Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is almost here. And while the majority of the conversation has circulated around its awe-inspiring special effects, its loyalty to the original, and Josh Gad’s portrayal of Disney’s first openly gay character, there is a different conversation I’m interested in having. Specifically, this new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is an opportunity to give a new, honest ending to the classic story. It’s an opportunity to kill the Beast.
If you’re wondering why, the reasons are simple:
- The original 1991 Beauty and the Beast movie has a very disturbing story, in which Belle is a Patty Hearst subjected to bestiality and manipulated by a castle of malevolent ghosts.
- Gaston is right to be concerned about Belle’s mental health. He and the other pitchfork-wielding townsfolk are right to try to rescue her. She is not making healthy decisions.
- Do we really need another narrative in 2017 defending a character who was mean and course and unrefined?
Not sold yet? Let’s investigate.
Belle is captured and manipulated and a victim of Stockholm Syndrome
Beauty and the Beast opens with two characters in stark contrast: the Beast is a prince who, because he once judged an enchantress for her ugliness, is cursed to live in his castle until he loves another and they love him back. Belle is a bored, intelligent woman in a small town in France.
She’s also a very susceptible victim. She longs for something completely different than what she knows, spends her life in books, and sings “there must be more than this provincial life.” More than this provincial life? Sure, of course, but careful what you wish for.
From here, Belle ends up the prisoner of the Beast and his castle of talking objects. Next, she falls in love with him. That’s right, she falls in love with the strange, Pan-like monster who first imprisoned her father and then her.
There’s Something There That Wasn’t There Before
The majority of their falling-in-love occurs during one song, “There’s Something That Wasn’t Here Before.” That title, that verse alone.
Let’s look at these lyrics:
There’s something sweet and almost kind
But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined
And now he’s dear and so unsure
I wonder why I didn’t see it there before
She glanced this way, I thought I saw
And when we touched she didn’t shudder at my paw
No it can’t be, I’ll just ignore
But then she’s never looked at me that way before
Why didn’t you see it there before, Belle? Perhaps because he yelled at you, frightened you, and held you captive until you started seeing it. As her father says to the townspeople, “He’s got her! He’s got her locked in the dungeon!”
But wait, there’s a happy ending, right? She escapes, doesn’t she? Well, not in the original film, and I’m assuming not in this one either.
Gaston isn’t good, but he is right
The original cartoon – and, I’m assuming the new film, which comes out in two weeks – ends with Gaston assessing the situation, getting the townsfolk armed with their pitchforks, and storming the castle.
Let’s ponder how the Wikipedia page for Beauty and the Beast describes the instigating moment of final act:
Realizing that Belle loves the Beast, Gaston convinces the villagers that the Beast is a man-eating monster and leads them to the castle to kill him.
Consider this, for a moment, from Gaston’s perspective. The film’s perspective seems to be that Gaston views the Beast as a legitimate romantic rival, and is using the Beast’s weakness (his beastliness) as a way to kill him. Despite this surface reading, it might be more nuanced than this.
Gaston does not have the context that the Beast was once a cruel human prince who was subject to a terrible spell. Although, hold on, even if he did have that context, it might make the Beast even more unlikeable.
Here’s what Gaston knows:
- Belle’s father claimed Belle was “locked in the dungeon” by “a horrible monstrous Beast” with “sharp cruel fangs.” Gaston took this to mean her father is insane.
- Belle then reappeared to reveal that, yes, she had been spending time in a castle in the woods with a Beast… but that she loved said Beast, who, according to her father, had locked her in dungeon.
- Belle made her plans clear to return to the castle with said Beast.
- Belle still refers to him as “the Beast.” She doesn’t even know his/its name.
Is it possible that Gaston realizes Belle is mentally ill and the Beast could pose a grave threat to the town, especially after kidnapping and subsequently marrying its most intelligent citizen?
“It’s a nightmare but it’s one exciting ride”
Again, Gaston is not the hero. He gets a little too excited to lock up Belle’s father in the dungeon and kill the Beast. He also has some George W. Bush vibes, including stating “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Gaston should kill the Beast in the new film
I don’t expect this to happen. I’m writing this a few weeks out from its release. But it would be great to see.
The entire story would be the same, down to the final showdown on the tower of Beast’s castle. With only one difference: the Beast dies.
The 1991 Beauty and the Beast is the rare Disney film in which the villain seems to have no idea he is the villain. Gaston leads the townsfolk to the castle with the plans of slaying the character he thinks is the villain. He fights his way to the top, where he and the Beast fight and Gaston plummets to his death.
Let’s hope the 2017 Beauty and the Beast is nearly identical. In fact, Gaston should still die. The lesson should not be that either Gaston or the Beast are suitable suitors for Belle. Gaston is a typical boorish anti-hero in a version in which the Beast dies. He does not deserve Belle’s love any more than her captor does.
Imagine the final scene, in its live-action CGI glory. Gaston has fallen off the castle to his death. The Beast lies bleeding out, dying in the rain. Belle weeps by his side. Josh Gad’s gay LeFou cries for his dead Gaston. Fin.
“But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined”
Finally, beyond everything else mentioned (the Stockholm Syndrome, the anti-heroism, etc), there is another reason that Belle and the Beast should not pair off in the 2017 version. In short, we’ve seen it too many times since 1991, in too many tired ways. The Beast is Christian Gray and Edward Cullen. He is a tired trope at this point, but also a dangerous one. Characters like the Beast, as said in a previous blog post, are arguably how we ended up with such a mean and coarse and unrefined sitting president.
If children learn that one should fall in love with the brutish ruler of a frightening palace, then will they do the same in their voting decisions? Will they remember to resist usurpations of their civil rights in a post-truth America?
Of course, it’s too late for this film. The Beast lives. The Beast wins. But maybe we can hope for a sequel where Gaston returns or Belle regains her freedom.
“Learning you were wrong…”
It’s also worth noting that there are some very good messages in Beauty and the Beast:
- Don’t judge based on appearance.
- Don’t let fear hold you back from doing what is right.
- It’s okay to admit when you were wrong.
As they sing in the main song,
Bitter sweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
Perhaps this film is just what we need, after all. Perhaps the sitting president, teary-eyed and apologetic, will emerge from a matinee screening of Beauty and the Beast with his assorted children and grandchildren, attempting to become a changed man before the last petal falls.
Or perhaps, like everything else, Beauty and the Beast is just another chance to live in our bubbles of confirmation bias. And if the Russians and the homophobes are banning and boycotting it because it contains a gay character, then that should give you a pretty good idea which side you should be on.