As a young girl, a brown-haired product of the 1980s with a taste for the musical and a thirst for adventure, I identified with Disney heroine Belle as “my” princess. Scrappier than others — or a badass, as I would now proudly call her in my 30s — Belle had a certain spark that I identified with.
In the early 1990s, screenwriter Linda Wolverton was inspired by the women’s rights movement when creating the character of Belle. An independent dreamer, a seeker of adventure and — gasp! — a bookworm, Belle looked for more beyond her small village and did not hesitate to storm into a strange castle to save her father. I’ll say it again: badass.
Princesses have gotten plenty of criticism over the years. Some say they give young girls unattainable standards of beauty and ideas of romance that simply don’t exist. But I never looked to characters like Belle for their looks, never compared myself to them, with their impossibly tiny waists.
Through middle school and high school, I was never one of the cool girls in halter tops who all the boys liked. Instead, I had a wide range of old navy tech vests (and man, I owned it; those things were comfy).
Here was my takeaway from these animated characters: Be outgoing and take risks; belt out some sweet jams to keep your spirits up; and always fight for your family. That was the tune I was hearing them sing. So, yeah, I thought Belle, Mulan and Ariel were some pretty cool characters to learn from.
I grew up in a small town, and I, like the Disney darling Belle, felt the exploration itch for quite some time. In my late 20s, I uprooted my life, removing myself from the complacent. I fueled my sense of adventure — and never looked back.
I may not have done it with a horse and a cool cape, but that’s still pretty darned Belle to me.
As for that whole “unobtainable love” thing? Sure, between watching “Beauty and the Beast” as a child and now being a “Bachelor” super fan, I just assume all love stories contain some sort of rose situation. And I wouldn’t mind getting caught talking to kitchen ware if I could get half a second that felt as magical as the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast.” A big guy with his facial hair on point? My friends would tell you that’s just my type. (Maybe Belle actually taught me a thing or two about choosing a man, too.)
A couple of years ago, when I first heard the rumblings of a live-action remake of the classic Disney film, I was apprehensive. Then, when I saw the first official trailer on Facebook, I was crying within seconds. Granted, I’m an easy crier, but it was beautiful and moving. However, I still felt like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ya know?
When the time finally came to see the film this week in a pre-release screening, I was nervous. Would this new version ruin the nostalgia of this classic tale I have known my entire life? Could I accept Emma Watson as my Belle? Could she even hold a tune?
The film opened with a dance in the castle of the Prince, played by Dan Stevens, all powdered wigs and twirling gowns filling the screen. We learn how he, fixated with outer beauty, becomes the Beast.
I held my breath. The moment of truth was here. A cottage door swung open and Watson began to sing my favorite song from the film, “Belle.” (I just always loved the “Bonjour! Bonjour!” So darned catchy.)
As much as I wanted to hate this remake, with all of its colorful twirling petticoats and harmonies, it dawned on me. Belle would rather choose a life as a crazy cat lady than marry some pompous turd. I remembered why she was so empowering to me, and some of the young ones in the crowd may be having the same feelings as I did as a kid.
They might be discovering their own little piece of Belle.
I needed to stop comparing, and start embracing.
Once the action picked up, as Belle’s papa raced though the dark, eerie forest, my heart began to race. As each familiar character was revealed — LeFou’s comedic camaraderie, Lumiere’s knack for the theatrical and Chip’s childish innocence — I was hooked.
I let myself go. When Watson swung over Philippe and rode off without a single fear or hesitation to save her father, I accepted her as my real-life Belle. I fell into the world that Disney had brought to life, vibrant and fantastical.
I don’t know if it was the impact of the live action version or the glass of Pinot Grigio, but I was even appreciating the film in new ways. The remake had brought a nuance of adult humor to the tale — with LeFou and Gaston’s friendship, and with Papa’s quirkiness — that did not go unnoticed.
By “Be Our Guest” (though a bit over the top), I could tell everyone in the theater was right there with me. The clapping and laughing gave it away: We were in this together.
We all know how the rest of the film goes: Belle tries to escape and the Beast saves her, then she in turn saves him and love saves them all. They dance, everyone cries and in the end the hairy nerd defeats the arrogant jerk to win the heart of the girl, proving that inner beauty triumphs.
More girls at bars on the weekends should be taking notes on this.
By the end, I had cried at the beautiful and iconic ballroom scene, had gasped at the fight between the Beast and Gaston, and had truly allowed myself to escape. Not until Lumiere revealed himself as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) did I return to the real world and reveled in the beautiful whirlwind I had just experienced.
When it was over, I walked away with a new love for an old fairytale, and not just because it proved to appreciate a good beard. A tale of love, friendship, family and courage, I felt reassured in my belief that cheering for princesses is not silly when they are as fearless, caring and powerful as Belle.
And I am excited for a new batch of little ones to begin their adventures, too.
Gender Roles In Beauty And The Beast
Gender roles in "Beauty and the Beast"
Gender roles have been ingrained in our society all throughout history. In Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's short story Beauty and the Beast, the author presents each character as a reflection of their own genders. Dominance and submission are two specific gender identities that have been assigned to men and women respectively. Beaumont tackles the difference between men and women's roles in society with characters that encompass the stereotypical attitudes of both genders, ranging from female submissiveness to shallowness, as well as male power and dominance.
Throughout the story, the author suggests that beauty and wealth are two of the most prized possessions anyone can have. The beauty of the merchant's daughters' are emphasized in the beginning as the author describes them as "extremely handsome, especially the youngest." In comparison, the author does not write about the merchant's sons' physical appearance. The emphases on the beauty the sisters possess signify how being attractive is stressed more on females than males. Despite having contrasting personalities, Beauty and her sisters portray two opposite personalities stereotypical of women: superficiality and being a homemaker. The author presents Beauty's sisters as being shallow and materialistic for "they went out every day to parties of pleasure, balls, plays, concerts, and so forth, and they laughed at their youngest sister, because she spent the greatest part of her time in reading good books." For Beauty's sisters, reading, a privilege mostly given to men of status, is a ridiculous past-time. The author depicts Beauty as special for her interests are not typical of women...
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