Sunday, March 19, 2017

A magical world come to life

I have read many reviews of the new Beauty and the Beast that claim that it is less because it is simply a live action version of the same story with the same feel and music as the original Disney adaption. I acknowledge that some may feel that way about it. My own sister mentioned that they didn't need to make a new movie because the old one was "exactly the same" only animated and some critically acclaimed reviews have mentioned the same thing, especially after the 2015 Cinderella film. Cinderella changed the story just enough to fit in with modern times whilst also keeping true to the original Disney adaptation. Beauty and the Beast had no need for these modifications. The original Disney movie and character of Belle needed no "update" to the modern day as there was already a strength to Belle beyond her beauty and her placement in life that fits well with the modern ideology. What they managed to do with this new adaptation is to make the movie of my childhood come to life.

Belle was always the Disney princess to which I was the most connected- an intelligent, slightly spacey bookworm with her heart of gold- and probably impacted me the most of any of the princesses. While I loved Mulan and her tough grit and determination (she will always be a princess to me), it was Belle whom I most resembled and still do resemble most. As a child, being able to see this odd girl who didn't quite fit in but always had her head in a book while everyone else shook their heads in wonder gave me confidence for the times when I had people remark on how odd I was (these remarks were not always malicious but often very prevalent). The legacy of Belle (among other odd and intelligent characters such as Fred Burkle, Willow Rosenburg, and Hermoine Granger) played a driving force in the attainment of my Bachelor's degree and in supporting the drive I have to obtain my Master's degree. Having Belle as a recognized princess allowed me to be comfortable in my own skin, watching the live action version helped remind me why.

While it is true that many of the Disney princesses were oddities compared to the other people in the worlds they lived in- Cinderella compared to her stepsisters and Mulan compared the other young women her age being prime examples- Belle's oddity is one that impacts so many young women today still where it is not always accepted for them to have high educational goals or to stand out too much or to be "peculiar". There are boxes built around the "acceptable" activities and attitudes of young women and girls that they encouraged to fall into and those who don't can face everything from ridicule to physical threats (both of which Belle experienced). There is still the idea, supported by many aspects of the media and popular culture, that physical appearance is the most important aspect of a woman's life and her goals should be to find a man, settle down, and have children (basically Gaston dramatised  the role of society's expectations). Belle is beautiful but it isn't her beauty that she relies on nor puts stock in but her imaginative mind thirst for knowledge, attributes which the Beast admires about Belle in both adaptions of the movie but related to her more in this most recent adaption (I do love the commentary how the Beast is only other person we are shown who really understands and potentially shares Belle's love for books).

Beauty and the Beast gave way to a heartwarming reminder of why the previous adaption proved successful for its audience, there is a warmth and soul to it that reminds those of us in our 20s and 30s (and I am sure 40s and 50s as well) of the original movie's characterization as well as invigorating acting that will endear the film to children for generations to come (an option to play alongside the original instead of replacing it). Some of the lessons shown are applicable in all walks of life, such as the encouragement to be yourself despite the judgement of others and the encouragement to always be a bookworm (that squeal in the library was the best part of the movie next to the Beast's reaction to Romeo and Juliet being Belle's favorite Shakespeare play). Other lessons are less obvious to the young but no less important or applicable and done better in the new version than in the original. The first lesson (simply by chronology not importance) is shifting duty/role of protection between parents and children as shown by Maurice and Belle. Maurice spent his life protecting his daughter from the dangers of the world (although he is unable to protect her from the small-mindedness of the townspeople) and, when the moment presented itself, Belle chose to protect her father because there comes a time in every child's life when they try to shield their parents from the world Belle simply got to do so literally. The second lesson is one that we learn from LeFou by his inaction instead of his actions (for the most part), of staying true to what you believe and standing up for yourself. LeFou was willing to withstand any amount of ridicule and participate in any action because of his affection (take that as you will) for Gaston, even to the point of ignoring his own conscience, bowing easily to the other's will. It is only in the end of the film (after LeFou has been used by Gaston as a shield several times) when LeFou finally has a moment of clarity and switches sides (not so much because he agrees with the furniture servants but because they are on the opposite side of Gaston). LeFou's journey is one that many people face when in a relationship (of any kind) with someone whom they wish to please. More often than not that person will, as LeFou did, simply act as an enabler and slowly lose their voice and freedom (perhaps not literally) because keeping the other person happy, like Gaston, will become the most important aspect of their lives (just look at the song "Gaston" and how LeFou was paying everyone in the bar to participate).

This hasn't exactly been a review (or followed any intelligent design whatsoever), it is more of a rambling expression of my pleasure in watching Beauty and the Beast. My only question now: How does this all relate to the French Revolution? The disdain for literacy, attack/curse on a royal prince during an elaborate ball (to cause him to humble himself to the lowliest beggar), and an almost nobleman living in the attic with his wife and small daughter before fleeing to a small town after his wife's death certainly mirrors the attitudes and actions during the period (although perhaps we are a few decades early still). But, seriously, who else got French Revolution type flashes as they stormed the castle? Only me? Alright.

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