Overview: A charming Disney classic about the triumph of inner beauty and love over prejudice. Viewers of every age will identify with the lovely and intellectual Belle, who would much rather read or go adventuring than settle down and marry the local rake Gaston, and will catch themselves humming “Be Our Guest” for weeks after they’ve finished watching the movie (for the third time). 1991; Rated: G; Walt Disney Pictures; 84 minutes.
The Beauty: This is simply a fantastic musical, with great songs and exceptionally clever lyrics (any lyricist that incorporates “expectorating” into a solo line has my fervent admiration). In addition to the Oscar-winning music, the film features stunning animation, specifically the famous ballroom scene in which Beauty and the Beast waltz through a gloriously lit room across a shining marble floor that reflects the floor to ceiling windows and the starry night outside… I challenge anyone to be unmoved by that.
The Beast(ly): If I were to put my feminist cap on, I could find a few problems with this story. Disney really tried their best to turn Belle into a modern, independent lady (She loves reading! She hates Gaston!), but the fact remains that she martyrs herself for her father and stays with a man who has clear anger and control issues. This man then “changes” (because men can definitely change), and she returns to her village after being held captive for an indefinite period to swear that he’s not dangerous. Sure, he holds cute little birds in his hands and runs a comb through his hair to impress her, but he’s still, you know… holding her captive at the time. “But he lets her go!” you argue. And you’re right–he does. But only when her father is grievously ill. It seems like the message children could receive from this is “abusive men can turn into kind men.” So perhaps it’s a good idea to sit with your child while they watch, and make snide comments during the most romantic parts so they understand as early as possible that this is not how real life works.
But Still: I can’t help loving this movie. The story is timeless, one that appears in slightly varied forms throughout literature (consider “Jane Eyre”, for example), and the music is unforgettable. Combine that with the beautiful animation and some playful self awareness, and you have a film that children and parents alike will love. Watch it without cynicism, enjoy Gaston, that caricature of the manly-man, sing along with the dishes, cry during Mrs. Potts’s solo, and do it all again a week later (because it will be just as good a second, third, fourth time).