Continuing with Disney . . . let us now move on to my childhood favorite: Beauty and the Beast.
Objectivity may or may not not be found in this review. I have all kinds of nostalgia for this one, so expect a grade that fits said nostalgia accordingly. Still, we definitely have a sketch romance to talk about here. Not to mention: there are a surprising number of shitty people in Beauty and the Beast. Pretty much anyone who isn’t Belle or a magically animated object is kind of a dick.
Let’s discuss them, shall we?
SPOILERS abound. Repeat, I will tell you all about this movie, up to and including if it has a happy ending or not. You can never be sure, after all; you know how those Disney Princess movies like to throw curveballs.
An enchantress transforms a handsome and unkind prince into a hideous beast. The transformation will be permanent unless he and some wayward beauty just happen to fall in love with one another. Enter Belle, a bookworm from a nearby village who wants to save her father from the Beast’s clutches. Beast, knowing that Belle could very well be his last chance to break the spell, decides that the best battle strategy to win her affections is to imprison her for life. Love blossoms, naturally.
1. Let us begin by discussing the biggest asshole of this story: the enchantress.
Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of jerks to choose from. The Beast, obviously, is not the nicest guy. Gaston is clearly a giant tool. And pretty much everyone in the village (save, perhaps, that one old man who gave Belle a book) is basically awful.
And yet we really need to discuss this enchantress because her spell doesn’t just affect the mean old prince who doesn’t care if people die out in the rain, so long as they’re ugly; it also affects every single person who works at that castle. Maids, cooks, butlers, housekeepers, and children of housekeepers: none are spared as the spell transforms each and every one of them into living furniture and crockery. And I must say, I’m quite curious to know what the hell Chip could have done to deserve living as a broken teacup the rest of his life, not to mention why do Lumiere and Mrs. Potts and everyone else’s lives depend on the Beast finding a soulmate? That is some classist bullshit, Enchantress. You are a terrible person.
2. Plus, can we just acknowledge that this curse makes no sense?
Sure, the prince judged the enchantress on appearances, so she’s cursing him to suffer the same fate, yeah, yeah, I get it. But why, exactly, is romantic love the only thing that can break the spell? The Beast doesn’t need to learn how to write super sweet Valentine’s Day cards, after all; he needs to learn to stop being a total dick. And while I’m aware this flies in the face of what a bazillion stories over the course of human history have told us: romantic love does not make you an inherently better person. It doesn’t make you an inherently worse person, either, but loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll suddenly learn how to be generous, warm, and non-judgmental. That’s not how human nature works. Besides, what if Belle had been a jerk? The Beast could still have loved her. She could still have loved him. And in the future, they could have laughed in the faces of however many ugly old women looking for shelter they wanted; being truly, deeply, madly in love does not preclude you from being an asshole.
It’s a silly issue . . . but it’s also one of those concepts that’s so prevalent in fiction that it actually does grate on my nerves now and then. I’m 30 years old. I’ve never been In Love, and while I’m aware that many people think that’s some tragic thing, I actually think I turned out pretty swell. You know, I’m funny, and I’ve got a stellar sense of fashion–well, my own sense of fashion, anyway–and at any rate, I don’t find myself passing homeless people on the street, waving money in their faces, and saying, “Maybe I’d give this to you if you were hot.” The good in me comes from a lot of places. I don’t need a romantic partner to somehow bring that good out.
3. Okay, mini-rant over. Let’s get into the story proper. First our heroine:
I like Belle. As a brunette bookworm from a small town, I think I’m pretty much obligated to; she’s definitely the Disney Princess I related to most when I was a kid. Her refusal to fall in line with certain expectations and her total disinterest (bordering on scorn) for Gaston have always endeared her to me . . . although as an adult, I couldn’t help initially thinking to myself, “You know, Belle, maybe what’s separating you from the rest of the villagers isn’t just the constant reading. Perhaps if you stopped calling them things like ‘provincial’? You know, that might go a long way.”
But as it turns out, basically everyone in the village is way more awful than I remembered, so I stopped feeling sorry for them real quick.
Anyway, Belle loves to read and wants adventure and isn’t afraid to yell back at the Beast (giving their relationship some sorely needed balance), so yeah, I definitely enjoy her. She has successfully dethroned Ariel as Favorite Disney Princess of the Year, at least, thus far.
4. Of course, her romance with Beast does leave something to be desired.
So, here’s where my pair of nostalgia glasses sets in: I like Beast, even though basically everything he does is horrible and I generally have such a low tolerance for any fictional relationship that strikes me as emotionally abusive. And it’s hard to look at their relationship in any other way: the Beast imprisons Belle’s father for trespassing (which seems silly to me, like, kill him or kick him out, sure, but why keep him around in a cell unless you’re seriously hoping some pretty relation of his will just happen to swing by), which of course puts Belle in a horribly vulnerable position. She offers to trade her life for Maurice’s, a proposition that Beast seems surprised and moved by . . . but also one he accepts, making her promise to stay at the castle forever. Which, gross, right?
But for all that, the relationship doesn’t have to be as bad as it actually is. Honestly, I’m glad to see they made a few changes from the original fairy tale, like when Belle does eventually leave the castle, Beast doesn’t tell her that he’ll die from grief if she never returns, the big, manipulative baby. Even taking nostalgia into consideration, I just can’t abide that kind of shit. So, definitely glad that’s gone.
And if Beast would just put in a small bit of actual effort at the beginning (and the key word here, folks, is actual), and if the movie didn’t move their relationship from Frightening to Charming with a quick musical montage and one deadly wolf attack . . . you know, maybe it could be a little less squick. But Beast’s temper is ridiculously easy to provoke, and he tries to starve her out into dining with him, and there’s really never any acknowledgement that keeping her there as a prisoner was, all in all, a pretty crappy thing to do, so . . . it’s hard. Even with Belle’s willingness to argue back, the power dynamic between the two of them is seriously unequal.
And yet, I kind of love Beast. It’s ludicrous, how terrible he is with Belle on the first night, and yet I always crack up at his incredibly forced attempts at politeness, his sullen “please” and his attempt at a debonair smile. Pretty much of all of his facial expressions, actually.
As a kid, Beast always kind of reminded me a little of Worf from TNG, specifically when he’s hysterically grumpy. (I’m thinking the mud bath scene at the end of “Cost of Living” in particular. God, I love that moment.) And who doesn’t like Worf, right? Plus, Beast gives Belle a library! (Which is actually Lumiere’s idea, not to mention that giving gifts is actually a part of an abuser’s MO–oh my God, brain, stop it, stop trying to ruin the library for me!) And then there’s the ballroom scene and the yellow dress and “Tale as Old as Time” and the incredibly large windows with the ridiculous amount of stars in the background and . . . look, I acknowledge my heart is withered and dead most of the time, but every now and then I have to acknowledge it still occasionally beats for this kind of shit. And I will always have little girl feels for libraries and ballroom scenes.
5. So, here’s the thing: I really wanted to do a Five Minute Cosplay of Belle; unfortunately, my wardrobe choices left that pretty much impossible. The blue and white outfit from the beginning was straight out, and I own exactly one yellow dress that entirely fails to look like a ballgown, even if I wear it over a petticoat. (Yes, I tried.)
I do, however, own a red shirt that could easily (if absurdly) be worn over that yellow dress.
And thus Girl Gaston was born.
If it’s one thing I’ve discovered from this Five Minute Cosplay, it’s that I am simply incapable of Exaggerated Hero Face. It doesn’t seem that hard, right? A little swagger, a dashing eyebrow raise or a wink to the camera? Nope. My facial muscles simply don’t work that way. I kept trying, and I kept ending up only managing vaguely confused, annoyed, or slightly insane. It appears that I am doomed to a very limited range of expressions. Skeptical is firmly in my wheelhouse. Skeptical basically is my wheelhouse. If I’m stretching, though, I can also usually manage “pissed off” or “mildly introspective.” My career as a model is ruined.
(If you’re curious, the captions above were supposed to be “when I was a lad, I ate four dozen eggs” and “crazy old Maurice, hmmm?” The former might work better if I actually had biceps, but . . . so it goes.)
6. It should also be said: I adore Gaston.
Obviously, he is the story’s primary asshat, the loudest and most obvious tool . . . but he’s also a hilarious tool. He’s such a perfect parody, so firmly tongue-in-cheek. “Gaston” is also probably my favorite song in the whole movie. So many good lines, although my favorite may be “I USE ANTLERS IN ALL OF MY DECORATING!”
I’m sure Luke Evans will do a good job in the upcoming live-action adaptation (he and Hugh Jackman were pretty hilarious singing on the Jonathan Ross show), but while watching Beauty and the Beast, I couldn’t help but want to scratch Brandon Routh off my possible Prince Eric contenders list and cast him as Gaston instead. Admittedly, I have no idea if the guy can sing. But think of that heroic jawline, that full head of fluffy, dark hair. Routh excels at goofy humor. It just seems like such a good matchup.
7. This seems like as good of a time as any to mention that the townspeople are all a bunch of easily led sheep who deserve anything they get, including gruesome murder by animated furniture.
Obviously, this is Disney, so we don’t get the blood and broken bodies on screen. . . but it totally happens. Like when the wardrobe (pictured above) jumps from the second story balcony and lands on some poor schmo, smashing down hard enough to break the floor underneath her. Yeah, that dude’s dead. RIP, you miserable bastard. Also: the guy who takes several cups worth of scalding hot tea to the face? If that dude managed to survive, he’s still at least horribly scarred for the rest of his life.
Interestingly, I could forgive the people for being an easily-led mob who go after a monster that’s abducted one of their own . . . because, you know, if it happened a few days earlier, they wouldn’t actually have been wrong to do so. (Days? Weeks? Months? This is the problem with montages, people. I’ve never been entirely clear on the passage of time in this movie, just that Christmas is in there somewhere.) But that the villagers all admire Gaston and are totally cool with just handing Maurice over to
the Cryptkeeper the unusually gaunt guy from the mental asylum? Nope. They suck. Especially the dude that’s plucking out the feather duster’s feathers, which, wow, that scene certainly has creepier and more awful implications when you’re an adult, doesn’t it? (And don’t even get me started on the weirdness that is Belle drinking from Chip. This is such a strange story sometimes.)
It’s interesting, too, because Disney villains basically always have at least one to three lackeys (Jafar has Iago, Ursula has Flotsam and Jetsam, Scar has the hyenas, etc), but Gaston basically has an entire village of them. Obviously, Le Fou is the Chief Flunky, but Gaston has a whole town of useless bastards willing to do his bidding, and I have no sympathy for any of them.
8. Luckily, Beast has his own loyal band of servants.
There’s something a little bit strange to me in just how much these guys love serving, like “Be Our Guest” feels like it could go to some weird, uncomfortable class places . . . but I am choosing to believe that the giant, enthusiastic spectacle is a combination of two things: a) Lumiere and Co. knowing Belle’s unhappiness means No Love Magic means permanently living as objects for the rest of their lives, and b) total, utter, soul-sucking boredom. Man, how their lives must suck.
Regardless, I really like all the enchanted servants and their quintessentially Disney names. Lumiere was always my favorite as a kid and still amuses me now, although as an adult I find myself laughing at him for slightly different reasons. Like when he says to Cogsworth, “She’s not our prisoner! She’s our guest!” And I’m like, well. She’s a little bit your prisoner. Or when he’s like, “You can count on me!” after Cogsworth commands him to stand watch at Belle’s door, and I’m like, “You can not count on him, Cogsworth. What are you even thinking right now? I expect better from you.”
Lumiere and Cogsworth are a classic dynamic duo, though. Their bickering still amuses me. They also startled me into laughing by silently encouraging Beast behind Belle’s back, essentially have a Bucky and Falcon “go get ’em, tiger” moment. And I’ve always been fond of the wardrobe, too, and of course no-nonsense Mrs. Potts and her casual disregard for the rules, at least when it comes to starving girls in the castle. Mrs. Potts is clearly not to be fucked with.
9. As much as I love this movie, though, I must tell you that I’ve always been a bit dissatisfied by the end.
First, Gaston dies. Oh, okay, even I’m not sad about that because of course Gaston dies–although he basically manages to kill himself with his incredibly poor lack of strategy, which happens in movies a lot more than you’d think and definitely deserves a new tag. It’s a very specific kind of Darwin Award, after all. (I assumed that the creators just didn’t want Belle to be responsible for killing him because, you know, Disney Princess, but IMDb trivia suggests another reason for Gaston’s poorly timed attack: in the original ending, he apparently stabs Beast and then, laughing manically, flings himself into the great abyss because . . . Reasons? I’m really glad they changed this because it makes absolutely zero sense.)
No, the real reason I have always disliked the ending is that I’ve never like Beast’s Glowy-Toed Transformation Back to Humanity.
It’s not just the process itself (although, as a general rule, if you want me to take anything remotely seriously, maybe don’t have beams of heavenly light suddenly emanate from a dude’s toes), but the prince’s voice, which is all wrong. I guess in theory I understand why the Beast should sound different–the actor’s voice, apparently, was altered by the growls of lions and panthers, which would probably seem stranger coming from a human face–but . . . but . . . that’s not the voice of the character we spent all this time with. The Beast’s voice is rich and deep and his, damn it; The Prince’s voice, by contrast, is just . . . blah. Voices make the character in an animated film or TV show. While Belle touches the Prince’s face and is all like, “It IS you,” I sit sullenly on the couch, glaring at the screen, and thinking, “No, it’s not. It’s not him at all. Throw that charlatan over the edge with Gaston and get the real Beast back.”
10. A few final random notes:
10A. I forgot to mention Maurice is also a bit of a jerk.
Not to the extent of everyone else in this movie, of course. Still, Maurice leaves town, makes what are obviously poor traveling decisions (heading for the short cut, despite the silent yet adamant advice from his horse) and then, when he ends up in the middle of a terrifying forest surrounded by wolves, blames Phillipe for it. Nobody is sorry for you, Maurice, when your horse takes off without you. Well, Belle, obviously. But nobody else.
10B. According to the beginning of the movie, the Beast has until his 21st birthday to fall in love and break the curse. According to Lumiere, he and the other enchanted servants have been toiling in dust for ten years. So . . . the Prince was eleven when he heartlessly sent the enchantress away? There are math problems here.
10C. Beast glumly (or, depending on the occasion, furiously) insists throughout the movie that Belle will never fall in love with him because of his appearance. And while that’s undoubtedly a problem, I’m still like, “Dude, you’ve actually got bigger issues here. Remember how you locked up Belle’s beloved father and then decided to keep her prisoner for the rest of her life? Yeah, those are not small relationship hiccups.”
10D. Broody, misjudged, temperamental bastards in castles and the women who fall in love with them: obviously we’ve seen this story time and again. I’m struggling to come up with any decent gender-flipped version, though. I’m also curious about the moral: for a story about the prince being a judgmental bastard, the lesson seems to be more about Belle learning not to judge a book by its cover, to see the good underneath the Beast’s, well, beastly exterior. Again, I’m trying to think of gender-flipped stories: are male romantic protagonists also expected to not judge a book by its cover? Off the top of my head, the only thing I can think of is Shallow Hal, which I’m pretty sure is the movie they’ll play for me when I die and arrive in Hell. (In fairness, I haven’t actually seen it. And nor do I ever, ever intend to.)
10E. I will say that while I generally admire Beauty’s curiosity and pluck . . . maybe don’t go trespassing in the West Wing on your very first night? I mean, it’s just a thought. I’m not saying don’t rebel, but you know. Rebel smarter? (Ariel still easily takes the cake on bad decision making, though. I mean, that’s not even a competition.)
10F. Lumiere, sadly, does have one of those “it’s a girl!” moments, like a girl is some strange, foreign creature that he’s never seen before and is, by her very nature, some kind of spectacular magic. On the other hand, the question of whether Lumiere lives the rest of his life as a human or as a singing candlestick depends entirely on his boss saying “I like like you” to someone, so . . . I’ll allow it.
10G. Finally, Patrick Stewart’s career in Disney: foiled again! In The Little Mermaid, he was supposed to voice Triton; here, he was supposed to play Cogsworth. Alas, seeking out new life and new civilizations in Star Trek: The Next Generation has once again kept him from boldly going into the world of voice acting.
For shame, Star Trek. For shame.
Gaston: “It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking . . .”
Beast: “I want to do something for her, but what?”
Cogsworth: “Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.”
Gaston (singing): “Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking–”
Lefou (singing): “A dangerous pastime–”
Gaston (singing): “I know.”
Beast: “You come out, or I’ll–I’ll break down the door!”
Lumiere: “Master, I could be wrong, but that might not be the best way to win the girl’s affections.”
Beast (politely, but also like he wants to kill something): “It would give me great pleasure if you would join me for dinner.”
Cogsworth (muttering): “We say please.”
Beast (flatly): “Please.”
Gaston: “This is the day your dreams come true!”
Belle: “What do you know about my dreams, Gaston?”
Gaston: “Plenty! Here, picture this: a rustic lodge, my latest kill roasting on the fire, and my little wife massaging my feet . . .”
(Belle looks nauseous)
Gaston: “. . .While the little ones play on the floor with the dogs. We’ll have six or seven.”
Gaston: “No, Belle! Strapping boys, like me!”
Belle: “Imagine that.”
Gaston (singing): “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”
Lefou and Gaston (singing): “No one plots like Gaston!”
Gaston (singing): “Takes cheap shots like Gaston!”
Lefou (singing): “Plans to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston!”
. . . Okay, this movie is exactly the kind of romance that I generally can’t stand. But I have sentimental feels for this one, so I move past it. Plus, libraries and humor and bookworm princesses and Gaston! Who doesn’t love Gaston, right? Right?
Hm, difficult. There’s a lot of great voice work in this one. I think I’m going to go ahead and give this one to Robby Benson (Beast) for now.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Sure, a dude might be ugly and hairy and more animal than man, but he also threw your dad in a jail cell instead of just kicking him out like a normal person, and he’s keeping you prisoner in a strange castle where privacy is virtually impossible because all of your furniture talks to you. HIDDEN DEPTHS OBVIOUSLY EXIST.