Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Beauty and the Beast is so good... and its sequels are so bad

Hey, you know what just occurred to me? Wouldn't it have been morbidly hilarious if Beast had turned all beautiful, gasped out, "Belle… it's me!" and then died of his stab wound?

That's what I find myself thinking after watching the two B&tB sequels, anyway.

Before I get into the review for the second Beauty and the Beast midquel (whyyyyyy), I feel like I should address the bighuge problem at the heart of both movies. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea: I love Beauty and the Beast. It's a fantastic movie, which is why I take such umbrage with spin-offs that attempt to utterly destroy whatever nostalgia you had and also your ability to feel happiness ever.

The problem with the Beauty and the Beast midquels is that they don't understand the source material. The original movie took caricatures that we're all familiar with (the spoiled prince, the outsider bookworm), deftly brought them to life and allowed them to grow. Beast is in a hell of his own creation without knowing how to get out - and all the people that enabled him in life are now unable to help him. Belle wants something more than the experiences her small provincial town has to offer, without having any understanding of what adventure really is like.

When Belle comes to the castle, we the audience see that Beast genuinely has no idea how to act: he tries to be nice, and then flies into what he knows is a self-destructive rage when Belle rebuffs him, because none of his experiences with the servants have prepared him to handle this. Belle realizes that she's been naive, and adventure mostly consists of being uncomfortable and hungry.

From the beginning, the movie contrasts Gaston with Beast. The two men (…? I guess?) play similar roles to Belle in the beginning; both want to marry (sure) Belle, and Belle hates both of them.

Gaston treats Belle as a lesser being from the beginning. He disrespects her choices, belongings, and father. He presumes on her opinions and gets angry when she refuses to go along with his plans.

Even from this early stage, there is a subtle difference between Gaston and Beast. While both attempt to trap her, Beast shows that he views Belle as an equal. He talks about how fab Belle is, in contrast to himself. He genuinely wants to make her comfortable and happy, at least until he loses his temper.

Beast acts horribly, and Belle refuses to get to know him. She pokes around the castle where she's been explicitly forbidden from going, and when the Beast finds her he freaks out and yells at her. Scared and angry, Belle runs out into the forest aka a bunch of wolves.

In parallel scenes, we see the town hunk Gaston first of all ignoring Maurice's pleas for help for Belle (seriously… did he not wonder why he never saw Belle around anymore?) and then paying off a warden to have Belle's father put in an insane asylum if Belle rejects his hand in marriage a second time.

Meanwhile, Beast realizes that Belle has run into the dangerous forest. He chases after her and fights off the wolves that attacked her. They wound him (apparently… this is represented by three scratches on his arm, but whatevs) and he passes out in the snow.

This is the important part right here. Beauty and the Beast is brilliant because it shows us exactly why we should sympathize with Beast in spite of his deep flaws, and contrasts him with a truly awful beastly person in the form of Gaston. Beast is a brat used to getting his own way who's angry at his fate, but when he doesn't get his way, he's still willing to help Belle. When Gaston doesn't get his way, he actively plots to hurt Belle.

The audience is now right in step with Belle to be willing to revise our opinion of Beast: we cheer her as she chooses to bring Beast home and nurse him, rather than escape. That's because Belle (and the audience) is now assured that the Beast is truly capable of goodness, and that there is something to him besides just the brattiness (unlike Gaston).

Over the next few scenes Belle and Beast grow closer. The movie still shows his flaws, but in more subdued ways: if Beast starts getting angry, he'll calm down when Belle chides him. We see his improvement, and that he is actively trying to be a better person. This culminates in a huge act of selflessness, letting Belle leave the castle to make her happy, knowing that now his curse will never be broken.

Again, this is paralleled by Gaston: the movie gives him a last chance to repent by having Belle tell him the truth about Beast and showing him the magic mirror as proof to back up her words. But rather than allowing Belle go about her business, Gaston takes offense to Belle's obvious affection for Beast and sets out to kill him.

Let's reiterate: Beast is sympathetic because he wants to change, and visibly makes an effort to improve his behavior once he has someone around who isn't in a subservient role to him. Once Belle sees that he's different from other spoiled bullies she's known she's willing to give him a chance, but when he yells at her she gets right back up in his face. And she only lets it go once he concedes her point.

"Well if you'd hold still, it wouldn't hurt as much!"
"If you hadn't run away, this wouldn't have happened!"
"If you hadn't scared me, I wouldn't have run away!"
"You shouldn't have been in the West Wing!"
"You should learn to control your temper!"

Yeah, I can't even make myself transcribe any of the scenes in the two Beauty and the Beast midquels, so here you go:

The problem with the midquels is that they don't add anything to the story, they merely prolong it. Which means that the Beast acts like a selfish and slightly psychotic brat constantly, and Belle still appears to care for him.

Probably kids wouldn't think much of it, but watching as an adult, it's honestly uncomfortable. I can't think of a nicer way to put this: you're being forced to watch emotional assault with a victim who has an "I can change him" mentality (sometimes expressed in those literal words).

Seeing these movies reminds me of how often "nice" is conflated with "good" for little girls. In the original movie Belle was kind, but she was also unwilling to put up with being treated poorly. She tells Beast she hates him, tries to fight Gaston, and is obstinant when Beast makes his initial small attempts at kindness. There's a word for this, and it's a word more important for little girls to hear than "nice": it's "self-respect".

The doormat Belle of the midquels is neither sympathetic nor compelling. Her behavior is its own lesson: forgive everything, and people will continue to treat you poorly. And yet these midquels are written as though Belle is a hero for being able to gracefully accept Beast crapping over her all the time.

The worst thing is, these movies are just one example of the many, many times in their lives that little girls will be urged to stay quiet and sweet.

Of course, the obvious response to this is, "You're taking this too seriously. It's a dumb kid's movie." You have an excellent point! Here is my reply:

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize there were two of those things...ugh. That video was the longest three minutes.

    You know, I can see what you mean about the subliminal messaging. Kids' minds soak up everything they see.