig what the townspeople say about her; ain’t nobody got time for that, in her opinion. She chooses instead to pursue her own passion--reading--to the exclusion of much else, including, importantly, the overtures Gaston makes. She knows he’s borderline illiterate and will force her to change if she enters into a relationship with him; this would be unacceptable to her, so she rebuffs him.
Near the climax, when Gaston informs Belle that she can marry him in order to buy her father’s freedom, she is disgusted by the notion in a way she was not by the prospect of living in the Beast’s castle, because she knows there must be a way to save Maurice that doesn’t involve compromising her own standards.
While this does parallel her situation with the Beast, Belle doesn’t feel forced to trade places with Maurice in the castle; rather, she makes her own, conscious decision (which tracks with Belle’s actions in the Beaumont version of the fairy tale). If she allows Gaston to coerce her into marriage, neither she nor her father can live with the consequences, because even though it’s never said, only intimated, we know Gaston is the type of man who would beat his wife into submission without hesitation.
Moreover, we know Belle continues to adhere to her strong moral code even once she realizes she and the Beast are falling in love; rather than stay at the castle with him and various enchanted housewares, she continues her tradition of aiding Maurice, as discussed above. In Belle’s case, the old cliché is true: blood is thicker than water.
And this is a good set of lessons for children to learn, I think:
1) Do not degrade yourself by letting a bully win.
2) Make efforts to preserve your autonomy and personality.
3) Family is there for you and you should be there for them, too (assuming that there isn’t any dangerous dysfunction at work).
4) Choosing a boy/girl/significant other over your own interests or those of the people closest to you is detrimental to you and your dearest.
Bonus lesson: it’s okay to be a bookish lady, because some people will appreciate your nerdiness, and not just the bookshop owner (although, can we be friends with that guy? He gives out free books!).