Feminisney: “Beauty” and Some Brains
Plus: Is “Beauty and the Beast” really just Stockholm Syndrome?
New to this series? Figure out what’s going on here!
Finally! After the long trek, we have made it into the Disney Renaissance! Where complexity in characters, particularly the princesses and villains, start to become a bit more of the norm.
Obviously, I’ve skipped ahead a bit in order to talk about the animated Beauty and the Beast before the upcoming release of yet another Disney live-action reimagination of an animated classic. Not that I necessarily have a problem with this as a film-goer. I loved The Jungle Book. As I’ve said before, Jon Favreau did an amazing job, and the story is markedly different.
But back to Beauty and the Beast. I won’t be doing a Feminisney entry on the live-action version because this series is strictly animation and I really don’t need to add more movies to the list. But, I would like to talk about the live-action one really quickly. Apparently, particularly with fairly outspoken feminist Emma Watson playing the title role, feminism was on their minds when they made the movie. So there are some notable changes, according to various interviews. Belle wears boots instead of dainty slippers, she is also an inventor like her father, and she don’t take nonsense from no man. (Okay, that last one isn’t really new.) But there are some other encouraging progressive feminist intersectional strides. Not one but two interracial heterosexual relationships (though white man/black woman is still the most socially acceptable rendition of this and black man/white woman or a non-heterosexual depiction is still fairly rare, sadly), and apparently Lefou is potentially homosexual and questioning his society-approved/assigned heterosexuality. Which, honestly, explains one of the questions I had rewatching the 1991 version: Why does Lefou still openly adore and dote on Gaston despite all the rampant physical and mental abuse?
It is nice to see that Disney recognizes there are places where they could improve in their representations. And perhaps the live-action version has done even more. I might write a review. We’ll see. But I’m here now to talk about how well they managed to do the first time. Oh, and I got to watch for the first time in my life the special extended edition. Wha? (It only adds one song and… well, I think you could stick to the regular edition, tbh.) Let’s talk about that.
Beauty and the Beast
The third film of the Disney Renaissance and the second fairy tale film since the commercial failure of Sleeping Beauty, this 1991 animated film is based on the traditional French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It is a tale of a repeated moral: Do not judge a book by its cover. This comes in two main forms, which are don’t be a dick to less attractive people and scary monsters might have hidden sweetness inside. Are those renditions good lessons to teach? We’ll talk about that after the breakdown. And just a couple other facts: This was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, being nominated for 6 Academy Awards total (including 3 for Best Original Song) and winning for the song “Beauty and the Beast” and Best Original Score. However you feel about it, and however feminist it may be, it is a pretty landmark film.
Number of named characters with speaking lines: 9… if you count Beast. Which is clearly not his real name, but the ONLY TIME anyone refers to him by something other than “Master” is as “Beast.” You might chalk it up as just a cruel descriptor, but Belle calls him that when she returns to the castle during the Gaston/Beast fight.
Number of named female characters with speaking lines: 2, Belle and Mrs. Potts
Does the film pass the Bechdel Test? Ehhhhh… maybe slightly? When discussing Belle being hungry?
Number of named non-white characters: 0
Number of named non-white female characters: 0
Number of openly non-heterosexual characters: 0
Number of openly transsexual characters: 0
Is there a heterosexual romance? Pretty much the crux of the film.
True Love’s Kiss? No. But True Love and some tears do play a magic part.
Number of female mentors or rulers? 0
Number of named female characters wearing “men’s clothes” (pants instead of dresses): 0 (With 0 men wearing “women’s clothes”.)
Main character male or female? Female
Number of named female characters saved from peril by male characters: 1: Belle
Number of times named female characters saved from peril by male characters: 1 (Beast saves Belle from the wolves.)
Number of named male characters saved from peril by female characters: 1: Beast* (see above about name)
Number of times named male characters saved from peril by female characters: 1 (Immediately after saving Belle, Beast collapses. Belle brings him back to the castle for first aid.)
Number of named female characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “masculine” feats): 0, unless you count reading books as masculine. Which the people of the town seem to do.
Number of named male characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “feminine” feats): 0
So, there’s a lot to discuss in this film. First, while the film does lack a lot of named female representation, it is to be noted that Belle was herself a HUGE step for Disney princesses/female characters. My title for this article referencing Belle’s intellect is meant to draw attention to the fact that previous princesses… never really showed any. It’s not necessarily that they were dumb. But they never had need or want or opportunity to show intellect they may have had. Even Ariel, our first Renaissance princess, was defined by some rather stupid decisions and, while she wanted to be an independent woman in a way, was incredibly dependent on others and incredibly reactionary to the events around her (but more on her in her Feminisney post). Belle is really the first princess/female protagonist (same thing for Disney for a long time) to really ACT on the world around her instead of react. From the beginning, she’s seen as not caring about what others think of her, doing what she wants to do. She is the one who rejects Gaston, as opposed to needing her father or another man to do it for her. She is the one who proposes trading her father’s imprisonment for her own. And SHE is the one who CHOOSES to return to the castle after Beast saves her life.
Which brings me to another major point of discussion: The Stockholm Syndrome argument. Lots of people love to say the romance of this movie isn’t real because it’s simply Stockholm Syndrome. It’s to the point that Emma Watson had to address it openly in promotion for the new film. And I’ll admit, I was once on that bandwagon. For those who don’t feel like clicking links, Stockholm Syndrome is essentially a condition in which hostages or kidnap victims develop strong emotional ties to their captors. According to Ian K. Mackenzie in “The Stockholm Syndrome Revisited: Hostages, Relationships, Prediction, Control, and Psychological Science,” it’s when strong emotional ties develop between people “where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
In my rewatch, signs of this were heavily on my mind. After all, how feminist is it if a woman who shows an initial independence and self-determination is browbeaten into a heterosexual romance? And, yeah. Beast is incredibly abrasive and abusive at the beginning, with moments of trying to be gentle. And, yeah, he definitely has romance on the mind. But follow the timeline. Belle willingly trades herself as prisoner-for-life for her father’s freedom. Beast gives her the tour of the castle and gruffly tells her to stay out of the West Wing. Puts her in her room, is gruff and reminds her she’s prisoner (she cries). She refuses to go to dinner, he says she can starve. Late that night she sneaks out for dinner, gets a tour from the servants, goes into the West Wing, and is chased out by The Beast lashing out in fear over her touching the magic rose. Belle LEAVES THE CASTLE. She is then attacked by wolves and is saved by Beast. Who collapses. At which point, using SOME CRAZY RIDICULOUS UNGODLY STRENGTH, Belle carries Beast BACK to the castle to heal him up.
Some might argue her decision to help Beast was proof the syndrome had set in. But first, she’d been there less than a day. Like, maybe an evening. Not long enough for that kind of thing to set in. But even if this was Disney Magic Stockholm Syndrome, Belle CHOSE to run away! Those with Stockholm Syndrome don’t WANT to leave. After choosing to run away, her humanity and thankfulness for having her life saved is what brought her back. At which point, indications of feelings from both parties started to bloom… while no abuses or intimidation took place. It’s not Stockholm Syndrome. It’s legitimate free enterprise, choice, and character growth from a female protagonist in a Disney film. Which may be surprising, but it is not inherently a sign that Belle has fallen to a psychological trick. The emotions do grow quickly, but she is never truly treated like a prisoner after this moment. Beast only later, when she sees her father sick, states “You’re free and not my prisoner” as a formality to let her leave without guilt. She genuinely felt torn between the two.
Now, it’s difficult for me to condone carte blanche the idea that you should give people as abusive as Beast started initially a chance, but Belle did cut out quick and he did offer his life to save her. That said, there are people out there who will attempt tiny sacrifices as “redemption,” but they’re not even hardly sacrifices. I think Beast thoroughly separates himself from that pack, however, so there’s no confusion in lesson.
Another important thing to note: Gaston is a pretty good villain for a feminist hero. He represents full-throttled toxic masculinity and misogyny. Of course, the Men’s Rights Activists will come out with #NotAllMen, but the movie already makes that point with Beast. Beast shows how men (people), despite being outwardly frightening, can grow and change and have kindness. Gaston, however, represents that the societal physical ideal of a man — muscular, tall, athletic — cannot cover up for the fact that he is inwardly cruel, possessive, manipulative, abusive, and narcissistic (obsessed with looks is a trait the blonde townswomen share with Gaston). Yet in spite of all this, he is touted by society (men AND women) as the pinnacle of perfection, seen perfectly in the song “Gaston,” as the song focuses on brawn being the only thing that matters (intellect, such as a chess game, is angrily rejected). And the film breaks down and mocks Gaston and anyone who thinks he’s good. He fails on every level (and, y’know, dies), but Belle rejecting him over and over again is what the real clue is to the audience that society should be rejecting him, too. But Gaston is a real villain because society does largely care more about charisma and looks than many other things. Sadly, we haven’t exactly evolved past that point, especially as intelligence and study seems to have take a severe blow in our current climate. (“It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas and… thinking.”) But maybe people will figure out this lesson sooner. Feminism is important for men AND women, after all.
All in all, this movie has a LOT of feminism to unpack… and a lot of room to grow. (It’s unfortunate, for example, that there are so few named women… and that the three blondes are painted as dumb and called in the credits “Bimbette”.) I have hopes that the upcoming Beauty and the Beast takes some strides in the right direction… AND is a good movie. I’ll leave out any current thoughts until the film comes out and I potentially review it.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way straight off. The intro says the rose withers on Beast’s 21st birthday. In the song “Be Our Guest,” Lumiere sings: “Ten years we’ve been rusting.” This brings up two issues. First, either Chip is a YOUNG-looking 10+ year old or Mrs. Potts had a kid while being a teapot. Second, BEAST WAS 11 YEARS OLD when the old lady came a-knockin’. And we see NO sign of Beast’s parents throughout the film (unless he accidentally killed them after they became furniture and he went on his rampage). Probably parentless 11-year-old answers the door and says no to the weird woman? That seems entirely normal to me. Maybe the nameless witch is the real villain here.
Gaston is a terrible hunter. He dropped his freakin’ gun and uses it to point. Also, it always looked to me like his gun shoots arrows. But in attempting to get the photographic evidence of this, it turns out they just drew a dark line unattached and beneath the bullet to indicate movement. My childhood is shattered.
“It’s a pity and a sin she doesn’t quite fit in.” Really, townspeople? A sin? Come on.
Very convenient that all these servants had names that fit standard household inanimate objects.
Why is Gaston constantly either in or around mud when there are no other signs it has rained in this town?
Weird how Belle is wholly unaware of this castle, yet during the mob scene, the townspeople all seem to know where this castle is.
It’s a fairly brave act for Belle to offer herself in her father’s place. Is she being cunning, thinking she can eventually escape? Does she hate her life in the town that much? Or does she really just love her father that much?
Beast’s little carriage spider 100% made the same sounds as the creepy Skesis spiders in The Dark Crystal.
The Dark Crystal (1982) - Go see this movie if you haven’t already. getyarn.io
Apparently, women aren’t allowed to be in the West Wing in this movie OR in real life. #Oops #IGotPoliticalAgain
Why are there women’s clothes available? It suggests that there were once women living here. Did the servants have fancy clothing? Or Beast’s mother, perhaps? Yet they were never mentioned in the introduction, suggesting they were dead/gone by then.
Where did the magic mirror come from? So many questions.
Did this castle have ANY cutlery, dishes, or appliances before the curse? Because they’re all apparently alive. And considering the sheer number, I don’t think any castle is big enough to host that many people as servants.
With all the smashed furniture and the life in the West Wing, are those possibly servants Beast killed?
I really like the scene in the stage musical after Beast chases Belle out of the West Wing. He has a beautiful song that really highlights his inner pains and self-hate in a way the movie never really does.
Phillipe, that poor horse, has just been waiting outside patiently in the snow?
Oh look, it’s Claude Frollo debuting as the amoral asylum owner! We’ll get to him later.
How did Beast never learn how to use utensils as a human, unless he was SUPER young at the time of the curse? I mean, younger than the 11 we can infer he was. Is it just his awkward animalistic physiology?
Can we all admit that the guy singing as Beast in “Something There” doesn’t really sound much like Beast? *checks IMDb* …oh. It’s the same guy.
Not sure the added song “Human Again” was necessary. I mean, the touching moments of Belle teaching Beast to read would’ve been better by itself.
Gaston is so possessive of Belle he thinks killing someone even he recognizes she has feelings toward will make her like him. It’s… pretty bad.
Who the hell brings a saw to a mobbing?
That dude the armoire landed on is 100% dead.
And again I say: Human Beast does NOT look as good as fuzzy Beast. His nose is off or something.
Next up, if I don’t end up doing a review of the live action film (or maybe even if I do?), we should be taking a visit to the Rescue Aid Society. Until then, let me know if there’s anything you think I missed in this analysis. The Renaissance is gonna get heavy at points.