I’m a Disney-a-holic, so this is hard for me to admit and even harder to write. I grew up in Florida, so I’ve been immersed in Disney from an early age. I LOVE Disney and everything it embodies: Magic, memories, family, and especially their movies. I own about half of them. I would own all of them, but I’m a mom to two boys and princesses are a hard sell. I usually have to trick them into seeing a princess movie by pitching the super cool prince, the evil nemesis, or the wacky sidekick. That technique is exactly how I got them to see Beauty and the Beast. “Mom, isn’t that a story about a princess?” “Nope. It’s a story about a girl who likes to read and has to join forces with a talking candle to tame a Beast!” “Whoa. OK, Mom…push ‘play’. “
It never ceases to amaze me how my memory of a movie changes so drastically when I rewatch it as a mom with my boys. Scenes I didn’t blink twice at when I was childless now trigger lights, whistles, and sirens: “WARNING! Cover your children’s eyes & ears and run from the theater!” As my 3-year-old son was sobbing when Bambi’s Mom was shot, I turned to my husband and yelled, “How did we forget about THAT?”
But those are the obvious kid-shockers that are ubiquitous in most Disney films. What bothers me about Beauty and the Beast is the subconscious damage I think it inflicts. (My disclaimer for the following opinion is that I spent many years and even more dollars being treated by a therapist for severe codependency.) If I were to write a synopsis of the movie it would read right out of the “Codependent No More” handbook:
Woman is stolen away from her friends and family and kept
locked away by an angry beast. His anger and rage keep every-
one around him under his control. The woman tries to be what he
wants her to be so he won’t rage against her and the others.
She learns that if she will love him in spite of his destructive,
abusive behavior, he will turn into a prince and they’ll live happily
ever after and that deep down he’s “really a nice guy”, he’s just been misunderstood.
Are you kidding me?!!! This is NOT the seed I want planted in my kids’ (or your kids’) impressionable little brains. Loving someone in spite of their differences? Yes. Loving someone even though they force you to stay with them, break things in fits of anger, and make you sing with the furniture? No thank you.
It’s such a shame, because Belle is one of my favorite heroines in the Disney lineup. She starts off so great. She loves BOOKS! She loves them so much, she dances and sings songs about them. Awesome. She takes care of her father and defends him and all his eccentricities. (I made sure to point THAT out to my boys, who I expect to care for me in the very near future. Hazard of having kids late in life.) THEN, when Belle is wooed by Gaston, the narcissistic town Beau-hunk, she tells him to take a hike. Bravo, Belle! Even though the entire town considers Gaston to be a hero and the vacuous nymphs are fawning for his Chippendale-ness (Not the rodents, the dancers.) she turns him away, turns a page in her book, and keeps reading.
How was she able to tell that Gaston wasn’t good deep down? Why didn’t she love him hard enough to make him change? Let’s not forget that Beast wasn’t always Beast. He was a handsome, arrogant jerk, just like Gaston. And not just a jerk, but a princely jerk. When an enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman offered him a rose for a night’s lodging, he turned her away in disgust (I’m guessing THAT’S the tale as old as time part). To teach the shallow Prince a lesson, the enchantress casts a spell that turns him into a Beast and his staff into a talking housewares department. (Hey… what did THEY do to deserve that?) She gives the Beast a rose that will bloom until his 21st birthday. He must love and be loved before the last peddle drops or remain a Beast forever.
Disney’s claim is that this movie teaches us that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, that true beauty comes from within. Oh yeah? Then how come he turns back into a handsome prince? Disney’s claim would have held water for me if when he was turned back into a prince, he was short, bald, with bad skin, and Belle STILL loved him.
In 1991, this movie was the first animated film in history to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It won a Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and in 2002 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Everyone loves it. My kids love it. My husband loves it for crying out loud. So what does that mean? It means, I’m an overly critical, hyper-sensitive mom who doesn’t want to see any little girls end up with “Beasts” that they’re trying to “love” into princes. Other than that…I love it too.
—Maryellen Hooper Check out her blog stinkyflowers.com