As I sat in the front row of the tightly packed theater, I noticed the numerous young children waiting to watch the live action Beauty and the Beast. Small girls were dressed in Belle’s iconic dress and I nervously wondered if one day they would find themselves in Belle’s place.
While the 90’s cartoon Beauty and the Beast was my favorite movie as a child, I can be the first to admit that the storyline is problematic with the overwhelming themes of domestic violence. In the movie, Belle stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, is held captive, isolated from her father and endures several verbal fights with the Beast. The supporting characters urge her to fall in love with him, not giving her any other option.
Overall, the cartoon Belle and Beast are a recipe for an unhealthy relationship. When young children view the cartoon, these awful themes and roles are on full display for them to adopt in their everyday life.
However, the live action Beauty and the Beast separated itself from its previous bad reputation. While the Beast does give a rough first impression, he does not act gruesome after the first 15 minutes of screentime. He clearly changes himself for Belle’s sake and more time is spent developing their relationship to make it a believable romance.
The Beast is actually interested in Belle as a person through her interests and desires. He shares Belle’s love of books and they read together and discuss literature. The Beast takes Belle to “the place her heart desires,” which is the place where she was born, to learn more about herself.
The communication between the Beast and Belle reflects that of a normal relationship. The Beast does not keep a close grip on Belle; he lets her interact with other characters in the castle. At the climax, the Beast lets Belle leave to rescue her father; and he clearly states that it’s her choice and he doesn’t stop her.
Belle as a character is more interactive and wholesome than in the cartoon. She has dreams and desires, stands up for herself and acts on her own. Emma Watson, who plays Belle and is a known feminist must have had a stance in this to take on this role.
The supporting characters play an important role as well. They try to make Belle feel at home while not forcing her to give the Beast a second chance. They see her try to escape out the window in the beginning of the movie and don’t try to stop her.
While it is unavoidable to tell the story and make the Beast completely unproblematic, the live action Beauty and the Beast portrays healthier romantic relationships than the cartoon movie. Even in relationships outside of Belle and the Beast.
LeFou, Gaston’s side-kick is portrayed as being infatuated with him. He fawns over Gaston and gets pushed around and is considered a submissive character. In the climax of the movie, LeFou turns against Gaston’s posse and fights his own battle, realizing how he was mistreated.
In the end, LeFou has a small romantic role of his own, moving on from someone who abused him. Not only was it progressive to show a gay character, the movie successfully showed a character leaving an abusive situation.
And to anyone who boycotted the movie due to it having a gay character, would you rather expose your children an influential cartoon movie with abuse or show them a successful movie with a well developed female character and realistic relationships?
Think about all the young Belle’s out there, becoming stronger women who make their own choices with the new Belle as a role model.