I’m pretty sure that writing for the website Buzzfeed would be the easiest job in the world. Generally all it consists of is lists of stuff. Remember what it was like in high school in 1999? Wanna see what all these child stars look like now? Signs you went to an all girls school. Mostly they consist of pictures scoured from the internet with a paragraph of explanation underneath them. They probably take an hour to write, though I am sure the ideas take a site bit longer to think up. Minimal effort, I think, but high reward. Because everyone seems to love this website. I love this website. Most of the time it’s hilarious and often apt. I’ve posted their pages on my facebook to share with other people. But I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it afterward. Until now, because recently they posted this: 12 Questions Disney Forgot to Answer About ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
Now, I’ll admit, many of these are valid questions. And I get that they are trying to be witty and amusing by posing questions to a Disney movie that would clearly never answer any of them (the same could be done for pretty much any Disney movie). I could probably answer 90% of these questions with roundabout reasoning (there were a lot of different kinds of princes and princesses in France at this time, look it up). Of course, they never did ask the one question I’ve always had since childhood (If everyone thinks Belle is weird for reading and she borrows all her books how does the bookshop stay opened?). But between this list and this picture that I just found:
(sorry, Belle would be the greatest companion ever)
I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about Beauty and the Beast, which led me to watching the movie twice in the past week. That movie seriously holds up. And it made me think of how the world’s opinion of Belle has been winnowed down to the way we’ve seen her almost exclusively for the past I don’t know how many years; in her yellow dress, smiling serenely behind blue clad Cinderella and pink Aurora (another issue I have, that dress was pink for all of five minutes and blue for the rest [go Merriweather!]). Today I went over to the sticker section where all the Disney stuff is placed and looked in vain for Belle in her blue dress. The simple frock she wears for the majority of the film. It wasn’t there. She is so firmly, at this point, a Disney Princess that I almost forgot how awesome she is.
When Beauty and the Beast first came out in 1991 I had some sort of weird prejudice about it. I loved The Little Mermaid so very much, you see, and in my ten year old head I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t see how Beauty and the Beast could possibly be as good. So my sister and mom saw it and reported back that I really ought to see it. So, begrudgingly, I did. And I was blown away. Here was a heroine who didn’t fit in (not just that she longed for more like Ariel), who believed in her father’s weird inventions, who liked to read. And oh did she like to read. She read faster than I could possibly imagine, having just picked up Jack and the Beanstalk from the bookshop the day before she returned it. She even read while she walked, a habit I hadn’t quite kicked yet (I never knew how to balance being social with what I really wanted to be doing). And while Ariel had the glorious red hair I had always longed for, Belle’s hair was brown, the color I had. She used books to escape her mundane, or shall I say provincial, life just like I did. I loved her. Not in the way that I pretended to be a mermaid in the pool, but in the way that I didn’t have to change much about myself to walk in her shoes. Of course, she had an extraordinary life, while I just had me.
Belle was curious, intelligent, and true. Now she’s a pretty face lumped with many other pretty faces on a pack of stickers. I’m not saying Disney Princesses are bad, they are a successful campaign and what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But they do ignore the bigger picture of who these girls are. Snow White took charge of her life, escaping to the woods and a cottage of new friends despite it being 1937, Sleeping Beauty met a dude in the woods and sneaked around behind her aunts backs, typical of 1959, Ariel was a curious, headstrong, princess of the sea who wanted more than she was lotted. We can’t ignore the fact that these characters are based on fairy tales of course, where the traditional role of the female was beauty and subservience. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on females, but rather a reflection on the times. I knew the story of Beauty and the Beast quite well before the story came out but when it did I loved it more because Belle was a much stronger character than she was originally written. Disney writes the girls as rebellious I like that. Okay, perhaps in many circumstances they don’t go far enough (I mean, I am referring mostly to the Renaissance here cause their classic movies reflected their times too) but they are miles ahead of their often one dimensional starts. And I think it’s fair to say that these princesses are far more than the image of them that they’ve become. I know a family that doesn’t approve of the Disney Princesses and steers their daughters away from them. While I understand that girls should aspire to be more than princesses I am not sure this is fair. They are all far more than princesses, we just seem to have forgotten. Of course, people have complaints. I have often seen this argument:
But, no. No, that is not really what happened. Yes, she wanted adventure, she sings as much. Let me lay out what this provincial life she sings so much about not wanting would entail (because it’s all there in the movie). She gets married, tries to fit in in a town where she doesn’t, she has kids, she massages her husband’s gross feet while his latest kill roasts over the fire and the kids play with the dogs. I’m not even saying specifically that she marries Gaston, I am just saying that she’s supposed to marry someone. And if she doesn’t she becomes a spinster and lives with her father for the rest of his life (I’m sure she’d find this preferable). She doesn’t want either of these things, clearly. She wants something exciting, something impressive, she doesn’t want to be typical. These are modern sensibilities, yes, and the audience is able to relate to them easily. But it’s explicit in the film that the rest of the town can not. This isn’t portraying, after all, modern times.
So Belle exchanges her freedom for her father’s. She meets some enchanted flatware and a literal beast who learns to control his temper enough that they actually get to know each other. Maybe she gets a little Stockholm Syndrome. And yes, she falls in love. Because even modern women can do that. And quite frequently do. And let’s be real here; it’s not like she set out to fall in love. It’s very unlikely that she thought she was going to fall in love with the beast in the forest who locked her father in a dungeon. I mean, come on. And might I add, she doesn’t exactly fall in love expecting a sunny life of courtiers and grand balls. She falls in love with a beast who has sequestered himself in a castle. I’m pretty sure she understands that if she stays with him she’s not going to be seeing anyone else ever. Her feelings are complex about this, in the case of never seeing her father again, which she expresses when the Beast asks if she’s happy at the castle. Still, this adventure, this certainly unconventional love is worth it.
So then I suppose when she finds out he’s not really a beast and the castle goes from creeptastic to all white and shining with vines creeping up the side and real live people where they used to be a teapot and candelabra this is all just too typical and she should head for the hills? No. This is still an adventure. Just because she marries the prince at the end doesn’t mean she doesn’t get an exciting life. It just means that that story is over and that now she has the means and opportunity to start a new story, albeit one we don’t get to hear. And, I’m gonna be honest here, I have always seen Belle as the dominant member of their relationship. The Beast can be scary, but that’s really just because he is a beast. Imagine if a human being behaved the way he did. Just do it now. The bit where he insists she comes to dinner. The part where he’s arguing about who’s fault it is that he’s hurt since he ran out in the snow after her and saved her from a pack of wolves. He’s behaving like a spoiled teenager, which is exactly what he was. He frightens her because he looks imposing, but once she realizes he’s all bark and no bite she’s not above verbal jabs and horrified looks at his table manners. And he obviously likes it. She’s probably the only person who’s ever stood up to him in his entire life. Which was likely his problem in the first place. Within the first ten minutes of meeting she’s already chewing him out for not letting her say goodbye to her father, and he clearly feels bad about it. So, I don’t imagine that they will be sitting idle in a castle just doing nothing from then on. I’m sure she’s got plenty of adventures to come. In fact, someone should write this. “The Continuing Adventures of Belle and the Prince Who’s Name is Apparently Adam”. Maybe they go to Denmark and meet a princesses who used to be a mermaid. Sorry, naysayers, Belle got it all; a life far from provincial, a true love, a freaking awesome meet-cute and probably plenty of adventures to come.