Disney Challenge

Disney Challenge: Snow White

First up in our Disney Challenge to watch all the Disney Animated Films (including the Pixar ones) is the first Disney princess, Snow White. She even has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This first full-length film from the Disney Studios came out in December 1937.

The movie relies heavily on the Brothers Grimm who created a pastiche from oral traditions. Recently, scholars have also identified two possible historical sources for the tale of Snow White. There might even be a real magic mirror.But, Disney mostly based the film on a Bavarian fairy tale as reported by the brother’s Grimm.  

So, everyone knows the story, right? Wicked, vain stepmother (AKA the Evil Queen) with a mysterious magic mirror and envy issues, a merciful huntsman, our “fairest of them all” heroine with lips as red as blood, skin as white as snow, and hair as black as night, but not all that smart, our handsome and dashing–if mostly mute–Prince Charming and seven dwarves. The nitwit heroine hides out in the forest with some dwarves (seven, in fact) before taking a bite of the poisoned apple and falling into an enchanted sleep and placed in a glass coffin before being revived by a kiss from Prince Charming who just happened to wander past at the right moment, probably still singing.

There are significant differences between the Disney version and the original Grimm one. The Grimm brothers themselves toned down the story in subsequent versions. In the first version of the tale, the Evil Queen is Snow White’s biological mother who takes her into the forest herself and abandons her to her fate. In the subsequent Grimm version, the Queen is now the cannibalistic stepmother. In the story, instead of her heart, she requests that the huntsman bring her Snow’s lungs and liver–which she then eats, with a lot of salt. Yum! A cursory glance at the Bible or any number of historical stories give us the motivation for the second wife wanting the child of a first marriage out of the way–still, resorting to cannibalism seems a bit extreme.

At the climax of the Grimm story, the prince, overcome by Snow White’s beautiful corpse, makes his servants drag around the glass coffin so he can have it handy for looking at her. Such a healthy relationship! One of the servants drops it (or hits her–depending on the version) and she revives. It’s like medieval CPR. Still, arguably, a better climax than the corpse kissing. The ending of the Grimm story is also much more gruesome. The Evil Queen is punished for her vanity by being forced into red hot metal shoes that she wears as she dances to death at Snow and the Prince’s wedding. The Grimm brothers were not messing around.

 

So, first the good. This movie was such an amazing feat of animation. There are some lovely, charming moments like when she first sees the dwarves cottage. The movie is a triumph of craftsmanship and groundbreaking, recognized for revolutionizing animation as we know it. It paved the way for all the animated movies–both Disney and not–that came after it–the so-called “All Animation is Disney” TV trope. In recognition, Snow White won a special academy award–one big Oscar and seven little ones and shows up on many best movie of all time list. It’s not because of the plot and characters but because of the technical, life-like animation. Here’s the clip of the Oscar being presented to Walt Disney by Shirley Temple.

 

Here’s a behind the scenes glimpse at the making of Snow White, narrated by Angela Lansbury.

 

 

So, besides the technical achievement, what else does this movie do well? The dwarves are pretty cute. Though they were first named in a play in the early 1900s, Disney changed the names to be more appealing. They also only have 4 fingers–suggesting that they are fey–which is intriguing too. I would like to know more about them and their backstory.

Trivia question: Can you name the seven dwarves? We learned this mnemonic when I worked at Disney: 2S, 2D, and 3 emotions: Sleepy, Sneezy, Doc, Dopey, Happy, Bashful, and Grumpy. It must have worked because, even 30 years later, I can still rattle it off 🙂 Anyway, it’s good that the Dwarves get a title credit because they have A LOT of screentime. Like three songs worth and multiple humorous bits.

I’m currently listening to the amazing There and Back Again story seminar by Alastair Stephens (formerly of StoryWonk, now Point North Media) and couldn’t help but contrast these cuddly, friendly dwarves with Tolkien’s  contemporaneous group of dwarves from The Hobbit (published just three months before the film debut). Can you imagine Doc and Co. meeting up with pompous Thorin Oakshield? (Actually, you don’t have to! There’s fanfic for it). How misogynistic can Grumpy be? Behind the scenes, Walt says that they made him a woman hater to mitigate some of Snow White’s cutesy. Yikes!

But, overall, their songs are memorable. Heigh-ho being one of the more famous numbers. And they’re cute in the way they relate to each other and to Snow.

So, onto the bad. The movie fails because it’s protagonist (Snow White) is a twit and the unnamed prince is a paper cutout. These are not fully developed characters. They are archetypes.

This movie is where all the negative stereotypes of Disney princess culture comes from. Snow White reminds me of what romance readers dub the Too Stupid to Live (TSTL) heroine. Snow White’s big “I Want” song (“I’m Wishing/Someday My Prince Will Come”) says she wants to be rescued. She’s waiting for a prince on a white horse to rescue her. In the meantime, she’ll stay under her stepmother’s thumb and scrub the castle stairs.

This doesn’t play well to modern audiences. We want women who want more than just love or the presence of a hero in their life. It’s fine to want love but she needs to also have personal goals and interests outside the romance. Occasionally, we’ll see a modern heroine specifically setting out to find love or a man, sometimes to become a mother. But usually, these are women that have succeeded in their chosen career first. In most modern romance, love is a nice addition to the heroine’s otherwise full and busy life.

I get that she’s compassionate and kind. To me, she’s also dull, which is far more unforgivable in a character, especially the heroine. And the hero? Prince Charming is little more than a heroic paper screen to project our romantic notions upon. I’ve heard the theory that he’s death coming to take her away which is at least interesting.

The Prince is good because he is the Prince. He is tall, dark, and handsome plus he’s got a white horse.  And he sings well. He doesn’t even get a name. We call him Prince Charming because Snow later says he was very charming. Some additional Disney information that says his name is Frederick or possibly Florian. Does it matter? Nope. He also does not fight or do battle like most of the other Disney princes. In the original storyline, he was supposed to be imprisoned in the EQ/WS’s dungeon, chained to the wall and left to drown. At least that would be interesting.  Sadly, the animators couldn’t draw men well so his part got cut.

So Snow and the Prince can sing together and what else do they have in common? All romance stories face the challenge of showing the connection between the hero and heroine. Most of Act II is devoted to showing what the hero and heroine have in common and why they are a good match. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to develop and demonstrate. Even the latest Beauty and the Beast movie struggles with it. Usually, most stories happen in a compressed time frame which makes growing intimacy (not necessarily sexual intimacy) difficult to establish. But Beauty and the Beast relies on the enemies to lovers trope as it moves them from active dislike through grudging respect to friendship and then, finally, to love. Snow pretty much is like: male? white horse? sings? I’ll take him!

Talk about instalove! The Prince and snow white are on screen together for about three minutes of an 83-minute movie. Seriously, Snow has more dialogue with the murderous huntsman than she does with Prince What’s-His-Face. He shows up at the wishing well and turns her song into a duet. Then, inexplicably, she dashes off because she’s frightened. Then sends a bird to kiss his teeth (IDK if they were trying to draw the bird kissing his mouth but it ends up looking like she’s pecking his teeth like an avian dental assistant). We don’t see him again until seconds before the credits roll when he’s so overcome by the beauty of Snow’s corpse, he kisses her before they depart to his castle on the cloud. This isn’t romance. It’s a bad Tinder date.

Here we have the creepy corpse kisser being saved by love’s FIRST kiss (note the emphasis on chastity here).

I’d like to say this movie was made at a much simpler time, when we didn’t require as much depth from our characters. But this movie came out the same year as Gone with the Wind and three years after It Happened One Night which boosted characters with plenty of depth. So that’s not it. Maybe it just doesn’t translate well to modern times?

By far and away, the strongest character is the Evil Queen/Wicked Stepmother. Did you know she has a name? It’s Grimhilde. She’s basically a mix of Lady MacBeth, the Big Bad Wolf, and Joan Crawford.  Beauty is all in the Queen’s story. Snow White is, we’re told over and over, very beautiful–lips red as the rose (it’s blood in the original), hair dark as ebony, and skin as white as snow. She’s in the full bloom of youth and budding sexuality.

The Queen is vain. She just can’t cope with being outshone by her stepdaughter. Her looks are fading, and thus her status in a society where her looks are all she’s valued for. Soon she’ll be invisible. Her motivations are understandable even today–maybe especially today. The movie tells us it’s fine to be beautiful (on the outside–no one much cares about what’s happening within. In fact, outside beauty equates to character here.) and that’s enough to establish you as desirable–but you better not be vain about it.

Apparently, the Queen also wanted Prince charming’s attention. The press kit called him every woman’s dream man. And, when she’s glowering down at their duet, supposedly EQ/WS got jealous over the male attention that she previously enjoyed being showered on her main staircase washer and that’s what turned her envy to murderous rage. A much better, much stronger motivation than “Well, he’s a pretty good singer!”

In addition to a warning against vanity, the story also presents sharply contrasting views of motherhood. Snow interacts with the dwarves as a loving and kind, if prissy rule following, pain in the ass maternal presence as opposed to her envious, murderous stepmother. I don’t think it’s accidental that the EQ/WS poisons her via food. Contrast that with the nourishing soup that Snow prepares.

Mirrors seem to play a significant part in fairy tales–we see a mirror again in Beauty and the Beast. Snow and Prince Charming see their reflection in the bottom of the well, a wholesome and—don’t hate me—charming image—as opposed to the rotting greens, yellows, and purples (the colors of decay) of the Magic Mirror. An interesting symbol.

The evil queen/wicked stepmother is not defeated by Snow, Prince Charming, or the Dwarves (of course not–they have no agency!). She’s killed by a lightening strike-a literal deus ex machina bolt from the blue. She is the original Disney villain death.

I still have questions at the end too–there are a lot of loose ends in this storyline and unanswered questions

  1. Where’d the magic mirror come from?
  2. What’s the Huntsman’s story? And what happens to him after he frees Snow and his deception with the heart is known?
  3. What’s Prince Charming’s story? He just wanders the woods singing and kissing corpses?
  4. What happened to Snow White and the Evil Queen’s kingdom? After all, the Evil Queen got smashed by a rock and Snow headed off to the cloud castle with what-his-name.

There are, of course, tons of Snow White adaptations too. Most prominently, Snow is a major character in Once Upon A Time (available to stream on Netflix), the mother of the protagonist, Emma Swan. Once Upon a Time is a special case though–they pretty much took the Disney properties and tossed them in a blender. It’s like fanfic on crack. I’m about halfway through the first season and I love it. And that version of Snow White, while still beautiful, sweet, and kind, has a backbone of steel. She’s portrayed as a cross between Robin Hood and a schoolmarm. Plus, she gets to have an extramarital affair with Prince Charming. (So not kidding!)

There are also new in-depth treatments of the Evil Queen/Wicked Stepmother, who is actually a far more interesting and more complex character than Snow White herself. Again, Once Upon a Time offers that along with an actual magic mirror character. There’s also Disney’s own line of books, including Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen. (I’m reading this now and enjoying it!) 

There are a few more well-known adaptations, including Mirror Mirror (campy and crazy!) and Snow White and the Huntsman (which at least has the benefit of Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman). I like the idea of the Huntsman being the love interest of either Snow or the Evil Queen or sometimes both!

There’s a Disney Animated Classics series with the teenaged versions of several fairy tale characters too, along with a film called Descendents, which is very clever too. But overall, I just can’t quite love this movie.

If I choose this fairy tale for my future series, Snow will need a major update. She can still be compassionate and kind but she’s got to be smart too. Throughout the film, Snow White is emphasized as beautiful, which is considered by far the most important thing for a woman within the bounds of this story world. And we can infer that the Evil Queen was also beautiful. Beauty equating to character is not going to work in a modern retelling. But vanity, the urge to hold on to youth and beauty, as well as envy for younger women that have it–well, that’s pretty universal–along with the tension between a stepmother and stepdaughter. I think I might be able to make something of that. I’m still thinking. One challenge in writing an update is not to let the stepmother character overshadow Snow.

I also need a fully developed Prince Charming. But, he’s such a blank slate that’s not difficult. I also think the Huntsman character is far more interesting–he’s in service (however one wants to take that word 🙂 to the Queen and he’s merciful. Much better than Prince What’s HIs Name.

Next up…Pinocchio, or, as I like to call it, the original Caillou. More next week, Disney Friends!

Disney Challenge

Disney Challenge: Beauty and the Beast (4/4)

So, let’s talk about the new film, shall we? You might have heard of it? Bit of a box office smash? The new Beauty and the Beast live-action remake. Fair warning–I loved it so much that I’m going to see it again on Friday with my BFF. And I might see it again in IMAX too. And possibly once more in 3D. I shall attempt to keep the fangirl squee-ing to a minimum here, and I might update this after I see it again (or more).

Disney’s done a fair few remakes over the past few years with varying degrees of success. Before this, Cinderella was a pretty big hit (We’ll talk about that in a few weeks when we get to the animated version). I’m going to guess that–as a generalization, the anthropomorphic ones are going to be less successful to translate from animation to film. But that’s just a guess.

But Beauty and the Beast is so beloved–an instant classic. It’s iconic–the rose, the Beast, the castle, the songs, the yellow dress. Honestly, going in, I was a bit stressed they’d mess it up. But, overall, I think they did a fantastic job.

First of all, it’s a very close remake. It’s got a longer running time, so there are a few things added (as well as a few glaring omissions) that I’ll try to discuss. Overall, I’d give it an A. I don’t know that it gets an A+ for a few reasons that I’ll discuss below.

Cinematically, it’s stunningly gorgeous. The sets, the costumes, all of it is perfection. I have heard people joke about the Beast looking like a water buffalo. While they’re not wrong, he does look like the cartoon version come to life, so I didn’t have a particular problem with it. I also heard people fuss about the yellow dress. It doesn’t look as good in the stills as it does in the movie. In the movie, it’s very flowy and floaty in that amazing ballroom scene. Yes, “Be Our Guest” is better in 3D and IMAX but still not as good as the animation.

The story: The changes here are subtle–there are no major changes to the storyline itself. But, they deepened the backstories of the main characters–specifically Belle, Beast, Gaston, and LeFou. Maurice is not the goofy dad he was in the cartoon but more of the benevolent, absent-minded professor. Kevin Kline is great in this–I hope he gets a supporting actor nod.

There is one specific scene where we get Belle’s backstory as a child in Paris that is exceptionally touching. They go to Paris–the Beast is so heartwarmingly excited to share it with her–to discover that her mother died of the plague. Beautifully done. Gorgeous.

 

Mrs. Potts also makes the observation that Beast’s father abused him, causing him to be the spoiled, petty prince we meet at first. Gaston is a war hero, probably suffering from PTSD. And LeFou is suffering from unrequited love. All strong motivations, accomplished by tweaking the dialogue a bit. Well done.

One tweak to the dialogue that I actually really liked was at the very end. In the cartoon, post-transformation Prince Adam (Beast) says, “Belle, it’s me” before she recognizes him. In the live-action version, she recognizes him solely by looking into his eyes, in a call back to the dancing scene. Perfect. Sometimes less is more 🙂

The music: They way overachieved here. I especially adore the song “Evermore” (I’ve played it an embarrassing number of times according to iTunes). The soundtrack is beyond awesome. I also like the other two new songs, “Days in the Sun” and “How Does a Moment Last Forever?” Overall, just download the soundtrack. It’s fabulous. I will definitely be using it for writing background noise.

The acting: Overall, really strong. I have to admit that while Emma Watson looks like Belle and her acting’s come a long way from her earliest Harry Potter days, she’s the weakest of the cast, especially in voice. Paige O’Hara (the cartoon Belle) had serious pipes. Watson simply doesn’t. Her voice is okay but never strong. She’s basically the Russell Crowe of this movie (Shout out to my Les Miz fans!) To be clear, I think her acting is quite good here. Her voice is just weak, especially in the first few numbers.

I loved Dan Stevens on Downton Abbey (he played the doomed Matthew) and loved him as the Beast. That sexy growl at the end–swoon city! As well as his performance of “Evermore”–Josh Groban’s is insipid by comparison. I hope Stevens gets the attention he deserves after this. He is perfection as the Beast.  Seriously, “Evermore” made me cry–all three times in the theatre! I love that song and I love Dan singing it. Also, the growl at the end has made me want to write fanfic for days. Since I’ll miss all my deadlines on my original stuff, I won’t. But every woman I know who saw this movie talks about the growl.

I also really enjoyed the opening sequence more than in the animated version. Beast is very Valmont crossed with Draco Malfoy in that sequence. I also read a headcanon that said the white wolves surrounding the castle are the cursed dancers from that scene which I loved.

Could Luke Evans be a more perfect Gaston? And some serious pipes there too. (For those who spent half the movie trying to figure out where you’ve seen him before–he was Bard the Bowman in the Hobbit. The one who shoots Smaug).

I did not love Josh Gad’s performance–NOT because of the gay thing, which I’ll address below–but because he vividly reminds me of someone I once knew. Also, all I can hear is Olaf. But, that may just be my personal taste as others don’t have that issue. I will say I liked the character changes to LeFou. He’s a much stronger character now.

I liked Gandalf as Cogsworth (now we know what he was up to when he wandered off in the Hobbit 🙂 and Qui-Gon did well as Lumiere (when fandoms collide). Just kidding. I do think it’s genius of Disney to cast such luminaries as McKellen, McGregor, and Thompson in key roles (not to mention Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci). The animated characters are cuter, especially Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts. Except the graceful and gorgeous Plumette, I prefer the animated ones. Still, at the end, when they turn into objects, I cried buckets. How can a teapot closing her eyes–after being so frantic to find her son–make me sob? I pretty much started crying at “Evermore” and didn’t stop.

The mantel clock Cogsworth, the teapot Mrs. Potts, Lumiere the candelabra and the feather duster Plumette live in an enchanted castle in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST the live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

 

The (not so) big gay controversy: Let me state, in case any of you didn’t know this, that I am a staunch supporter of LBGTQ rights and representation. I wrote a slash ship (McKirk of Star Trek AOS fame)  for several years. I had and have zero problem with Disney including LBGTQ characters in a non-subtextual manner (they’ve arguably been including them in subtext ever since the Evil Queen in Snow White). For that matter, I thought the cast, in general, was more racially diverse too (yet another welcome change!) but that didn’t make headlines, so no one’s talking about it.

Having said that, I liked the development of the LeFou character. It is a step–but only a step–in the right direction. There was still significant subtext to indicate that Gaston and LeFou had more than a flirtation–the bite mark on LeFou’s belly, the “shoots from behind” line added to Gaston, etc. And LeFou in the film (as opposed to LeFou in the cartoon) is significantly less buffoonish. He’s clearly hung up on Gaston (whether you read them as in a relationship or not) and suffers for it. But he’s also just as clearly gay through the movie, and that’s not only accepted in the world but acknowledged with his own implied happy ending, which is lovely.

However, the whole thing was blink and you miss it. If Crofton hadn’t mentioned LeFou’s homosexuality to the media, we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion at all. And that’s what needs to change. This movie takes a step, and an important step, in the right direction. But it’s not enough. Where are the LBGTQ prince and princesses? Why are there no main characters? That’s what we need. Hopefully, Disney movies–and other studios– of the future will give that to us. **Steps off soapbox**

 

So, what didn’t I like?

  1. WHY did they not add in the Prince’s name? It’s Adam, in case you were wondering. Easily fixed, with one line of dialogue. They could have even done it in the opening scene. Not hard. AARGH! What is with Disney and not naming the princes? We have Charming I and Charming II–they’re never named in their films (Cinderella and Snow White) either. Drives me batshit.

This is actually my chief complaint, but it’s a big one! Names are powerful, especially in fairytales. I think it would have been especially powerful for Belle to be talking to him as Beast and go to call him by name, only to stop and say, “I don’t know your name.” And for Beast to say, “It’s Adam.” It would have highlighted that she sees the man behind the beast. Instead, she never once calls him by name, even at the end.

I’ve ranted about this to all my friends who’ve seen the movie (aren’t they lucky?) There is a segment at the end where, in response to Gaston, the Beast says: “I am not a beast.” Still, this is what I would have done (and God help me, I’m probably going to end up writing it because this seriously makes me crazy). I’d have added it to the scene where he gives her the mirror. She thanks him already. She could have said, “I don’t know your name.” And he could have said, it’s Adam. I also would have had her scream it in the tower sequence–it’s much more powerful if she calls him by name.

  1. Emma Watson’s singing, especially in the opening numbers.
  2. I did not love Ms. Potts physical appearance. I get that they had to move her face to the side (as the spout nose looked bad in 3-D) but, after that stunning ballroom floor, they had to make the ugliest teapot in existence?
  3. It’s a minor change (they are all minor) but, in the cartoon, Beast escorts Belle to her room. He doesn’t make her stay in the dungeon. In the film, Lumiere and Cogsworth escort her to the room. I think it makes Beast kinder to escort her.
  4. There are two small dialogue omissions. I was waiting for both these exchanges and was disappointed not to get them!

 

Beast: I want to do something for her. But what?

Cogsworth: Well, there’s the usual things. Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep

Following that exchange in the original film, Beast presents her with the library

***AND***

Gaston: Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking.

Lefou: A dangerous pastime.

Gaston: I know

So, overall, that’s my thoughts on the live action remake. The story is timeless, quite literally the tale as old as time. I adored it. I can’t wait to see it again and again. And eventually, write my own modern take on it. As soon as my schedule clears in 2021 or so. Until then, I’ll have “Evermore” on replay and have already pre-ordered the HD version as soon as it’s released.

 

 

 

Disney Challenge

Disney’s Bucket Challenge: Beauty and the Beast (3/4): Is It Emotional Abuse?

The second protest against Beauty and the Beast is that it shows an abusive relationship. He never physically injures her (though I’ve seen the argument that he could as part of the “evidence” for the abusive relationship, but that’s just patently ridiculous–he could do any number of things so let’s just focus on what he actually does instead!) so the argument is that he’s emotionally abusive to her. Um…when does that happen?

Do they argue? Yes, they sure do—over dinner, over literature, etc. Does the Beast have a temper? Yes, and so does Belle. She is in no way a shrinking violet. She isn’t fainting in the woods like that twit with the apple. She’s what we’d call in the south a steel magnolia with a backbone and strong will.

As far as I remember, they have a fiery argument when he attempts to order her to come to dinner (not a wise decision—the Beast has much to learn!). He says “She can starve for all I care” sounding rather more like an exasperated, frustrated parent than anything else. He ends up storming off in a huff because she won’t bend to his will. Of course, she doesn’t starve at all because we get the fantastic “Be Our Guest sequence” but, even had the servants not cared for her, I think Beast would have, once he calmed down.

He also yells at her to get out when he thinks that she’s damaged the enchanted rose. The cartoon makes this clearer than the live-action does. In the cartoon, Belle actually lifts the bell jar and is reaching for the rose. In the live-action, she just touches the glass. Still, given the importance of the rose and the danger implied by each petal falling (when the rose is out of petals, the curse will be forever), I don’t think his reaction is all that unreasonable. Not kind, certainly, but not abusive. He doesn’t rain insults down on her or anything like that. The line is something like “You could have damned us all. Get out.”

Both of those roaring arguments happen early in the film, at the beginning of the second act. They don’t know each other here—and they don’t like each other much. They start at dislike before moving through to friendship and, eventually love.

Later in the film, he scoffs at her claim that Romeo and Juliet is her favorite book, but that’s an intellectual difference. He doesn’t call her names or act in any way abusive. He just disagrees—and gives her an entire library to prove his point.

And…how else is he abusive? **crickets** Oh, there aren’t any other examples? Why? Because he’s not. Okay then.

Disney Challenge

Disney Challenge: Beauty and the Beast (2/4): Is It Stockholm Syndrome?

Let’s talk about the contention that Belle has Stockholm Syndrome. Every time I hear this, I want to ask the person if they’ve seen more than the trailer. There are excellent discussions that break down exactly why that’s not the case that I’m not going to restate here. You can read the best one here. Basically, for it to be Stockholm Syndrome, the person must be held hostage against their will, brutally abused, and made helpless. Eventually, the imprisoned person imprints upon their captor, with feelings akin to infants imprinting on their parents. Stockholm Syndrome, by definition, doesn’t result in romantic love. 
In the set up for the story of Beauty and the Beast, Belle requests a rose from her father while he’s off on his business trip. He steals a rose from the Beast’s garden for her and the Beast, acting in his capacity as Prince and therefore the law of the land, imprisons Maurice for his crime. (I mean—it’s a bit Draconian for us in modern times but not out of the realm of reasonable in the story world).
Belle comes to rescue her father and trades her freedom for his. In the cartoon, she bargains with the Beast and gives her word she won’t try to escape. In the movie, she tricks both her dad and the Beast (part of the reason he’s so furious with her in that scene). Out of her deep love for her father, Belle makes a choice to be imprisoned in her father’s place. We have no indication in either movie that the Beast would have imprisoned her before her bargain–in fact, he planned to allow her to leave the castle.
About eight hours later in story time, after the “Be Our Guest” scene and her going to the west wing (her one condition which she ignores–another key difference from Stockholm Syndrome victims, who are NOT allowed free roam of their confinement), the Beast tells her to get out. She goes tearing off and the wolves set upon her. The Beast rescues her (he chooses to do this—another indication of his heroism. There’s nothing in the story world compelling him to do this—other than he may recognize that she’s his only chance to break the spell) and is injured.
Now, in both versions, Belle could have hopped on Philipe (the horse) and headed home to the village and leave the beast bleeding away on the forest floor. She doesn’t (in stark contrast with Gaston abandoning an injured LeFou in the ending sequence in the live action). She’s heroic instead and chooses (there’s that word again!) to stay at the castle and nurse the Beast back to health after he’s injured rescuing her. Why? Because she’s compassionate and kind (she is the heroine after all). Also, just from a story perspective, she needs to stay at the castle, or we don’t have a story.
Also, during her imprisonment, she’s never mistreated (another unmet requirement for Stockholm Syndrome!). In the cartoon, Beast escorts her from the dungeons to her room, welcoming her and making her comfortable. In the live-action, this is done by Lumiere and Cogsworth after the Beast storms off. (which I think was one of the few missteps that they made in the live-action—it’s more softening if it’s done by the Beast)
During the time she’s in the castle, she maintains her free will and independent mind throughout. She has free roam of the castle. Beast gives her a library–a priceless and perfect gift. They eat meals together, they read in companionable silence together, they walk, play in the snow, visit Paris (in the live-action). NONE of the brutal conditions for Stockholm Syndrome are met.
At the turning point into the 3rd act, Beast, understanding that Belle misses her dad, offers her the magic mirror to see him. I’ve seen criticism here that Beast should have just taken her into town. What, exactly, do you think would have happened if he’d done that? Did you see the mob that showed up when they just saw him in a mirror? Anyway, Belle sees her father suffering in the mirror and, here’s the key moment, the Beast makes the sacrifice to let her go.
Let’s be clear what this means. We have this cursed prince, who, in order to break the curse and not be a beast any longer—a condition he hates—has not only to love someone (which the audience can clearly see he does love Belle at this point—it’s debatable whether she knows or not) but be loved in return. Belle is his only chance at freedom. He gives her freedom by trading his own (the same loving sacrifice she makes for her dad!) He’s learned to love and fulfilled one condition of the curse.
And the clock is ticking (he only has four more petals on the enchanted rose). If the last petal falls, he—and everyone in the castle—will remain cursed forever—and Beast will have to live without the love of his life. He chooses to prioritize her happiness over his and lets her go to her father. Evermore, the new song in the live-action, displays the agony of this choice explicitly.
Then, Belle chooses to go back to the Beast. Now, she has some responsibility to return as she’s accidentally set the mob on the castle but still, she could have let them storm the castle. She isn’t compelled to return to the castle because of the story world but by her innate goodness and kindness (similar to how the Beast rescues her from the wolves). One of the toughest emotional blows in the live-action is when Gaston lies to the Beast by claiming Belle sent him and the crushed look on Beast’s face is truly heartbreaking.
And then, of course, we have her confession of love, spell broken, happily ever after. That’s a wrap.
What it’s NOT is Stockholm Syndrome.

Disney Challenge

Disney Challenge: Beauty and the Beast (1/4)

So, I know I said that Snow White would be our first discussion on the Disney Movie Bucket List challenge. But, with the advent of the box office smash live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, I’m going to skip ahead and then we’ll talk about Snow White next week.


Like many others, Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favorite of all Disney movies. I saw the live-action movie on Saturday and re-watched the cartoon on Sunday. I’ve also had the soundtrack on repeat ever since. So, fair warning here, I have A LOT to say about this one. Instead of one super long post, I’m going to split it up.

Beauty and the Beast is based on a revision to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 novel by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Both were heavily influenced by Cinderella’s writer, Charles Perrault, though the story was originally based on a common French fairy tale which was itself an adaptation of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche.  Disney named Belle’s village Villeneuve after the original author, though their story is much closer to deBeaumont’s revision. As just one example, the Beast in Villeneuve’s version is quite unintelligent–more animal than man. In Disney’s version, the Beast retains his human intelligence and mind but is physically transformed into the Beast.
 
The original Beauty and the Beast (cartoon) came out in 1991. It’s considered the apex of the so-called Disney Renaissance of the late 80s and 90s and possibly the greatest of all the animated films. Certainly, Belle is one of the most popular princesses, if not the most popular (Only maybe Elsa from Frozen could equal Belle). It is my personal favorite too, and I’m not alone in that. What makes this story so (nearly) universally adored?
Belle is a misfit. We’re told, explicitly in her introduction, that she’s odd, strange, different. She’s the bookworm princess. And immediately became the avatar for all the girl bookworms out there. She’s also brunette and common-born–a striking change from all the princesses before her (Snow White, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, and Ariel from the Little Mermaid are born princesses. Cinderella is born of the gentry but made to act as a servant, like Snow White.) Unlike Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora, Belle is not waiting around to be rescued by the prince someday. Belle’s big “I Want” song says she wants adventure in the great wide somewhere. And, of course, in the manner of all fairy tales, she gets what she wishes for, in spades.
In addition to being a fairy tale, this is, by far, the strongest romance Disney gives us. So, for me as a romance writer, why does this particular romance work so well? Here’s what I think.
In the way of many, many romances, both Belle AND the Beast arc (change) from active dislike to respect to friendship and finally, in the end, to love. She actually says this in the lyrics of Something There: “He was mean, coarse, unrefined but now he’s dear and so unsure.” It’s the classic case of false impressions. At first, he was nasty and mean but now, because she’s getting to know him, she sees him differently. As they’ve become friends, she’s gotten to know him—she sees the real man behind the mask of the beast. Significantly, he ALSO knows her—her favorite book, her childhood (in a gorgeous, touching scene in the live-action), giving her the library.
This is a key factor in romance. The lovers see the real person behind the social mask—or, as the tagline says it, “Beauty lies within.” In the end, after Beast transforms into the prince, Belle knows him by his eyes—the window to the soul. She sees the person within and recognizes him. This is also why, in the famous dance sequence, they have such strong eye-contact (it’s the copulatory gaze in action). They SEE each other, past their outward appearances to the person within. Powerful stuff.
In contrast, we have Gaston who mocks Belle’s reading in their first meeting. He prepares their wedding as a fait accompli and proposes by presenting his vision of her as broodmare and housemate–fates that Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora actively wanted. Gaston also doesn’t appear to know Belle’s backstory at all. What Gaston knows is that Belle is beautiful. She’s ornamental to him. He sees her lovely exterior but is clueless about the person within. She’s one more trophy for him to hang on the wall. Can you imagine any scenario where Gaston would have given Belle even one book, not to mention an entire library?
Gaston is the actual ideal male, in this society at least. His song tells us so—he’s perfect, a pure paragon. The Bimbettes in town squee over him. He’s a war hero, in the live action, a great hunter, tall, dark, handsome. And just the slightest bit mirror obsessed. He’s also vain (a huge no-no, as we know from Snow White) and sees Belle as a way to augment that vanity. He says in the song Belle, she’s the most beautiful girl in the village so therefore she’s the best, and so I’m going to marry her because don’t I deserve the best?
There’s also an argument to be made that, before the curse, Prince Adam (yes, that’s the Beast’s real name) was also an example of the ideal male in this society. He’s princely, rich, handsome, well-educated, as well as spoiled, careless, selfish, and cold. It’s not hard to imagine that pre-curse Prince Adam making a similar argument about Belle that Gaston does in the beginning—she’s beautiful (on the outside) and therefore mine. No need to look any further.
He wouldn’t say it by the end though, and that’s how you know he’s changed. But, by enduring the curse and falling in love with Belle, the Beast transforms. He learns to love and be loved in return (the actual curse). He changes. Gaston doesn’t. That’s why the Beast gets to be the hero!
How about the two greatest objections to the story–Stockholm Syndrome and Abusive Relationships? More on that coming up as well as my full review of the movie.

Disney Challenge

Disney Challenge: Introduction

 

Like everyone else on the planet, I saw the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake this weekend. I happened to work for Disney when the first one came out and it’s still my favorite movie of all time. I love all things Disney but Beauty and the Beast (1991) holds a special place in my heart. I’m pleased to say they did a fantastic job on this live-action movie. I loved it so much I’m going to see it again this coming weekend with my BFF. I also have the soundtrack on repeat constantly (I especially adore the new song for the Beast, “Evermore”). LOVED IT. If you haven’t seen the remake yet, go see it right away.

In the meantime, you can watch this hilarious crosswalk version of it with James Cordon. LOL.

When I was talking about the movie this weekend, my son mentioned that he’d never seen the original cartoon version. I immediately rectified this oversight (spoiler: he didn’t love it 🙁 and then, we got to chatting about how many Disney movies there are. Depending on how you count, there’s 54 (the original Disney Studios films) plus 17 Pixar films. And then a whole slew of sequels and “direct to video” films that brings the total to somewhere about 100. No matter how you count, it’s a lot.

And I’ve seen a fair few–probably about 70%–as my Disney training included seeing quite a bit, as well as learning trivia to chat with guests. If I haven’t seen the full movie, I’ve usually seen clips or the musical numbers since they played them on a loop on a big screen in the store (very cutting edge at the time!) But my son and my husband haven’t seen most of them. So, we started talking about a family project to watch them together in order of release.

And I thought it’d be fun to document our project here on the blog as well as what I’m learning as a writer and storyteller from this project. Plus, some of them will be good research for my future fairy tale series.

I’d like to invite you to take the challenge too. Watch along with us!

So, first up, we have Snow White…coming soon!

Disney, Writing

What Building Legos Taught Me About Writing

So, we recently enjoyed Fox’s two week holiday break from school (also known as “No, you will not write so much as a sentence, Mommy! No productivity for you!”). Santa as well as wonderful family members and friends brought Fox lots of Legos for Christmas. His gift to me was the Cinderella’s Lego carriage.

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Suffice it to say that Fox and I spent a lot of time on Christmas break building with the tiny little bricks (aka manicure ruiners and impromptu burglar device—you ever stepped on one? Yeouch!)

Anyway, while building my 87 step tow truck, I reflected on what building Legos can teach you about writing.

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1) The picture on the front of the box looks great. Just like the mental picture of your perfect, beautiful story with the clever dialogue and gorgeous metaphors. And then, in reality, you put the sticker on crooked (or backwards) and it never comes out just like the photo on the box. That’s okay. It’s still a beautiful Lego tow truck or a novel. Whichever.

2) Takes longer than you expect. I hoped that I could finish our car carrier in something less than a lunar month. Maybe not. Just like a novel, it takes way longer than you thought it would to put together 300 Lego pieces into something resembling the intended creation. That’s ok. Take however much time you need.

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3) You’ll always have extra pieces. I think Lego puts extras in there just so you’re never entirely sure that you followed the directions properly. No matter what happens, there are going to be pieces of the story—scenes, dialogue, description, the entire third act—that you don’t need for the final version. Keep them in a handy-dandy ziploc. You might need them for that next project—Lego or otherwise.

4) There’s a point in every project where you’d like to toss it across the room. For Lego, this usually happened around step twenty. For writing, it’s usually just past the mid-point where I decide hate the story, every character in it is too stupid to live, I must have been drunk when I came up with the idea and I should never again scribble notes in the middle of the night… At that moment, maybe take a short break, grab a juice box, and just breathe for a bit. Then, keep going. You’ll never build that 700+ piece castle if you quit. Same for your novel.

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Now, time to get back to mine…

Disney, Photography

Cruising on the Disney Dream

So, since I got hit with the plague in December, I forgot to tell you guys about my Disney cruise over Thanksgiving. Fox, the Pilot, and I sailed on the Disney Dream out of Port Canaveral for a four night cruise of the Bahamas.

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We stayed on deck five in a deluxe stateroom. I chose deck five because of the extra large veranda which we loved having but it also turned out to be on the same deck as the kids areas and close to the restaurants. I highly recommend this choice. The staterooms are very narrow and I hated that we had to walk past the bed to get to the living room. I seemed to constantly be tripping over the bed. The bathrooms are split, with sinks in each which really helped get ready to go in the morning.

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Our first port was Nassau but, on the wise advice of our travel agent, we decided not to go ashore and enjoy our day on the ship. Fox loved the Aquaduct, a clear waterside that goes around the ship. I rode it once but found it challenging to ride with contacts in and am still mourning the loss of my favorite hair clip. They spray water in your face at different points. Fox did not view this as the challenge that I did and adored riding the Aquaduct at every opportunity. He also loved playing in Nemo’s Reef (an adorably themed water playground) and the two pools.

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The second port was Disney’s private island at Castaway Cay. We loved spending the day on our own private beach. I highly recommend renting the inner tubes in advance, though we were able to do so on the island. We enjoyed a restful day at the beach before heading back to our giant floating hotel.

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Our third day, Thanksgiving, was at sea. As our travel agent correctly predicted, the pools and amenities were far more crowded that day. It was also windy and cold on the deck as we sailed up the Atlantic. That night, though at sea, we could see stars for miles. Even though it was cold and breezy, we loved identifying constellations from our balcony

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Fox really loved the Oceanears club. He still talks about the different activities, especially the dance parties, they had there. Because we sailed on a Very Merrytime Cruise, the ships were already decorated for Christmas. They did an amazing job with a life sized gingerbread house and gorgeous garland and trees everywhere.

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So, how was Thanksgiving dinner? It was the best one ever. They served perfectly moist turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and roasted veggies. I loved the roasted parsnips as an addition to the meal and think it will be making an appearance on our Thanksgiving table next year. There are three dining rooms on the ship and your assigned servers rotate with you every night.

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Animator’s Palate is a fun theme that uses the latest technology to give the kids an interactive experience with Crush, the turtle from Nemo. He chatted with Fox and it’s still the highlight of his cruise experience. He’ll tell anyone that will listen that he talked to Crush. Our second night was our least favorite restaurant. It’s the Enchanted Garden. The restaurant itself is pretty but the food is reminiscent of the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. Just okay, not great. The Pilot and I loved the Royal Court restaurant, decorated with a Cinderella theme and with the best food of all.

For me, one thing that I struggled with was not being able to be connected much while at sea. When I worked in an office, I would have welcomed the chance to be incommunicado. Now, as a full-time writer, I did not like feeling out of touch. The Pilot and I cruised for our honeymoon and I never worried about safety but I have to admit to a touch of vulnerability and anxiety about something going wrong while we were sailing with Fox.

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If you ever have the opportunity to take a Disney Cruise, do it. It’s well worth the fun and the memories. Fox wants to go on the other three ships (Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder) and even informed his grandparents over the holidays that he’s spending his birthday in Alaska (probably not this upcoming one though 🙂