A Tale As Old As Time

I’m pretty proud of this one. It’s going to take a few minutes to get to the laughs, but it’ll be worth it if you stick with it.

1991’s hit film “Beauty and the Beast” has become a cultural institution. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar; the first picture to be nominated for 3 separate Best Original Song Oscars, and the first animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical. Knowing all this, it was no surprise when in 2002 it was added to the National Film Registry for being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Plus, the American Film Institute ranked it the number 7 best animated film of all time. Knowing all this, it might be a surprise to find out this is a deeply flawed film. Just not necessarily the flaws you’re thinking of.

There are a few obvious flaws that I want to get out of the way, especially because the first one isn’t even a real flaw. I’ve heard countless people I respect ask “why didn’t anybody know about the missing prince?” and “why didn’t anybody know anything about the castle?” These questions have simple answers. In the beginning of the movie, we find out that the prince was very young. When a child is orphaned too young to take the throne, a regent is appointed to rule in his place until the prince comes of age. When the prince initially disappeared, the regent would of course come to investigate but immediately flee the crazy haunted castle. So everybody “forgot” about the prince because he was dead. As for the castle, when the mob goes hunting for Beast, they know exactly where to go. The only person who was confused and didn’t know about the haunted castle was Maurice, Belle’s father. Even Beast, when he found Maurice, yelled “So you’re here to stare at the Beast!” Maurice was new in town, and clearly enough of an eccentric that nobody told him about the haunted castle a few miles from town.

The other obvious flaw in this movie is when people point of that Belle has Stockholm Syndrome. Well, of course she does. Based on outfit changes, Belle spends four days in a haunted castle with a guy who starts out by locking her in a tower, screaming at her and starving her. Then he slowly starts being nicer and her response is to “fall in love?” Obviously it’s Stockholm Syndrome. But that isn’t the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome in the movie. No, that honor goes to Beast’s servants, Lumiere most of all. I don’t care how cute he was as a kid, if the guy who got me turned into a candle tells me to cook him dinner, I’m telling that guy to go to hell. But no, Lumiere says “life is so unnerving, for a servant who’s not serving; we’re not whole without a soul to wait upon.” I call bullshit. Even if the servants recognized that serving Beast was the most likely way to get transformed back into a human, at least one or two plates would probably be grumbling during the musical number.

My first problem with this movie is the villain. We’re told the villain is Gaston, but I call bullshit. The real villain is the Enchantress. Everyone else is just a victim of varying degrees. The Enchantress shows up at the castle disguised as a homeless old beggar and somehow ends up asking the young prince for a room for the night in exchange for a beautiful rose. This means she somehow bypassed the guards, servants, and valets, and managed to get right in front of the prince demanding a place to crash for the night. That is at least as rude as a child saying no to a stranger asking to sleep in his house. For the record, this is absolutely the right call. This witch throws a supernatural tantrum because she doesn’t get what she wants, and punished literally hundreds of people. Let’s say the prince lets her stay, and then she wants the kitchen warmed up at midnight? Or maybe she wants a hot bath? Or some underage royal company for that bath? It’s like a magical, pedophilic version of “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” only on each page there’s a caveat that you’ll be transfigured if you don’t give the mouse the next thing it wants.

And let’s talk about the terms of this punishment for a second. This child was rude to a stranger, so now he’s turned into a monster along with everyone in his house until someone falls in love with him? Yes, the kid should definitely be more polite, but that’s a huge difference from “be so nice to someone that they not only get over their fear of your creepy enchanted castle and the fact that you’re literally a monster, but that they also fall in love with you.” This kid has to grow up a monster all because he listened when his clearly deceased parents once told him “don’t talk to strangers, and maybe don’t let them sleep in your house.” I mean, I’m fairly against the President’s refugee ban, but even I don’t want to just let a stranger sleep in my house right after I meet them.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss Belle. Throughout the movie, Belle is never really described as “nice.” She gets called pretty and strange, but never nice. The town discusses amongst themselves that she’s beautiful, and they call her “strange but special,” and say that it’s a pity that she doesn’t fit in. Sure, they’re a little snarky, but overall they’re fairly supportive of this weird girl who tells sheep about the book she’s reading. Meanwhile, Belle is completely shit talking the townspeople RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM! She calls them poor, provincial, and boring right to their faces. These people are beginning their work day and talking amongst themselves about this strange newcomer to their town as she wanders through the town living out her privilege by going to the book shop and then sitting and reading next to the fountain. As a side note, how does that shop stay open? If everybody thinks it’s weird to read, it’s already strange that he owns a book shop there. But we find out that he’s loaning books to Belle, and then he just gives her one. That’s a terrible way to run a business.

We also see Belle demonstrating her privilege in the castle. Lumiere tells her about the library, something that based on what we know about her is everything she wants in the world. She skips that to go investigating the one area in this giant castle she’s been told no to go. Then later she has the nerve to yell at Beast for scaring her when he yelled at her about it. Where the hell is the Enchantress to teach this girl some manners?

Finally, I must discuss Gaston. We’re supposed to believe Gaston is the villain in this piece because he is admittedly a complete asshole. There’s one completely unredeemable scene for Gaston, when he gets Maurice thrown in the sanitarium in a plot to get Belle to marry him. That is definitely the act of a terrible person. But the rest of the movie shows a man who isn’t a villain, he’s just playing out the role that’s been assigned to him.

Our first example of how “terrible” Gaston is comes when he tells Belle that women shouldn’t read. I’ll agree that’s not a great way to win friends and influence people, but if believing in antiquated gender roles is enough to justify being murdered then you’d better line up all those grandmas that ask when you’re going to settle down with a nice young man.

Gaston is the only person in town who is actually nice to Belle. He wants to marry her. That’s right, he wants to put a ring on it. If it was just about sex, he could stick with those blonde triplets, I’m sure they’re into the weird stuff. And it’s true that Gaston wants to marry Belle because she’s beautiful and that’s what he feels he deserves, but when has anyone in his life told him any different? Everyone is constantly singing his praise, extolling his manly virtues. Even when he experiences rejection for the first time and has real opportunity for growth, all the townspeople do is pump him up by singing about how great and manly he is.

And think about this: in any other movie, Gaston is the hero. He’s the handsome hunter and warrior who just found out there’s a monster living nearby. This is his St. George and the dragon moment. Gaston recognizes Belle’s Stockholm Syndrome for what it is and doesn’t listen when she claims the Beast is kind and gentle. The first time Gaston heard about this monster was when Maurice burst into the bar in terror begging for help rescuing his daughter. When Gaston sees the Beast in the mirror, he’s roaring in what appears to be fury. So why wouldn’t Gaston seize his moment and go live out his warrior hero fantasy? Why would he ever think it was the wrong thing to do to go kill a monster living in a haunted castle in a scary forest?

But after all of this, Gaston is never really given the opportunity to learn the error of his ways. Instead he gets into a one on one match up against a guy who was able to fight off an entire pack of wolves with nothing but his bare hands. So of course Gaston loses the fight and falls to his death. Another victim of the patriarchy.

Enjoy your new Emma Watson version this weekend. Love and kisses!

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