A Tale as Old as Time

The first movie I can really remember seeing in the movie theater was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. Adventurous, loyal, smart, kind, able to walk and read at the same time. Bonus? She got that library in the end too! This was before princess culture took over the toy aisles and before Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was a thing. This was just a heroine who saved the day. I am who I am because I had Belle as a role model and never once has that been a bad thing. I didn’t even realize it could be until college.

I was a women’s studies minor in college and I adored it. However, it was the first time I really needed to defend my love of Disney and the movies. Look, they are problematic at times, don’t get me wrong but I know it’s also something we have a lot of control over in how it effects us thanks to how our world shares it with us. [See my rant a while back on Cinderella and princess culture] My parents never told me “look at the pretty princess who gets her prince, you should be just like that!” No, my dad only ever said, “look, Belle likes to read just like you!” I always felt I could go off and have adventures because Belle did. And honestly, while I enjoy the Beast, I never felt he was really all that necessary to Belle’s adventures. A catalyst? sure! But necessary…eh. I am the girl who went onto write one of her best papers on how men are superfluous in 19th century novels so clearly I had an idea from a young age that princes and their elk were around for plot purposes, not because the heroine actually needed them. And hey, look at Disney movies with that lens and suddenly, it’s a whole different ball game.

But, I digress. I’m here to talk about Beauty & The Beast of which I lately read and/or watched a couple of fabulous re-tellings that I wanted to share. I read a lot of Cinderella re-tellings but not so much B&TB so yay for different fairy tale re-visits!

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Seriously, so gorgeous. La belle et la bête (2014)

La Belle et La Bête is an absolute gorgeous film out of France in 2014. It has been on my list for awhile so I requested it through the library recently and then they decided to purchase it. I do have great taste after all. And then, right after I got it from the library, Netflix started streaming it so you should all check it out! This version stays a bit more on the traditional tale side of things. Belle and her family (widowed father, two brothers and two sisters) move to the countryside after her father’s merchant business is ruined by bad storms and the family’s finances are immediately tanked. Belle loves her new life in the countryside though the family is less than pleased. However, miracle! One ship manages to get back to port so Belle’s father and oldest brother head back to the city to reclaim their good fortune but that doesn’t work out so well. The eldest brother is in hock to a very bad guy (why isn’t all that clear) and her father ends up hunted by wolves until he finds his way to an enchanted castle. It goes on from there. Things I really liked about this version were: the visuals – the movie is yummy to look at and the costume design is out of this world. Seriously, Belle’s dresses at the castle are works of art and I am so impressed she could move in them; The backstory to why the Beast is cursed; The little enchanted dogs; Giant walking statues at the climax of the film; the ending. Also, the relationships in this movie are SO stereo-typically French which doesn’t always come across well to an American audience (I hate you! I love you! Save me! Get away from me! all in the span of five minutes) but I enjoyed them. My main issue with this version is the plot has a few holes in it and lot of plot points aren’t explained very well.

2974811Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Once Upon a Time #14) is actually part of me getting back to finishing up series on my reading list. This installment is by Cameron Dokey, one of my all time favorite fairy tale re-tellers (if that’s a thing you can have a favorite in).  This was quite a decent retelling of Beauty & The Beast. I liked the woodcarving Belle in this adventure and the idea that the name is more of a curse than a blessing when her face does not live up to the promise of the name. I liked the evolution of the family here as well; much closer to the original story where Bell has two sisters but this version redeems her sisters in ways the original tale did not.

I had read Robin McKinley’s Beauty a long while back but she wrote another B&TB re-telling and I only just now got around to it. Rose Daughter is a lovely rendition of the original story. I liked the emphasis on description over dialogue; much more in keeping with the original fairy tale tradition. The sisters especially were wonderfully rendered and their relationship very much the core of the story over Beauty’s relationship with her father and even to some extent, the Beast. The only thing missing from this version was a good library but I liked the idea of Beauty as a gardener as something new that made perfect sense. Indeed, this book would have fit perfectly into a widening of my thesis in college – the idea that a fairy tale heroine is much stronger when surrounded by a network of supportive and strong females.

Indeed, you get a glimpse into how we re-imagine our heroines in all these versions. Belle as a bookworm, as a woodcarver, as a gardener. As someone who is brave and strong for her family even when she is placed in impossible situations and asked to do impossible things. I think that is something I appreciate more and more about fairy tales each year; they are infinitely malleable to times and places and never seem to cease having tales to tell us in new versions. And surely, Beauty and the Beast will remain a favorite.

 

If I Can’t Love Her

I am going down the Disney Broadway rabbit hole today after seeing Newsies in the movie theater last night. It makes me wonder why we don’t record and show musicals in theaters more often like that. Not all of us can make it to NYC. Heck, not all of us live in a city where traveling productions even come. They do, sort of, come here but there is no good place for them to perform. My nearest places are Tampa, Orlando and Atlanta for national tours of Broadway shows. So, when they come to my local movie theater or are something I can rent on line, I just start spending money like it’s going out of style.

But, I digress. I started this post to share with you all THE song I think of when I think Disney and Broadway. I first saw Beauty and the Beast performed on stage in Toronto on a surprise trip that Mom and Dad ended up having to tell us about because my sister refused to get in the car until they told her where we going (which pretty much sums up my sister as a kid). I was already a musical theater nerd by this point but I remember, to this day, the closing song of the first act of that exact show. I can still watch this song performed in my mind. How the stage moved, how the Beast acted and that song. That song is what you call a showstopper. It’s the sort of song that when performed well brings you both to your feet and to tears. I think I sat stunned after the curtain closed on the Beast standing over the rose but my dad jumped to his feet to head to the lobby and bought the recording of the show on the spot. It’s that kind of song.

I have since been lucky enough to see this show performed live many times but I still remember this first time I heard this song the best. So, for your Friday enjoyment, I give you “If I Can’t Love Her.”

Some Thoughts on Princesses

And no, I’m not going all Kate Middleton on you at this late date. I was recently catching up on some Disney podcasts and the last episode of Mouse Lounge was focused on the Disney Princesses. It’s a fascinating topic to me because 1) I am a bonafide Disney geek and 2) I was a women’s studies student and a proud feminist to this day. I found myself defending my love of Disney often in my women’s studies classes.

Still from Disney’s Fairy Tale Wedding Line. From Ranker

I never really overanalyzed though until a fellow WS student asked me a few questions about her senior project. She was looking at the Disney Princesses and their effect on young girls. This was just a few days after the first release of the Disney Wedding dress line and she hadn’t heard about that yet so I told her about that and didn’t think about it again until her presentation on her work in class. Her findings were telling if not unexpected – Disney Princesses could give girls the wrong impressions, and those imprssions fell all across the board: If I just wait, he’ll come rescue me (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella); If I change enough, he’ll fall in love with me (The Little Mermaid, might have an argument for Mulan here as well); If I just love him enough, he’ll change and be the man I need (Beauty and the Beast). I’m paraphrasing and certainly hoping I remember this well enough but you get the idea – the princesses are passive; beauty objects to which things happen but they themselves have no control over them. I remember listening and getting progressively more uncomfortable. Did I subconsciously take all that in? I was a kid long before the current Princess craze and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques but maybe, a part of me had taken that in anyway? The more I sat there in class, the more I thought back and wondered.

Ariel was technically my first princess. I vaguely recall seeing The Little Mermaid in the theater when it came out and I loved the music but the story was never my favorite. It was Belle and Beauty and the Beast that ruled my world. I had loved to read already; all I had to do was perfect walking and reading at the same time and I was set. However, I don’t recall pining for my prince. I wanted to go off and have an adventure sure – wander forests, ride in to the rescue in the end, marry the Beast for his library…sorry, off track. The thing is, I never saw Belle as someone who was fishing for a man; the fact she finds one in the end is just sort of a bonus. I think it helped that my dad focused me on how smart Belle was, on how much she liked to read, on how brave she was. He never pointed out that she got to wear a pretty dress and married a prince. It was sort of besides the point in my world. So, I spoke up in class. I don’t think my friend was surprised. I was the girl writing her thesis on Cinderella after all (for WS, I was more into looking at the sexual revolution of women in the 1890s-1920s, but I got Disney in on the English side. Poor Cindy, she needed someone to prove she was a bit more than a perfect shoe model). I talked about my Dad’s point of view and how he presented Belle to me. It was true, I was an odd kid but I was just as inclined to love princesses as anyone. I am a born hopeless romantic but for me, Belle was never just a princess, she was first and foremost her own woman, with or without a man in the picture. My class found this interesting and we ran off into the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. But I’ve never forgotten thinking about my relationships with the princesses.

Fast forward to today and Disney Princess culture is everywhere. Talk about a merchandising mint. But my approach to the princesses hasn’t changed. They have their place, most of them accurately reflect the idea of women in society for when they were created (let’s all have a field day approaching Sleeping Beauty with that in mind) which is why Belle reigned supreme for me even over the more overtly feminist princesses Jasmine and Mulan. Then came The Princess and the Frog.

I had totally gushed over her dress first

I discussed this briefly when I looked at Tangled; Tiana, the princess for my 20s. Hard-working, practical, secretly funny and a dreamer at heart though she tries to deny it, Tiana and Belle run neck in neck for my favorite princess award these days. “Almost There” is a song that gets me through the hardest days, the days when I forget I do have bigger goals, bigger dreams and if I just keep working for it, with a little dreaming for good measure, than I’m almost there for sure. Mouse Lounge focused on Tiana a lot and how she is a more “modern” princess and has the mentality to prove it and I had to laugh because the little girl they were discussing in the podcast still just loved the music, the colors, the adventure of Tiana’s story. She wasn’t thinking about how Tiana is a positive representation of women in animation but about how pretty her dress is in the end. Because, let’s face it, girls will be girls and even those of us who like to think we’re above that stood in line to gush over Princess Tiana’s dress at the Magic Kingdom.

The Princess culture is fascinating but ultimately, I think it is a combination of things that make some girls fall head long into it and others just enjoy the ride along the way. One thing is for sure, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon and I am sure to see many a little girl happily skipping up Main Street decked out as her favorite princess on her way to the Castle for breakfast with Cinderella during my trip in September. And honestly? I don’t see a thing wrong with that.