Monday, April 9, 2012

#30: Beautiful Change

Beauty & the Beast, 1991
watched April 1, 2012

After my critique of our last heroine/princess, the character of Belle in this "tale as old as time" is refreshingly welcomed. In some ways, she and Ariel share quite a few similarities. They're both dreamers, longing for adventure and fulfillment in life. Ariel collects artifacts to escape from reality; Belle reads books. These things seem to keep them from being fully embraced by their community. Both of these women come from single father households.

However, Belle's one vastly different trait is her loyalty to said father. We do not see in her the rebellious, selfish spirit that drives Ariel to poor choices. Instead, Belle supports old Maurice's somewhat unconventional life, and when it's in danger, she willingly sacrifices her own for his health and safety.

That moment in the story occurs quite early on, and as she voluntarily enslaves herself to what is seemingly a vicious monster, Belle already proves she's a worthy heroine. But the plot is just beginning to unfold.

While Belle embodies beauty not only in her physical but also her inner characteristics, the Beast, too, lives up to his character's name in both ways. He is one of the most complex and compelling characters Disney has ever created. Wanting more than anything to return to his human form, he lives trapped in a world of self-hatred and despair, causing a violent temper and irrational demands. The audience simultaneously feels appalled and sympathetic. Yet, as the petals of the enchanted rose peel off, inching the Beast's destiny closer to permanent doom, his anger and violence begin to peel away too. As hints of kindness and compassion emerge from the Beast, the audience, like Belle, begins to care for this tortured soul.

Though the physical transformation of the Beast doesn't occur until the very end (it's probably one of my favorite scenes, if only to laugh at the beams of light emanating from his sprawled toes. I mean, really, it's ridiculous!), the real transformation happens several scenes earlier. When Belle discovers her father is sick and dying, the Beast releases her from his captivity, knowing that he has also let go of his only chance to become human again. In essence, he demonstrates true love by sacrificing his own future happiness, so that Belle can have hers. And although he is still in animal form, this is a complete revolution of the Beast we encounter at the start of the film.

The beauty of this classic story can be found in our title characters. Belle, in her openness to love the unlovable, unknowingly breaking a curse that has held an entire household captive for years. The Beast, in his transformation from a selfish, cruel prince to a gentle and sacrificial friend. In them both, we see that true love means giving up that which is most valued, your future, your happiness, your well-being, for the sake of another. We see that this kind of love changes people. Belle and the Beast provide a glimpse of the ultimate love, shown by one who gave up his very life. That's a tale that is older than time, and it's beautiful, too. It has changed me; it has changed everything.

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