Fading Nostalgia

Cineplex Entertainment has made a brilliant, yet terribly unpublicized, decision to host a “Digital Film Festival” this week in Toronto.

For one week only, the Scotiabank theatre will be showing some all time faves: The Godfather, James Bond, Terminator, The Wizard of Oz and my personal favourite, Labyrinth — I immediately bought tickets.

This morning, in preparation for a day of Nostalgia, I watched another cherished movie from my childhood: Disney’s Beauty and The Beast. Immediately I broke into song — singing “Bonjour” along with Belle as she dances through the village.

But something was nagging at me.  Maybe my feminist-sense was tingling.  Or maybe it was just the feeling that looking back, things are rarely as good as they once seemed.

I didn’t realize it as a child, but this movie that seems to epitomize true love, is really a sad representation of a woman stuck between choosing the better of two abusive men.

Gaston is the obvious villain in the film; he’s crude and misogynistic.  But the Beast isn’t a lot better.

Throughout the movie, the Beast is reminded to “mind your temper”.  He’s not only angry, but aggressive and violent.  He shouts orders at her, and smashes furniture to scare her.

When he stops shouting so much, she falls in love with him.

There is something truly perverse about that.  And I can’t blame it on an outdated story, written in a time when women were often considered property, because it doesn’t happen that way in the original story.

Instead, Beauty must learn to love the Beast despite his looks.  He is terribly ugly with the head of a beast, a trunk, and huge tusks. But the Beast is never cruel.  Beauty never has to forgive his violence in order to love him.  He is truly a good soul, trapped in a monster’s body.

In the movie, The Beast has to change in order to win Beauty/Belle’s love.  Instead of a story about overcoming the shallowness of physical love, it becomes a story about loving a man enough to make him good.

Really, the fact that “Beast” is an animal (and to most people, that’s not usually a turn-on) doesn’t seem to be an issue in this movie at all.  He was cursed for being shallow, yet his attitude is the only thing holding him back from lifting the curse.

The intended conflict in this story was spelled out in the title (there is no guessing with a name like Beauty), so why was it necessary to add in such a violent character when a nicer one would have done just fine? Afterall, Gaston is enough villain for anyone.

Some people would argue that it is just a movie, and as such, we shouldn’t read too much into it.  But the trouble with that is that it is entirely possible to make a cheesy, frivolous movie with good songs and fairytale that does not teach young boys and girls that violence is always forgivable as long as he is sorry.

Disney made a choice.

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