I went to watch “Beauty And The Beast”. First day, first show. There’s a nostalgic value to the movie. It’s a throwback to all our childhoods, a throwback to the time we didn’t know unhappiness. A time when fairytales made sense. I went to watch the movie with all the excitement of the little girl who loved the animated Disney movie. What I found, left me mildly disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie is as close to the animated version as possible. Emma Watson’s Belle is about as close to a medieval French Hermione as Potterheads would want it to be. There’s magic, there’s love. There’s a happy ending. And because it’s, “a tale as old as time”, you don’t even have to stay on tenterhooks to know whether the Beast wins the fair maiden or if she ultimately chooses to go with Monsieur Gaston. And the supporting characters are marvellous. The graphics are excellent, especially, if, like me, you went to see the 3-D version. There’s only one small problem. The children who’d gone to see the movie had grown too old for it. Too jaded, too logical.
We are in our mid-twenties, my friend and I. Our memories were of the old animated version. Perhaps, our memories were coloured by nostalgia. Which girl, growing up, doesn’t like a tale of eternal love? Of love overcoming all odds?
This time, our primary questions started at the beginning. We wondered why a middle-class provincial French girl as well read as Belle, had not been burnt at the stake for being too interested in books. Remember, in medieval Europe, a girl too well read, too aware of her world, too full of ambition, could be tried for witchcraft and burnt at the stake. And really, if they were as well read as they were depicted to be, why were Maurice and Belle living in that oppressively small town? And really, wasn’t Maurice placing too much on his daughter’s shoulders, by saying that her mother had been extraordinary and so must she be too? Hadn’t Belle been raised with delusions of grandeur that far outstripped her station in life? Please note, the story is set in medieval France, a deeply stratified society, with very little mobility possible.
The next major flaw we noticed was when Maurice stumbles upon the castle, having lost his way in the woods. Really? You find a crumbling, old castle and your first instinct is to enter it? And even upon entering it, how long does it take you to realise that the castle is “alive”, so to speak? And, furthermore, when you do discover it to be, “alive”, and you manage to run away from it, must you honestly turn back to the gardens, because you promised your daughter a rose? How far fetched is it?
And really, Belle, your father’s horse comes back, riderless, and you ride away in search of him? Honestly? Didn’t middle-class girls in medieval France inhabit a precarious social position? Yes, you were unconventionally brought up, but wouldn’t you at least inform someone? And quite honestly, your horse leads you to a seemingly abandoned castle, caked with snow in June, in France, mind you, not the Southern hemisphere, as the movie explicitly mentions, and you brazenly enter it? Faced with an array of speaking objects, you don’t run away as fast as your feet can carry you? Courageous of you, yes. But also, incredibly stupid. And then, of course, you take your father’s place in the prison. Courageous again, but, did you not realise that when he went back to the village, he’d try to rescue you? Did you not realise that his description would be taken for the ravings of a mad man?
From there, the story just became more and more problematic. Why would you waltz around a seemingly haunted castle, despite your host’s advice not to? Why, on the verge of escaping, do you stay back to dine at his table? And then, when you do manage to escape, why come back? Out of some misplaced sense of gratitude for a captor who saves your life? As a child, we’d thought it absolutely wonderful of you. The adult us wondered how deep your Stockholm Syndrome already ran. The rest of the story is a tale well known. I suspect I can stop analysing it scene wise.
The fact is, fairytales exist in a suspension of belief. The tale of true love conquering all, overpowering every magic, it exists because we all require a little faith in the power of love. Real life, however, isn’t a fairytale. True love doesn’t conquer all. Magic only exists in our souls, not outside of it. Maybe, what we all need in life is a little more disbelief, a suspension of reality. What we need, is that childlike innocence we once possessed.
Yes, by the end, we were rooting for the “Beauty And The Beast”, as the baby us had, once. Perhaps, we needed to take a little time out from our daily schedules to find ourselves again. Innocence lost is a great deal lost, as watching the film taught us. Hopefully, even if we never regain that wide-eyed innocence we had once possessed, we’ll take to believing in our own brand of magic again. It what we need in these troubled times.
As for you, dear reader, hopefully, you’ll find you’re not as jaded as us. I hope you enjoy revisiting your childhood.