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Month: June 2017

Armchair Meta: Beauty & the Beast, Trope subversion and Disney

In 1991, Disney released Beauty and the Beast to worldwide audiences. It catapulted the Disney renaissance that The Little Mermaid set in motion in 1989. As with many of their properties, Disney sought to update classic fairytales to a modern audience. Adaptation is a necessary part of retelling these stories and Beauty & the Beast is no stranger to adaptation.

The particular story we’re most family with was written late 1700s France by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and then rewritten Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In turn, the story is a possible retelling of the Eros and Psyche myth, and there is a 2nd-century Italian fairy tale and the Wikipedia article claims there are possible proto examples going as far back as 4,000 years ago. This story is well-worn and familiar concept and there are some fairly ridiculous tropes associated with it depending on the version. Damsel in Distress (Beauty), Shapeshifting, Eros and Psyche (trope), and depending on the version the awful trope of Noble Savage. Not all tropes are good, yo.

The original versions held that Belle’s father returned home and if one of his daughters didn’t agree to go live with the Beast, he would be killed. She is damseled in Beaumont’s and Villeneuve’s versions as they’re both a treatise on accepting arranged marriages. The original tale is less about female independence and more about accepting one’s lot in life and maybe it won’t turn out so shitty. Rantasmo has two great videos on both the 1991 animated version and the 2017 remake. Check him out, he’s awesome.

To continue, and if you haven’t fallen down a pit of tvtropes (I apologise if you have), the 1991 animated version needed to change. There are too many characters in 1946 film and even more in the French stories including several sisters and brothers, longer back story about the father being a failed merchant, and in the Villeneuve version there is even more back story of Fae involvement and apparently both Belle and the Beast are half Fae, it’s weird and Disney needed to cut things down, trim the fat from the plot and keep it to a 90 minute run time. They also couldn’t espouse the joys of arranged marriage, it was the 90s and they needed more traction with kids these days. So the protagonist has to change and it’s no longer Belle accepting her fate, it’s Beast’s journey. He’s given more of a POV and as such we see his character arc.

What Disney did in this movie was turn Belle’s outward seeking acceptance of fate plot and turn it into an introspective one where she is bookish, kind, but slightly odd, she is an outsider in a provincial French village, aside from Gaston, and some ‘well she can’t help it’ from a few of the more forgiving villagers, Belle is as much an outcast as Beast. And let’s get one thing straight, Gaston’s ‘acceptance’ of her is only insofar as she is physically beautiful enough to be a good possession. In the 1991 version, he still thinks she’s weird and reads too much and he plans on changing that.

Belle starts the story off curious, odd, bookish, and firmly aware of who she is, this is not a self-discovery mission for her, nor is there any change outwardly from beginning to end. She is still a compelling character. The plot doesn’t always have to change the character, her arc is based on events, her father goes missing, she goes to find him, he’s trapped by a beast in a castle, she takes his place, she tries to leave, decides to rescue the Beast after he saves her life, she goes to rescue her father Gaston and then she goes to rescue the Beast from Gaston.

DISNEY GAVE BELLE THE GODS DAMN PRINCE’S CHARACTER ARC!

No really look at it again.

Now compare this to The Prince from Snow White, or Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty, hell even Eric from Mermaid has a traditional Prince story arc. They don’t need to be changed by the narrative, they’re complete from the beginning, they are proactive and do the rescuing. In an effort to give more sympathy and pathos to the Beast they subverted the damsel in distress trope.

Beast starts the story off as a neglectful selfish prince. He’s cruel and unkind to his staff, turns those in need away, and he’s vain and puts too much importance on appearance. He’s cursed by an enchantress and trapped in his castle. Depending on the version he might be able to move about freely but his appearance is met with terror or violence, so he becomes bitter, lonely, and angry. He lashes out to those who stumble upon his home because they risk his safety.

Belle comes into his life and although she is scared of him at first, she doesn’t hold his appearance against him, she demands he treat her with respect. The biggest moment where he runs after and fights off the wolves is one of my favourite scene. She’s been terrified of him and his reaction to her going near the Rose, he regrets his actions and goes after her and protects her from the wolves, risking his life in the bargain.

She has the chance to leave, free and clear. The wolves are gone, he’s fought them off, but now he’s vulnerable and could be hurt further if she leaves. Possibly die. No matter how scared she might have been before, she can’t leave him there alone. So she saves him, takes him home and helps patch him up. In fanfiction te, ms we’re knee-deep in hurt/comfort territory here, and if you think you can’t make an entire book out of it,  AO3 would beg to differ. This is the turn in the relationship and it’s wonderful. She’s no longer scared while Beast most certainly is. He has no frame of reference for this treatment. She’s taking care of his wounds and scolding him for his temper.

At this point Belle is there entirely by choice. Beast would not stop her if she walked out the door, the climactic act where he releases her is at that point a formality, a necessary one in which he needed to vocalize she was no longer a ‘captive’, but it was a formality.

Beast is transformed by her, far more than any spell, she fights with him treats him as an equal, understands him and offers him kindness, spars with him verbally, and in the remake both of them share a love of reading and romance and being taken to far off places. I love the updated version so much because we get so much more of their interactions and more of Beast’s personality.

The 1991 version was heavily influenced by Howard Ashman. There are many articles about this and how he took the magical curse Beast suffered with and used it as an allegory for the AIDS epidemic during the time of the film. Broadly speaking the movie both 1991 and 2017 are about two outsiders that find love and understanding in a each other in a world that doesn’t accept them for who they are.

Beast is given a more traditional damsel in distress role, the actions happen to him. He several moments of agency throughout the films, but he is prince locked in a tower the princess must rescue. Beast’s first moment of agency is when he risks his physical health to save Belle from the wolves. He puts himself in harm’s way and learns that he can trust Belle. She doesn’t leave him to die in the woods, she’s concerned for his safety. This is new territory for him. There are small pieces of him making choices and trusting her more. Giving her the library, opening up to her over the course of the movie and them seeing more in each other. His next big choice is when he releases her from captivity. I believe he has already made this choice unconsciously after giving her the library, but I think he’s even surprised by it when he lets her go.

But the choice while difficult is the only one he could make. He knows this. Belle worried for her father, and he’s hurt, she needs to go see him and make sure he’s okay. The original stories have it that she is given only 3 days and must return, but Disney removed the time restriction and in doing so give Beast more agency. He knows he’s sacrificing himself in this moment. It’s more explicit in the 2017 version — thank you Menkin for giving me Evermore, I adore this fucking song — but it’s still there in the 1991 version. At this point I could argue the curse could be lifted. If she came back into the room and told him she loved him, it might have worked, but I don’t think he’s changed enough.

He’s been changed by her, and he feels it, but he hasn’t really shown it. Narratively speaking his changes are too internal and since we don’t much from his POV aside from Evermore, and a few brief moments in the animated version, so we need something more. The last moment the biggest one that I think cements him earning the removal of the curse is when he doesn’t kill Gaston.

He is physically powerful, he could easily outmatch Gaston, even with a gun or torch. He doesn’t wish to fight anymore here. He doesn’t believe he is worth saving and his heart is broken because Belle is gone. He is surprised, but fends off Gaston, sparing the man’s life because he doesn’t wish to kill. Him not killing Gaston, choosing instead to spare his life and turn his back on his old habits is the last step needed to make sure that Beast is fit for having the curse removed. He will no longer use his power, prestige, or physicality over others. He has not only learned to love someone, but he has learned to treat others respectfully.

Whether we as an audience agree with the move to spare Gaston, it would have been a very different ending and I don’t think it would have went well in the end. Beast needed to do this to show that he had been changed by Belle and he had learned the lesson of the enchantress, not only as it applied to Belle, but also how it applied to his staff and his subjects.

Disney, created a wonderful update to this classic, gave a princess the heroic journey, and damseled the prince. Now all it needs to do is give me the super gay version. I swear I need the version where the outcast peasant boy rescues the lonely prince in his tower. Will also be happy with peasant girl rescuing princess, and other variations on gender and sexuality. Give them all to me.

This has been Armchair meta.

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Beauty and the Beast 2017 Movie Review

One snowy night in December of 1991, my parents took my brother and I to the Vogue theatre. It was a quiet night and I don’t remember the theatre being crowded. I remember the smell of the popcorn and licorice. I was enthralled with the movie as it unfolded. I remember that night vividly, the snow as it drifted through the air, how the city felt muffled and as if we’d stepped into a fairy tale as we left the theatre. I wanted to go back, I wanted to watch the movie again and again. I wanted to run away into that fairy tale and find my own adventures.

 I adored it so much.

Naturally, when I found out they were remaking the film for live action I was immediately excited, and became progressively worried until I absolutely dreaded it’s release. I had been trying to find other versions of the myth through out the years and none of them captured the same feelings I had watching it in that theatre when I was ten. There have been some absymal remakes through the years and none of them had the same disney touch. To have this movie happen now, twenty-six years later, I was sure there was going to be some flaw that would stand out and ruin it. 

News surrounding the movie didn’t help. 

Disney’s proud delcaration of an ‘exclusively gay moment’ and the backlash from both LGBT+ community and the christian right spun around the movie. Depending on who you were paying attention to, either Disney went too far and was trying to convert kids to that gay lifestyle, or they didn’t go far enough and had the audacity of using the slapstick villian sidekick as the gay character as a copout. 

After having seen the movie, I’m not sure you could even call what was on film an exclusively gay moment, it was subtext at best and retreading tired and old fashion jokes about cross dressing to highlight the hey it’s good to be gay. Disney was barely acknowledging the subtext that was in the 1991 film and decided to add a half second dance blink and you’ll miss it at the end. 

Disney wasn’t going to win this one, people were going to be angry and they tried to curry favour while keeping the text to the absolute minimum. In a story about outcasts finding love and companionship they really could have done so much more. Lumiere and Cogsworth could have been the relationship of choice, still subtle but a definite decision in the right direction. One day I will get my lonely outcast young man who runs from the village and discovers his prince. But it wasn’t this movie. 

That being said, I adore this movie. It has all of the story beats necessary to maintain my nostalgia bug, it has some extras that expand the narrative and fill some of the odd plotholes in the animated version. Belle is more active and proactive throughout the movie. The Beast (we’re going with Adam until someone can tell me a better name ) given more opportunity to be a well rounded character, bitter and angry yes, but as he opens up to Belle he shows his romantic side, how kind he is, and a fantastic degress of trust in her. 

I nostalgia cried through this movie. I loved every minute, every new song and additions to the story. I even like Josh Gad’s La Fou, he’s not the slapstick sidekick from the original and he is more rounded even if I don’t think the “exlcusively gay moment” was anything more than media attention.

I rented it two days ago and have watched it four times. I feel like that kid yelling ‘again again’ everytime I rewatch it. This likely won’t go away very quickly since the last time I felt like this for a movie it was The Hobbit Trilogy and I rewatched those to the point I can quote them. If a movie hits that part of my brain where I need to rewatch it repeatedly I lose all objectivity . 

There is also the writer part of my brain that is dissecting all of it and trying to rework and adapt and find places where there could be more story or more interesting stories to tell.

I understand there is a very good criticism of Disney movies in general that once the princess kisses her prince her story is over, and that Belle is used as a specific example of her ‘wanting so much more’ and then falling in love and her story is over. But Belle’s journey is introspective, her finding that there is more beyond the confines of her small village and finding someone like the Beast who shares her interests and understands her. The same way she offers him understanding and calls him on his shit. 

If I add a B&B or Eros and psyche Retelling to the list of things I want to write, I’m quite sure that Strife will arrive on my doorstep to hit me with a fish. 

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Daily Blogging: Prompt Make a List of What I want to do this summer. 

Hi again. 

I’m going to try and do this daily Blogging thing and see how it goes, kay? Kay. The prompt I found for this is list your summer want list. Not sure how much this fits into a theme I have but hey it’s words, so it’s going here. 

Outdoor Activities

  • cook out on the beach
  • take the dog to the beach
  • Gypsum Quarry trail
  • Skyline trail 
  • Louisburg and a picnic
  • Pride week in Halifax 

Painting

  • Finish three paintings 
  • learn more skills for water colour
  • Develop more of a sense of drawing and seeing shapes

Writing

  • Re-draft Interludes — likely retitle as well
  • write more flash fiction

    Other things include hanging out with friends, barbequing and setting aside from money for Hal-con in September. That’s all for now. This blog though 21 minutes late for Tuesday, counts as Tuesdays blog. 

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    Wonderwoman Review

    I need a nickname for my readers. Night Owls? Anyway, readers! I saw Wonder Woman last night and I am still excited. I am so excited!!!! This movie. Oh my gods, this movie. Patty Jenkins needs to direct more DCU. I’m totally useless at movie reviews. In short, the movie is everything I wanted for a superhero movie, the director, the cinematographer, amazingly, even the writers created a developed, engaging movie that builds the mythos and created a set of compelling characters and distilled the comic version of Diana into a fantastic movie.

    And trust me I kind of want to glare at Snyder, but perhaps Heinberg and Fuchs kept him on task — or more likely, Snyder can write a compelling narrative, but it takes another director to helm the project so it doesn’t go off the rails.

    Would I watch this again? Hells yes. I would have watched it twice last night if I could have. I’m going to see this at least once more in the theatre before it leaves, if not twice. I now want a five season series with HBO production values for Diana. Just, give me all of it.

    If you’re on the fence at all go watch this movie, trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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    An update of sorts

    There’s been some restructuring behind the scenes around here. I’ve once again gotten myself worked up about meeting expectations. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy really, I want to do something I make plans to do it and I can keep on track for two weeks, then I forget, or I procrastinate and then it becomes this Big Deal™ and I procrastinate even more. 

    Not a really sound solution to blogging and beginning a writing career. 

    I’m going to try something new here, instead of scheduling deep posts such as the world building posts I’m going to start a thirty days of blogging, set a Max word count of 500wds and write something small every day. Observations, anecdotes, progress reports on various projects, and perhaps a bit more about me.

    Fucking something. 

    This will either work and be fantastic, or I will crash and burn. Maybe if I have an outside source to set the timer it might help. . . . Who knows.

    Right now here’s what’s happening in Finn’s life creatively speaking.

    SF Wip: no progress since January stuck in a major section near the end as I was tentpoling the major climax. Also I have decided that the first turn where a betrayal occurs might not last as long as I originally intended and have the conflict between my two protagonists be more external than internal. Basically I need the antagonist to split the pair not the plot. 

    Romantic fantasy WIP: this is not new. This is a fic I finished in 2015. It’s started it’s life off as Hobbit fanfiction and is getting a facelift. I’m working on some background world building to take the place if the overt and obvious Tolkien influences so that by the time this thing is ready to publish the bigger stuff won’t be as obvious.

    Painting: I’ve taken up painting. Both acrylic and watercolour. I dabble in both and have been really enjoying it as a stress reliever. I might post some of the finished pieces I’ve done in the last few months. 

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