Beauty and the Beast feminism

15 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast”

Beauty-and-the-BeastBeauty and the Beast is the ultimate “not like other girls” Disney movie.

Make no mistake, the animation and the music are gorgeous, Belle is a great character, and the dynamic between Belle and Gaston gives us some interesting scenes. But although Belle is intelligent and ambitious and wanting adventure, she’s explicitly set up as being different because of it. She doesn’t fit in, because nobody else she knows could possibly also like reading, or dreaming, or want their life to come to something.

Unless I missed something, Beauty and the Beast only features two named female characters: Belle and Mrs Potts. The only other female characters, apart from background faces in the town, are the triplets who swoon over Gaston, the wardrobe, and the feather duster who flirts with Lumiere.

So let’s look at the triplets. They are drawn entirely identical, except for the colors of their dresses. Their whole role in the movie is to swoon over Gaston, declaring Belle crazy for rejecting him. They represent the “provincial village girls” that Belle doesn’t fit in with, and they’re completely idiotic. They’re nameless, personality-less figures meant to show us that the normal girls swoon over Gaston, while Belle, our intelligent heroine, sees him as the jerk that he is.

Without this element, Gaston is a fantastic villain character, precisely because he’s so normal. Although his behavior escalates to kidnapping and murder, and his arrogance is played for laughs, he is initially presented as very realistic and believable predator — one who doesn’t even think that he’s doing anything wrong. He refuses to take Belle’s “no” as an answer, in fact doesn’t even think to ask her for her opinion before organizing a wedding. And when he talks to her, he crowds her, leaning over her, invading her space, interrupting her when she tries to speak, and not actually listening to a word she says. It’s such painfully common behavior, and I think it’s admirable that the movie insists that Belle is smart, that her opinions do matter, and that Gaston is villainous.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Belle and her father are the only people in the village to see the problems with his behavior. All the other young women are represented by the triplets, characters who, like Gaston, only judge based on beauty, while the beautiful Belle is able to care about deeper and more important things. As we’re told in the first song, Belle is “strange but special” — she doesn’t fit in, but because she’s smarter and more sensitive than everyone else.

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