Monday, February 27, 2017

Defending Disney: Beauty and the Beast

Hello, all!

It's currently snowing outside. That's the bad news. The good news is that this morning I beat the snow on my run and even had a 7:07 mile!

(It was my one and only downhill mile and I had to stop a few times, and I paused my timer when I did. But still. I'll take my half-wins where I can get them.)

Even better news: I got my ticket to the live action Beauty and the Beast film this March!

On that note, I feel like it's time to do a "Defending Disney" post that I've been planning for a long time.

Beauty and the Beast.

I love this movie. In fact, it's my favorite Disney film. So, when I found out that Disney was giving us a live-action reboot, I skipped around the house, I was so happy.

However, I feel like I'm always defending this movie against the argument that the whole thing is "Stockholm Syndrome." I don't like this statement because not only is it false (Stockholm syndrome is a lot more negative and complicated), but I feel like it ignores all the reasons why this movie is so powerful.

This is going to be a long post, but I have a lot of pictures to keep it colorful. Let's begin:

Let's start by looking at the character of Belle. She is intelligent, brave, and kind...and a bit of an oddball in her town. I'd like to point out here that Belle doesn't try to fit in; she accepts that she's different and likes herself. The only reason we see for her feeling down with how the village ostracizes her is this:

Belle is strong and confident in herself. She doesn't stop reading and loving books because the others in the village treat her poorly as a result. What she wants is someone she can "really talk to." Someone who understands her, doesn't think she's odd. And I'll take it one step further.

Every Disney protagonist has an "I Want" song, in which they state exactly what they want. They all end up getting this thing. Ariel wants to be "part of that world." Rapunzel wants her life to begin. Hercules wants to be where he belongs.

Belle is no exception. I think we all agree that Belle wants "adventure in the great wide somewhere." And she gets it, for sure. But there's more.

Belle states right here, in her "I Want" song, that she wants someone who understands her and, even, puts her plans above their own.

Which brings us to Gaston.

Gaston wants Belle. Not loves, wants. He sees her as another trophy, a prize that he deserves because he's the best-looking man in town. He has no consideration for the things she likes, what she cares about, or her plans.

This shot comes right before Gaston literally throws Belle's favorite book in the mud. So much for understanding. If it were up to Gaston, Belle would give up the things that make her "odd" and give him what he wants.

Belle is never going to have any kind of meaningful relationship with someone like Gaston. If he were the one in the castle, the story would have a different ending.

But in the castle, we have the Beast.

The Beast, on the surface, seems a lot like Gaston. He's selfish, brutish, and violent. However, the Beast differs in the respect that he has been humbled. Severely.

Gaston is the king of the town. The Beast, however, is isolated and alienated by the curse. He is an oddball, even more so than Belle is in her town. This is why a relationship that could never happen between Gaston and Belle can happen here. It's not Stockholm syndrome. It's understanding.

Granted, the circumstances in which Belle comes to live in the castle are negative. It seems like kidnapping, but remember: Belle is no damsel in distress. She chose to stay.

In fact, she chose it twice:

In this scene, Belle has been at the castle for no longer than a day, probably less than that. She has eaten one meal and we have proof that she's even slept. Her interactions with the Beast are limited. She has just run away, scared for her life, when the Beast comes to save her from the wolves. Which brings us to this moment.

Belle could have left. No one would have stopped her; the wolves were gone. She was already running away. The Beast had just saved her life, but he was responsible for holding her prisoner in the first place. But she didn't leave. In this moment, I think she sees the Beast as someone, not something. He came and rescued her, fighting the wolves instead of just grabbing her and hauling her back. He wasn't a monster threatening her. He was someone capable of kindness who needed her help.

So she goes back, and she stays. She chooses to do this; attributing this to Stockholm syndrome diminishes Belle's compassion and courage.

Another reason this is more than Stockholm syndrome is because the human-to-human connection continues and Belle finds in the Beast what she never found in the village: someone to talk to. While Gaston throws her book in the mud, the Beast encourages Belle's love of reading.

He gives her a library. They also read together.

The Beast respects and encourages what makes Belle unique. Belle in return doesn't "shudder at his paw," and makes her own allowances for what makes the Beast unique. These two "oddballs" grow closer as they understand each other and consider each others' needs. I'd also like to point out that as the movie progresses, Belle brings out the Beast's human side, as proven by the clothing he wears.

First shot: minimal, torn clothing, animalistic behavior.

Later, with Belle: full dress, more human behavior.

She brings out the best in him, and he celebrates the best in her. Which is why it's so powerful when the Beast lets Belle go.

I love this moment. The Beast is there with Bell and the wilting rose. He knows that he doesn't have much time left to break the spell, but he chooses to let Belle leave anyway. That's what she wants: to leave and help her father. He understands how important Belle's father is to her. In this moment, the Beast is deciding to put Belle's plans above his own plans to break the spell.

And that what she wanted from the start, right? Someone who understands that she wants so much more than they've got planned.

Meanwhile, Gaston is planning to harm her father to get what he wants: Belle to marry him. He continues to put his wants above hers, which is why he's the villain and the Beast is the hero. In the end, Belle chooses to go back a third time, going to the one who understands her, who she understands, who she can talk to, who puts her needs over his. It's true love, and the spell is broken.

This movie is not about Stockholm syndrome. It's about two people who don't fit in anywhere else finding the one person who understands them best. It's about caring about what makes each other special and bringing out the best in each other.

Thank you for reading through to the end. Here's the tl;dr for the rest of you:

Beauty and the Beast is not about Stockholm syndrome because it shows a loving, caring relationship based on understanding and putting others' needs before their own. Gaston is also a jerk who throws books in the mud.

And here's the trailer for the live action film, because AAAAAAAHHHHH!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Carter Higgins - A Rambler Steals Home (2/28)
Mary E. Lambert - Family Game Night and Other Disasters (2/28)
Pete Begler - The Fearless Traveler's Guide to Wicked Places (2/28)

Young Adult:
Tricia Levenseller - Daughter of the Pirate King (2/28)


  1. This is so beautifully written. You've captured and corrected all of the things that always irritate me about the whole "Stockholm syndrome" argument!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. I've never liked that argument and I was happy to have the chance to argue against it.

  2. It's sad that this even needs to be said, but you said it well! Thank you!