Monday, October 24, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

Children's fairy tales have been around since the beginning of recorded history. They are used for a variety of reasons, most of which  help explain to children common life situations that arise from day to day. Some are fair, some scary, some violent, and some are far fetched, but they have been use in a variety of cultures and beliefs. They're often changed to fit  into the everyday life of the group using it. Fairy tales may not always be correct, or nice, or clean, but they communicate an life lessons to all who are listening. Unfortunately there are important morals that do get swept under the rug of entertainment. These classic tales, like politicians, speak to the human heart, rather than the mind. When we look at the metamorphosis of a fairy tale as it has been passed from generation to generation, we see a story that is meant to create a path of least resistance. Much like the man behind  the curtain in the "Wizard of Oz", the storyteller is motivated to get their way. Parents keep children out of the woods. Daughters are frightened by disease and lack of virtue so as to stay pure. Little boys tell the truth unless they want to be taken by mean old men. With the invention of movies, that motivation has changed into a monetary one and the storyteller is no longer the parent, but the studio. They enchant the fantasies of a child with one hand and reach into the pocket book of their parents with the other. This is not surprising, but more than a little disconcerting due to the lack of virtuous content available in some of the most popular fairy tale stories being shown on big screens the world over, whether they be in theaters or homes.
Disney's version of "Beauty and the Beast", in my opinion, is the prime example of an age old story of true love without the morale. The creators go beyond the stereotypical fantasy of princes and maidens and offer up some basic archetypes without the soul. The characters are lacking in depth that is a necessary attribute in children's role models . This is a small example of the how shoddy the overall production is despite the cutting edge visuals in computer animation.

Each time I see the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, (which is way too many times as I have 3 kids all under the age of 5), I pick out new inadequacies that complete the aura of a Faberge egg, that is lacking in substance. I can only assume that Disney went overboard on the budget for animation and were forced to cut back on the creative writing team.

The obvious and most blogged about aspect of Beauty and the Beast which has little to no explanation in the movie on its own is the timeline.
The prince lives in a castle with only servants to take care of him as well as the daily business. He shuns an old woman asking for shelter who then places a curse which transforms him into a beast. In order to break the spell he must find true love by the time he turns 21, or so we think. First off, does the curse become permanent on his 21st birthday or will the rose stop blooming on his 21st birthday? If it's the later, will the curse be permanent once all of the petals fall from the flower?
 The narrator states that the Beast has had the curse for 10 years which means that he was living in a castle alone when he was 11. What kind of negligent blue-bloods have their son live in a separate castle with only servants and tutors? The main castle isn't big enough to share with an 11 year old boy? What's with this old lady sorceress? She comes across an 11 year old boy who doesn't want to let her in? I teach my kids never to go with strangers, take anything from them, or let them in the house. This young prince was probably only doing what his servants/tutors had taught him (because we know the parents or off gallivanting in another castle). What crazy twisted old bitch  turns an adolescent, immature, boy into a beast, unless this is Disney's fucked up version of teen aged acne, in which case they need to get off the Thomas Hobbes philosophical bandwagon and get in touch with their inner child.
End rant...
 If  he had been a beast passed his 21st birthday and the flower has been wilting for 5-7 years then that makes more sense, which again, goes back to the terrible story telling that Disney has provided.

The next and most obvious turn off of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is the the character Belle. She is framed as the intelligent, educated, beautiful, misunderstood, classic feminist who's ahead of her time and wants to achieve more in the world than what society will allow her.

The opening song for Belle gives the audience a look into not only her daily comings and goings, but more importantly a sneak peek into her inner thoughts as well as those provincial little people she passes by. All of the towns people look at her as an enigma that they cannot figure out, which most likely is because they are active and performing tasks that need to be done, like shopping, working, cleaning, feeding, farming, just those "little people" things that are unimportant in real life. Belle has the luxury of reading all day and dreaming of exciting adventures in exotic locations which always end up with her and a rich young prince. What kind of a role model is this for young girls to look up to?

She reminds me a little of the character Tom Wingfield in the Tennessee Williams' play, The Glass Menagerie,  who, like Belle, is tired of the banality of everyday life. He mindlessly works at a warehouse and dreams of adventure in the dark of a movie theater. A big difference in the two characters, other than the obvious, is that Tom ends up leaving his home in search of that other life. I don't mean to imply that the character of Tom Wingfield is a role model or something that people should aspire, but he did finally leave home. The main argument in his actions would be whether he did it to escape or that he found the courage of his convictions. Belle  falls upon the adventure that she has been dreaming about due to unforeseeable circumstances when her father gets lost and is imprisoned by Belle's future love. (Foreshadowing alert!)

The other main character of the story is obviously "The Beast", an angry, uncontrollable, immature, brute who feels sorry for himself and is looking to undue his curse by picking the lock rather than finding the key. He is so insecure of himself that he goes so far as to imprison an old man for life without questioning him why he may be in the castle. A side note to this scene are the actions that the supporting characters don't even offer up any argument or fight to the judgement handed down by their master, even though they enticed him to stay and are partially to blame for being in the castle. The Beast has apparently learned nothing since being cursed and his self-exile is a way for him to cut off his nose to spite his face. How does he or his servants expect to undue the spell if they never venture off the castle grounds? Furthermore, how can The Beast be expected to fall in love with someone in a healthy manner even if they were to stumble upon him and his motley crew? He has no relationship that is reciprocal in nature. He is self loathing and can't even stand his own sight, let alone having someone else look at him without "losing his temper".

 Most love stories contain 2 characters who, like Beatrice and Benedict, are at odds with each other , have little in common, and almost no chance of falling in love. Belle and the Beast get to know each other and realize that they have more in common than first expected. The climactic morale of the story is that love can be found in the most unusual of places. It's a very nice sentiment  drowned in a sea of terrible writing. Belle and the Beast grow fond of each other and  supposedly begin to fall in love. The first glaring problem is that Belle never asks nor learns of the Beast's real name. She simply refers to him as "Beast". Does she really lack enough interest to find out his name? Is this how the flame of early love is kindled?
This is a horrible example of how 2 people who are falling love should treat each other.
Later on the Beast wishes to show Belle how much he values her friendship. Instead of telling her about his past, or communicating his new found feelings, he gives her a library of books that haven't been read in more than 10 years. This illustrates how far the Beast is from making any change in his character. Instead of being locked down in solitary confinement as her Father was,  she is moved to the more comfortable confines of minimum security, fully equipped with staff and a wonderful book collection to keep her company. She's still being kept prisoner for life by a self absorbed werewolf who wants nothing more than to break a curse by hitting the sheets with this pretty little inmate. It all sounds like a scene out of Pulp Fiction. All we're missing is the Gimp who was transformed into a Mummy. At least she doesn't have to be bothered by those little people from the village that she loathed so much a few days earlier.

The last major defect in the story is that of the timeline, which is rather obvious from the get go. Belle's father leaves to travel to the fair to show his invention.  Belle doesn't realize that her father is lost until the horse he was riding on comes back home. This was probably over the course of a day or two. Belle goes out to look for Maurice and falls upon the castle where he is being held. There's no snow on the ground in the village where she lives or at Beast's castle, but when her father is released and heads back to town, there appears to be a bad snowstorm. That night, I can only assume, Belle refuses to dine with the Beast and then tries to escape the castle after he yells at her. They both end up back at the castle after a fight with some wolves. He then spends a nice winter day with her outside. That night the two of them get dressed up for dinner and dancing. Now we are on the 2nd night that she is in the castle and we have already gone from late fall, to winter. She sees in the magic mirror that her father is sick in the woods and there is no longer any snow. The Beast lets her go to help her father. Belle takes her father home which we can only assume takes a day and there is snow on the ground again. Later that night, Gaston and the head of the crazy asylum come to take her father away and the snow is gone once again. How long were Belle and the Beast together in the castle?
Either they only spent 2-3 nights getting to know each other or Disney did a terrible job of telling giving us the timeline of the story. They couldn't have fallen in love given the time frame compounded with the incredible amount of psychological baggage they're carrying. Either way, it's rather surprising how big of a shit sandwich Disney is willing to sell to children.
 These are just a few of the many examples of how poorly constructed Disney's version of "Beauty and the Beast" is, not to mention how inappropriate some of the subject matter can be. Disney's French stereotyped characters use difficult situations as leverage to get money and sex. When that plan fails they resort to sexual assault as can be seen by Lefou who fondles Babette the feather duster during the attack on the castle near the end of the movie. Disney studios has made a fortune, to say the least, on the marketing of this movie over the past 22 years since its release and in that time, I have never heard anyone bring up most of which I have written above. Just because something is a spectacle to see doesn't make it a good product. It's important for parents to take a closer look at the content of their children's viewing habits which continues to become more and more desensitised. I am in no way suggesting that children should be sheltered from the realities of life, but I think it would be better to have it explained in a proper manner. I also think that a story like "Beauty and the Beast" shouldn't start with a marketing plan and leave the story to be sorted out later. We all know that the Devil lies in the details.  

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