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Belle: Then and now

I watched Beauty and the Beast in the movie theater with my mom many years ago, and I watched the musical live-action film just recently. As much as I would have wanted to avoid comparisons, I think it is just human nature that, being there is a reference, there would be comparisons.

For one, I didn’t like how Emma Watson portrayed Belle. I am not sure if this is a directorial call, a sign of the times, or just plain bad acting. To start with, quite frankly, she walks like a dyke and has as much grace as a stick in the mud—ergo, none.

Her facial expression was dour and concerned for most of the movie, something millennials would call a resting b___h face.

When “Be Our Guest” was being performed in an explosion of color and mise en scène to beat even the original, she just looked stoic in disdain and even discomfort at the fanfare. I found this reaction to be a waste of such a magnificently orchestrated musical. What were gasps and delight in the old movie was derisive laugh from the present Belle. I found it to be quite disrespectful of the talent and effort that went into the number. What makes a woman or Disney princess beautiful is her joie de vivre. Belle, in particular, sings about how there must be more than this provincial town, because she is hungry for adventure, and enthusiastic of the great things to see and experience in the great beyond. It is excitement and innocence that fuels her. She is radiant with anticipation, fully engrossed in her reading and imbibed in her book adventures that she doesn’t see her town.

The Belle in the old animation version is given a book because she loves it so much. She is enthralled by reading that her passion moves the library owner to generosity.

This new Belle is the antithesis of that. She is in drudgery and misery, which is so uncharming once you look beneath her looks.  This new Belle has none of that joy. She sings on the hills like a spoiled teenager, crying “I want more!” and drowning  in self-pity and vast under-appreciation of her surroundings. She has no passion, but just a void of dissatisfaction.

There is a vast difference between those two motivations, which comes out in the nuances of her actions.

I think it might be a generational difference that is the culprit.

This is the Belle of the Generation Angst. This is the Belle that says: “There is something wrong, and I’m so weak and emotional and disturbed. Nothing is cool enough to make me happy. I will sulk and expect someone to make me better.”

She so rarely smiles in the movie, and rarely has any other expression but “disturbed”. Her eyebrows are always in a furrow, as if her worries and burdens rivaled that of a woman in Syria running from a bomb with her child and a 60-pound bag of all her belongings in her hand. It so contrasts to her youthful face.

She slouches. Her stiff, awkward positions are prepubescent and I just don’t see the self-assured Belle.

When she finds out she has some sort of feelings for the Beast, and he lets her go, she doesn’t even give him a thank-you hug or some form of affection. She just takes it for granted that she deserves to be treated like this. I think that is a sure sign for death in a relationship if you cannot even say thank you or show affection for the things the guy you love does for you!

Sheesh.

I also found how she acted toward her father also lacking in love, and a little condescending in the scene where she was helping Maurice with the clockwork. He couldn’t remember what tool he needed. She gave him the tools like, “here it is, forgetful old man”. Not like, “Here it is, my loving father who acts silly sometimes, but I love anyway.”

She clasps both her hands over his knees before he leaves as she looks up at him and asks for a rose. I found that a little inappropriate.

Being a film major, even the camera angles tell a lot about the story you would like to portray, and the over-the-shoulder shot from the dad was at an angle too low for comfort.

Her looks to him are also too intense, almost, dare I say, sexual. This disturbs me because I know it is a Disney film, and that, more than adults, children are good at picking up subtle body language.

Is this then what we are to call beauty nowadays? An awkward, underappreciative, self-entitled woman that inappropriately looks at her father? I should hope not.

Add that to the homosexual flirting between Le Fou and Gaston, as well as the three swordsmen-turned-transvestite, with one actually sharing a secret smile to the cabinet as a thank you for finally letting him “out of the closet”, you would have to wonder what Disney is playing at.

How then do we define beauty now?

I would hope to stick to what the original Belle stood for, a lady ready for adventure, courageous in protecting her family, whose kindness touches the hardest heart and softens it and whose loyalty and love is as sure and as old as time.

 

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