Anatomy of a Traitorous Disney Opinion: We Liked the Beauty and the Beast Remake

Hi there! Here we all are on this fine day, finding ourselves parked on this web page which belongs to two people who preferred the 2017 Beauty and the Beast to the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. It’s not the first time we’ve liked the newer, live actioner version of a Disney classic better than the original version, but our preferences tend to run against the grain of how, like, everyone else in the universe feels about these live action Disney remake movies.

We wanted to discuss our B&tB feelings in depth but were too lazy to write another long-winded post about it, so we went on a Canadian staycation and had an actual verbal conversation about it and recorded it, probably while black bears lumbered around outside looking for snacks. But we didn’t bring the right equipment for the microphone so the sound is not great; only one of us is properly audible. So, this is an extremely informal transcript/summary of that conversation. It’s really important that we share it, guys. We were totally insightful. *shifty eyes*

First, we complained about our internet names and how weird they are instead of actually introducing ourselves.

To fix this I’ll just stick this here: hi, I’m erm, I had a stupid day today and it involved a lot of dying animals. Three is my sister and she’s currently making a video about Michael Scott for a class for her MBA.

So then we yelled at each other about who should start talking. Then Three tried to hum the iconic Disney opening “When You Wish Upon a Star” notes and it was really bad. She may actually be tone deaf and/or she doesn’t remember 3/4 of the notes and the order they go in of that song. But then we started, right off the bat, with something important.

Erm: I think you’re too harsh about Belle.

Three: I think YOU’RE too harsh about Belle.

Erm: Wow, good counterargument. You said, that she – she’s elitist. I think you’re right, but I think, sometimes –

Three: Did I say she was elitist?

Erm: No, that was between the lines. I think that sometimes, in a movie, your character has to kind of be elitist.

Three: Well, I think that’s why Belle works for so many people. Because everyone wants to believe that they are the one person –

Erm: That’s what you were saying, and I think you’re being harsh.

Three: How is that harsh?

Erm: Because –

Three: I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing.

Erm: Well, you have to keep pointing out that it’s not a bad thing.

Three: OK, well, next time I write a post about B&tB I’ll point out that it’s not a bad thing. But it is the whole – look, it’s not a bad thing unless it’s the entirety of the character, is to be better than everyone else.

Erm: But that’s not really the entirety, because she’s so isolated from everybody most of the time, and then, OK, so, in the town, that’s what it’s about but when she goes to the castle that’s not what it’s about anymore, now she’s just at the castle.

Three: But she doesn’t do anything in the castle.

Erm: OK, but that’s your other thing, is that she does nothing, so –

Three: Well that’s my – that’s what I’m saying is when the entirety of your –

Erm: She does go off and save her father twice.

Three: Yeah, that’s something, but, why is her only personality saving men?

Erm: That’s not a personality, that’s actions.

Three: Sorry. Why are her only actions saving men?

Erm: … because… that’s just… how it is.

Three: At least in the live action she saves herself, or tries to.

Erm: Yeah, I think she has more to do in the live action, but not that much more.

Three: And she tries to teach a little girl to read.

Erm: Yes, but still, these are small things, like her story doesn’t change all that much. It’s just little details that they added that make it a little more –

Three: I like to see little hints of a personality in there because I know that she’s there to perform a specific role for the audience to make you feel like you could be put in this story, she’s the avatar character, she’s the Bella Swan of this story, and you can be like, “I can be her,” and, yeah, you probably could, but it’s nice to see her occasionally do something other than be kind of a blank slate, save men from themselves.

Erm: *mutters unintelligibly through that whole speech*

LATER…

We argued about whether the Beast was going to save Belle from the wolves or apologize or just to get her back in the animated one, and basically decided that it doesn’t matter. But we note that in the new version everyone knows about the wolves so it’s clearer that he is trying to save her, not just recapture her.

We compared how the servants cower while Belle is yelling at the Beast for not cooperating with the hurt/comfort she’s trying to provide him with, whereas in the new version, while the servants are still occasionally scared of him, mostly, they don’t let his dickish behaviour go uncommented upon.

Three: So, you say that in the animated version it’s not clear what lesson he’s supposed to be learning, ’cause it’s almost like there’s two stories happening simultaneously, like one about appearances and one about controlling your temper, and he doesn’t seem to learn either.

Erm: Yeah.

Three: So what lesson would you say he’s learning in the live action?

Erm: He does learn that – he’s a snob, and that goes away, and that’s all that happens. Basically, he learns a lesson she should have been learning if they had made her character flawed and needing an arc. It could start with her being a snob, and she has to learn.

Three: That not being able to read doesn’t make you less of a person.

Erm: Yeah, but, I don’t think that’s what she believes, but, sure.

Three: She believes it about Gaston.

Erm: No.

Three: Although, he is a terrible person.

Erm: She knows that he’s a terrible person because he’s a terrible person.

(We agreed to disagree)

We talked about how we haven’t seen Gaston apologists ever. But there are a lot of Scar and Frollo apologists and we’re unimpressed. I informed Three that there are Ratcliffe apologists – more like, there are people who are honestly impressed by Pocahontas for showing how “both sides were wrong.” When, y’know, one side was clearly the wrong one.

Erm: We also complained [in the blog post we did on the animated movie] about the town and how it’s designed to be awful. Um. I don’t know. Is it that big of a deal? Is there anything like that in a Disney movie, ’cause that is a thing, like, if you live in a really intolerant place and all of your neighbours are horrible people…

Three: I think we wrote that in a time before Trump was elected, where we were a lot more likely to look at these people and say “Oh I bet there’s human inside of them and they’re probably very nice and have a lot of real problems and insecurities,” and now we’re just like “Ah you know what, they probably would have voted for Trump.”

Erm: Yeah. But in the live action version they do have – I think it’s in the spur of the moment that they [form a hate mob], but then the magic breaks and then they remember that they’re married to these people. So, it’s weird, the hate mob that just showed up is a bunch of good people.

Three: The hate mob is just like, “Can we kill my wife and child?”

Erm: It’s just really bizarre.

Three: It is really bizarre. I don’t – that’s true, maybe that doesn’t work.

Erm: A lot of the story doesn’t work in the live action and the animated one.

Three: I really enjoyed the fact that some of them were married to the servants, though, because why wouldn’t they be?

Erm: Because it’s hard to be married to someone who lives in castle.

Three: Well maybe they all lived in the castle. I don’t knooooow. I’m just saying they have families and lives, they’re not just servants, like there’s more to them than that.

We debated whether three’s description of Belle in the post was too harsh, because erm thought that you could do that with any of the Disney princesses (at least until the early nineties), and we didn’t really get anywhere except to suggest that maybe Belle seems “worse” (for lack of a better word) than the others in terms of agency is because it isn’t really her story, she just serves a narrative purpose in the Beast’s. Falling in love with the Beast is important, because it shows that she’s compassionate, but the act of falling in love is also really passive. It almost seems to happen against her will, in fact.

Erm: And we already know that she’s capable of [falling in love with the Beast] because she knows Gaston is an idiot despite the fact that he’s pretty.

Three: I think the reason I go out of my way to say that Belle is a bad character as opposed to any of the others is because –

Erm: Is she a bad character or is she just not the focus of the story when she seems like she should be?

Three: I don’t know. She doesn’t work for me as a character. And the reason why I always have to fight that is because the understanding is she’s supposed to be ours. If you’re a brunette, she’s supposed to be yours. If you like to read, she’s yours. If you’re quiet, she’s yours. If you’re an outsider, she’s your princess, she’s for you. She’s supposed to be our favourite.

[Three is apparently very angry about the several people who assumed her favourite princess is Belle]

[Shoutout to all the Middle Eastern, Native American, Chinese, African American, Polynesian, and, we’re assuming, Scottish women who dislike the movies/princesses that people must automatically assume they love, because apparently this is a problem]

[Seriously, though, we imagine that, for example, being Native and having to hear about Pocahontas all the damn time when it’s not a good look – like, at all – at colonialism, would be kind of a nightmare]

Three: There’s just nothing to her.

Erm: It’s because it’s not about her, it’s about the Beast.

Three: Yeah. And I guess what it is is that the story that could have been didn’t happen, and I feel like I was cheated out of a princess.

Erm: I don’t think I was cheated out of a princess but I do think that Beauty and the Beast is a missed opportunity. To have a female character who has to learn something and who starts out as unlikable because this would have been the opportunity to do that.

Three: They’re never going to write an unlikable princess. They get chewed up and spit out every time they try.

Erm: I don’t know that they try.

Three: Merida?

Erm: That was Pixar. But yeah. When Brave came out I saw people arguing that she was wrong, she should have just gotten married and why was she so mad, and it’s like, are you serious? Do you want to actually think about that for a minute? I just think – when you’re used to all the princesses being nice people from the start and then you have one who is slightly selfish – and I think Merida was right.

Three: Yeah I think she was too.

Erm: And I think the movie doesn’t think that she’s right, but she was right.

Three: She was right.

Erm: She’s basically Ariel. She does exactly what Ariel does. She goes and finds magic to solve the problem of her parents not letting her do what she wants to do and then it ruins her parents’ life, and then in Brave it comes down to, she has to apologize. But they were kinda going to ruin your life, and they weren’t listening to you, so what were you supposed to do?

Three: Yeah, I don’t even think she is selfish.

Erm: No, and I think that her parents have a lot more power than she does, so it is more their responsibility to actually listen to their kid.

Three: But, for some reason, people can’t handle seeing a princess who isn’t perfect. And this comes back to the fact that female characters are held to a much higher standard than male characters. We’re fine seeing male redemption arcs all the time but when do you ever see a female redemption arc, especially in children’s lit?

Erm: And this would have been perfect for that, because in the original fairy tale – it’s not like she really learns anything, it’s just that the beast is a good guy except for the fact that he sentences people to death for picking a flower, but other than that, he’s a good guy, and she lives in the castle, and over time she learns that he’s good even though he looks scary, and then she leaves, and decides to come back. So all you had to do was add some personality, so that she would be resistant to liking him, even though he’s nice, because of the way he looks, and there you go.

Three: So she learns that appearances don’t matter.

Erm: Yeah, it’s not about him. He’s like any of the cursed princesses in any story. He just needed to be saved.

This said, we still like that they fleshed out the Beast’s story for the live action, which they did because the Disney version really is his story. And we felt that they should have just committed to that.

Cinderella was Jack Jack and Gus’s story, according to us, which is a thing we’ve said before.

So then erm wanted to talk about masculine self-hate and managed to not talk about it very well.

Erm: I think that, mainly in the animated one, most of the Beast’s conflict is just about masculine self-hate. He’s just wounded and he lashes out, and he recognizes immediately that she could break the spell but thinks it’s also impossible.

Three: And tries anyway, and when it doesn’t work he’s like, “Of course it didn’t work.”

Erm: He’s afraid of rejection so he asks her in a really aggressive way.

Three: What part in particular is the self-hate, is it the end?

Erm: Yeah. Yeah! Because she leaves and then he gives up on life.

Three: So he literally lies down and lets Gaston try to kill him.

Erm: And still doesn’t get up despite being beaten to death and shouted insults at, he’s like, “Ah, it’s fine. This is how I die.” I don’t know – it’s hard to talk about because I don’t think I understand it at all, being female, but I know that it’s a thing, like, that’s why they put women on pedestals, that’s why Belle doesn’t have a character, that’s why most of the princesses don’t have [unintelligible – but, maybe something along the lines of flaws, arcs, idk].

Three: So what is the man and the beast archetype?

Erm: So it’s a dichotomy – I think that Disney does masculinity really well, usually, but here, they’re kind of relying on – it’s a really old model of perfect masculinity against animals. So everything that’s perfect, like, being logical, and – uh –

Three: Gaston?

Erm: No, because he’s not. He is and he isn’t. But like, being at the top of the food chain, and logical, and smart, and thoughtful, are all on the man side, and then everything chaotic and hysterical and emotional and – violent is usually on the animal side. But then what happens is that they put anybody – so like women: women are considered to be emotional, so they get put on the animal side. And then, anyone who isn’t really rich is more like an animal because they’re uneducated, so they can’t be as logical, and then anybody who isn’t white is obviously more like an animal – that’s how they justify everything to do with colonialism, that’s how they justify slavery, obviously anybody who’s gay – anybody who isn’t a really rich white guy from Europe, is more like an animal. So this system hurts everybody, except the extremely rich white guy, basically. And the way that they do it in Beauty and the Beast is that the Beast proves that he’s not a beast by not being violent towards Gaston, and not caring about his life anymore, and being tamed by femininity, and Gaston gets put on the animal side – and the problem with that is that he’s uneducated, and a brute, and he’s a villager. I think that they’re not trying to do that, but in some ways it’s still connected.

[this stuff is more complicated than this]

[and is 100% the basis of the intersectionality of animal rights, btdubs]

Erm: And I don’t think that – Hunchback doesn’t do that.

Three: No. Well, Frollo is clearly a powerful white man.

Erm: He is, and he’s religious, and virtuous, he thinks.

Three: He seems to be nonviolent – until he doesn’t anymore, but still.

[“Seems” is a good word here. Frollo is torturing people and genociding from the very beginning of the movie. It starts with him killing Quasi’s mom and attempting to drown an infant. He just thinks he’s justified, and despite the fact that the audience knows he isn’t, right from the start, his authority and self-righteousness kind of makes us forget what a reprehensible and violent person he is, which is exactly how logical powerful rich European white men got away with all sorts of atrocities – it was for everyone else’s own good, because those dudes knew best. Or at least, that’s what they kept saying.]

Erm: Oh and, um, Tarzan. Because the guy – he’s British, and like, really British, with a pompous accent, he’s got the gun, he’s the logical one, he’s manipulating everybody –

Three: But Tarzan, the uneducated ape-person, is – so, Disney likes to ask the question, who is the monster and who is the man, not just in Hunchback but in a bunch of different movies, and in Beauty and the Beast, the answer was, the blond-haired, blue-eyed prince with the expensive education, who happens to be having a bad hair day, is the man, and Gaston is the monster.

Erm: Well, in this one, he says, “I am not a beast,” [it’s a really good impression of Dan Stevens, for real] and it’s like, where did this conflict coming from? You haven’t discussed this at all. And even, in the Mob Song, LeFou gets a line that we both like, which is, “something, something, something, something,” [it’s a less good impression of Josh Gad, to be honest].

Three: It’s written really cleverly and I can’t remember what it is. Something about, yes there’s a beast, but I’m afraid the true monster has been awoken or something, it’s way better than what I just said.

[It’s: “There’s a beast running wild, there’s no question/but I fear the wrong monster’s released.”]

Three: So, saying, sure, there’s a beast out there somewhere but this guy is the actual problem, which, thank you, LeFou, for being all of us, at all times.

Erm: Well, yeah. I think Beauty and the Beast lends itself to masculine self-hate which is probably why it didn’t do as good a job at showing the healthy version of masculinity – I don’t know that there’s one healthy version of masculinity but they do show you the unhealthy version and they reject it.

Three: Well. Certainly Gaston is unhealthy.

Erm: Yeah, and I think they do that really well, it’s just a little bit uncomfortable how clear it’s made that he’s stupid. But now, I’ve changed my mind a little bit, because of what happens in politics, when you don’t uphold intelligence.

We talked about the wardrobe joke and how it’s a little, tiny bit better than the animated version of the same joke, but it’s still a joke at the expense of men in women’s clothing which isn’t cool and is sort of low key transphobic. Or not low key.

Also we liked Gad’s LeFou; a simple matter of taste. We acknowledged that he isn’t good representation at all but we liked him anyway.

Three claimed she doesn’t like Olaf, erm said, “Three of House OwlMachine, I name you liar.” Because she couldn’t stop laughing at the part where Olaf says, “I don’t have a skull.”

She continues to claim that even though she thinks that is one of the best lines in the movie, she doesn’t want Olaf to be there. And then she forgot that Hei Hei exists. But she likes Hei Hei. She just forgot him.

We talked a lot more about upcoming live action Disney movies, but we had very little else to say on the actual topic so for now, I’m going to stop transcribing.

Maybe I’ll pick it back up for when the next live action remake comes out.

In conclusion: we liked the live action one better, probably mostly because it was longer and fleshed out the side characters a lot and we responded to that. Because the main thing that we learned here is that our fundamental problems, mainly, that Belle doesn’t drive her own story/have an arc/learn anything/have to self-actualize, and that the Beast is a bit of a strange depiction of masculinity, for Disney, at least, didn’t really improve in the live action one.

Advertisements

Step One: Rock Some Rags

Step one of what, erm? Step one of becoming a Disney Princess, obviously.

A long time ago while we were featuring guest posts a lot we said we would start writing posts specifically about princess appreciation, and so far we’ve not really kept that promise. But here’s a start!

So today I could talk about how recent princesses are supporting other women and changing them from monsters (literal monsters, sometimes!) into who they truly were way back from before some (horrible) (or just egotistic) guy and/or ice powers of mysterious origins showed up, or I could talk about how princesses fare against being exploited for their labour or magical healing powers, or how despite the fact that I really want a Disney princess version of Kuzco (Merida doesn’t quite count), I still do love that they’re such decent people and that they stay decent people in the face of some pretty awful circumstances – but instead I’m going to talk about their non-princess outfits – some of which are straight work rags, while others are just everyday wear.

Here’s Snow White, running for her life. One day, perhaps I’ll get over the hilariously botched meet-cute that is Snow White meeting her Prince, but it is not this day.

snow running for her life

The narration even says that her evil stepmother Queen lady forces her to wear rags but they don’t hide her beauty. But come on, if she’s doing menial labour she needs sensible clothing. Anyway, that dress looks nice, I think. I want one.

I want whatever Cinderella is wearing below, too. This time the movie doesn’t bother to directly tell us that she’s too good-looking to be ruined by casual clothing, but it does sort of imply it – especially in this scene where Tremaine’s “two awkward daughters” might be dressed nice (they’re not, let’s be real) but they can’t even hope to aspire to Cinderella’s grace while doing something as mundane as scrubbing a floor.

cinderella-disneyscreencaps-com-3004

On a different day I could get mad on the stepsisters’ behalf – because any feminist reading worth its salt of this story will tell you that each and every one of these women are caught in a patriarchal society in which marrying well is the only way to secure a future that isn’t ruin and therefore a little bit of sympathy thrown the Tremaine girls’ way would certainly not be misplaced, but it’s princess appreciation so whatever. She knows she looks good and she can take a minute to herself.

These of Aurora’s are not rags.

Aurora

sl8

This is the outfit I want most of all. Look at that high neckline – it’s definitely Scar-being-extremely-sinister to die for. And that headband! I want that headband.

More merch of Aurora should feature her Briar Rose look because I think we can all firmly agree that it’s better than that magic dress she gets later.

Belle’s peasant dress isn’t quite as nice as Aurora’s but the farm animals all seem to vaguely approve. OK, the chickens look alarmed, but chickens always look alarmed. So whatever.

(but Belle, don’t put that on your head, that’s unhygienic)

be5

By the way, all of these ladies’ flats are great. Flats are the best. Snow White’s clogs are pretty cool too but flats really are where it’s at, comfort-wise, until we get a princess who’s allowed to wear running shoes.

Would you believe while I was writing this post that I almost forgot to include this, actually the best example of the princess-in-rags phenomenon that has ever existed?

ariel in a rag

Bless Scuttle, who doesn’t get enough credit I think. He says, “You look sensational!” and he’s right! Sebastian is too judgmental.

No joke if I could pull off red hair I would go as Ariel in this outfit for Halloween, it’s amazing.

ariel's rags

Also bless Carlotta and her steadfast attempts at tact.

Now moving out of the realm of the established Princess line: Elizabeth isn’t a Disney Princess. In fact, I think she was written specifically as a bit of an answer to them, which is both fair and also, kind of, not. Especially these days, what with Moana, and even if you want to talk strictly defined princesses, Tiana, Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna are all perfectly fine without the lesson Elizabeth teaches.

(OK Anna could have used it a bit I guess)

I include her because I can’t not. She’s THE PAPER BAG princess! A post about princesses in rags would be incomplete without her.

elizabeth paper bag princess

The story is very simple, for the uninitiated. Elizabeth is a princess with a lot of nice clothes and plans on marrying Ronald, the prince-next-door, until a dragon shows up, burns all her things, and kidnaps Ronald for a midnight snack. So she puts on a paper bag and goes to rescue him.

The best part is when she’s done it, she’s outsmarted the dragon, and then Ronald’s like, “Ew, you’re wearing garbage, go home and change and then you can rescue me!”

She calls him a bum.

Good times.

Here is the slightly horrifying animated version:

I make no apologies for this.

Anyway, Elizabeth really ties this together because she teaches us that if your prince is a jerk, yell at him and dump him, and also it doesn’t matter what you wear. This is a thing our older Disney ladies already know, but the fact that they enjoy dressing up for the formalest of occasions doesn’t take away from their awesomeness.

More on that much more substantial point later, I promise.

The Little Mermaid

Disney copy

When I (erm) was in school, I had one of those Profs you hear about and usually aren’t fortunate enough to have – really charismatic, effortlessly makes the subject matter relatable and important (even if it’s modernist literature. Seriously.), you don’t take any notes because you just want to sit there and listen to the lecture forever, etc.

One of my favourite lectures* of his was on Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of fairy tales re-imagined and reworked into more adult stories. He started by showing us the trailer for Beauty and the Beast’s super-special-awesome-chocolatey-covered-awesome-super edition DVD/bluray release** or whatever it was, and made some snarky comments about both Disney and Beauty and the Beast specifically, as you do. I don’t remember what they were, but at least one of them had something to do with Disney women characters always being non-agents. To his credit he mentioned Mulan – or at least, someone did, and he admitted that later Disney may have started to change that up, but early Disney right through the Renaissance did not have particularly active women. Someone must have piped up with, “Well, Ariel in The Little Mermaid, etc, etc” because he said this (paraphrasing now):

“Look, I haven’t seen it” (he quite clearly implied on multiple occasions that he wouldn’t watch animated films, because, adult. Sigh. Academics.) “But I bet that she lives in this magical world, and everything’s really beautiful, and she has a family that she’s close with, and then there’s a man, and she instantly falls in love with him, and then she gives everything up to go and be with him with barely a backwards glance.” Continue reading “The Little Mermaid”