Disney Debate: Belle

Welcome to Disney Debate!

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll discuss each of the “official” Disney princesses. Read the information and question below and then use the comments section to join the debate. Engage with people’s comments by replying to them, and add your own points by creating a new comment. Comments must be civil to be included.

WEEK 5: BELLE

For feminists, the problem with Beauty and the Beast is that it promotes the notion that a “beastly, abusive, troubled man” (Peggy Orenstein) can be transformed into a prince if a woman just tries hard enough to “tame” him. This idea would obviously be detrimental to young girls should they internalize it and seek to put it into practice in their own lives. The question, of course, is:

Does Beauty and the Beast really promote this notion? And, if it doesn’t, what is its message?

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21 thoughts on “Disney Debate: Belle

  1. I can understand that concern. It’s actually my primary issue with stuff like Twilight and 50 Shades.

    But the difference between those and Beauty and the Beast is that Belle doesn’t set out to change the Beast. She exchanges her life for her father’s, fully expecting to live out her days in misery. He begins to change, and then she begins to fall for him slowly after he saves her life.

    The message, I think, is that when a man finds the woman he loves, it brings out the best in him. He is willing to change — to shape his naturally volatile power into something construtive — for her.

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    1. Yes! I agree. Belle never tries to “tame” the Beast. It is simply by virtue of her always being completely herself that the Beast begins to fall for her and, in falling for her, begins to change in order to be a man worthy of her love.

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      1. Well, I don’t know about never trying to tame Beast. She did bluntly yell “well, YOU should learn to control your temper!” during their argument regarding the Wolf Incident, which does technically indicate she wanted to tame him (though personally, I thought Beast had more of a point in his argument than Belle did regarding that blame game. Yes, he definitely should have had far better control over his temper, at least enough control to not smash furniture Kylo Ren-style. But on the other hand, he did have a pretty good reason for being very angry with Belle during that time, since she did deliberately disobey Beast and enter the West Wing, and not even out of concern for him or curiosity, but most likely out of spite due to the way she said “Ah, so THAT’S the West Wing, huh?” And Belle didn’t seem to even take any responsibility for that bit. At the very least, she should have apologized for her role in it while nonetheless making clear Beast also wasn’t innocent rather than deflecting any blame and acting all blameless. Sort of like how Homer and Abe Simpson acknowledged that they were “both screwups” in one of the Simpsons episodes).

        And I’d argue he did attempt to change as well. He did direct her to her bedroom instead of leaving her in her cell, and even granted her full access to the castle barring the West Wing, and he DID attempt to ask her politely to come down to dinner twice. Last I checked, he was already beginning the changing process there.

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  2. I don’t think she set out to do any such thing. I mean, do they even watch the movie before they say stupid nonsense? She sacrificed her life for her father’s. Turns out sacrifice brings life. The beast was then willing to sacrifice himself to save her from the wolves, his first sacrifice ever. That’s what changed the Beast, her example of sacrificial love for her father not her devotion to the beastly man.

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    1. Yes! I always mark the moment that the Beast begins to change at Belle’s sacrifice as well. “You would do that?” he says, as if he didn’t know that was a way that someone could act toward someone else. His transformation begins then.

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    2. Well, she didn’t intend to set out at the start to do that. But I’d argue the whole blame game at least got the ball rolling there. But I do agree, it’s largely thanks to her decision to take her dad’s place that he decided to change at all (too bad she largely acted like a jerk afterward, even after Beast gave her an actual bedroom, not to mention free access to the castle [and that was done at his own accord, not on the explicit advice of Lumiere], and heck, Beast, albeit at the prodding of his servants, attempting to politely ask Belle down for dinner twice, swallowing his pride to do so). Unfortunately, I think her attempts at “helping” Beast out after he gave her the library (I think the starting point for Belle falling for Beast was actually after the library gift thing, not the wolf rescue [which is a shame, since that actually would have been a better reason to fall for him than being gifted with a library], since she still gave a glare at Beast when he requested she closed her eyes, a glare that indicated dislike) may have ultimately made things worse, effectively neutered him, which can be seen in the climax where he refused to defend himself or his servants from the lynch mob until Belle was literally physically present. At least Beast before meeting Belle knew how to defend himself, and presumably the servants as well.

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  3. I have some thoughts on this matter. Before Tangled came out, Belle was my favorite Princess, and I always hated how everyone on the internet called it Stockholm syndrome. It just didn’t ring true (Tangled [Mother Gothel] and the Hunchback of Notre Dame [Judge Frolo] however are good examples of it.) It wasn’t until a Klavan show last year, that I finally heard what attracted me to the story in the first place. Beauty and the beast is like the hero myth for femininity, the power of a woman to smooth out a rough man’s edges, to civilize the wild man tendencies and focus his power toward something positive. Belle is not a demure wallflower, she holds her own against the Beast and smooths out his literal wild, bestial nature–teaching him how to be a man in the real world. Unlike Gothel and Frolo, the Beast does not manipulate Belle, he asks her to dinner, and overreacts to her answer but doesn’t harm or force her, and end the end he lets her go free (something neither Frolo or Gothel were willing to do). There’s something about this tale as old as time that speaks to me as a woman too. To be the inspiration for a man to become a good man, is some strange primal female desire. As you can see in the cheap romance novels, the “reformed rake” is a trope because most women want to be the woman that reforms a man and leads him to be a better man, and it could lead to women being in bad relationships. That said, the beast does NOT abuse Belle physically or emotionally, she fights back against his tantrums and does not give into his whims. She shows him what it means to be a real respectful man–literally. So, no, I don’t think Beauty and the Beast is an example of Stockholm syndrome or any sort of abusive relationship.

    -Rachel F.

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    1. I have my issues against Belle, especially in light of some comments Linda Woolverton made in several interviews, including one dating back to 1992 when the film was released, not to mention recently, where she basically confirmed she was trying to push the left-wing feminist view from the 1970s, not to mention some pretty bad experiences in Colleges involving leftist professors trying to brainwash me, including one feminist professor who actually lied about how women aren’t educated until the 1960s, and also learning about intellectuals who basically tried to persecute Christianity and cause a ruckus or at the very least promote those things, like Rousseau, Marx, or Sartre (or, heck, the fact that she tried to push the exact same views in Maleficent that she did in Beauty and the Beast, also). However, I do agree with you that Belle is DEFINITELY not a Stockholm Syndrome type of person, and I hate that complaint quite a few times due to it being inaccurate, and regardless of how negative I am of the 1991 version of Belle, I would NEVER indicate she suffered from that, since it’s simply not true.

      I also agree with you that Mother Gothel and Rapunzel’s relationship is definitely a lot closer to actual Stockholm Syndrome. I’m not sure I agree regarding Frollo and Quasimodo, though, mostly because Frollo does in fact have legal ownership of Quasimodo, and not just by human laws, either: He was required to take him in as penance for killing his mom, redeem himself, meaning it was also done under God’s laws as well. Stockholm Syndrome specifically requires that you fall for your captor, ie, someone who holds you against your will and illegally holds you at that.

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    1. I think it refers to the yelling, stomping around, roaring a lot, and desire to imprison people in the first place. (I don’t think he’s abusive either, but I think that’s probably where it comes from.)

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      1. Yeah, Beast even at his worst was NEVER the type to abuse people. Yes, he had a very foul temper (though to be fair, when you’re cursed into a chimera like he was alongside your friends, or at least the closest he has to actual friends, and you’re stuck in that castle for who knows how long, I can forgive him having a very foul temper and in fact wouldn’t even blame him for having a very bad temper at all from that), but he usually takes it out on ACTUAL furniture, not his servants (heck, the closest he ever got to actually hitting Belle was when she broke into the West Wing, and he clearly regretted it afterward). And as far as his imprisoning Maurice, to be fair, Maurice DID technically trespass his castle (even if the servants DID give him permission), so it was technically in the law to do so. Heck, even before their relationship blossomed after the Wolf Incident, Beast HAS made attempts to change (case in point: After hearing Belle call him out while sobbing for never giving her the chance to say goodbye to Maurice, he actually managed to direct her to her bedroom instead of the prison cell he initially intended to leave her in, granted, it was at Lumiere’s suggestion, but even still… not to mention he actually gave her free access to the castle, with only the West Wing being an explicit exception. That’s actually an extremely generous a gift for someone who is technically a prisoner. Not to mention Beast actually DID swallow his pride and attempt to politely request that Belle come down to dinner, at his servants insistence, even when he clearly wasn’t comfortable having to act like that to her. Heck, did so twice as well.).

        Personally, I have more issues against Belle right now than Beast, but that will be for another time.

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  4. This is such a good one. For the first part, Belle’s interactions with Gaston show that you don’t have to accept a man just because other people like him, or because he’s persistent. In that day and age she would have been a fool not to marry Gaston.

    Both Belle and the Beast grow emotionally throughout the story. Belle realizes that the Beast is not purely a beast, that he is a person with a heart who needs love like anyone else. The Beast realizes that he can’t intimidate everyone into doing his will, and Belle’s presence/influence reminds him of the gentler days in the Sun, as it were.

    Something that the live-action movie made me think about that I had never considered was how well-read he would have been. Timeline errors aside, they would have likely had some similar interests in books and reading about far off places. This is something that she never could have shared with anyone in her Village.

    Similarly, the Beast discovers that Belle is probably pretty different from the other women he has encountered in his life. If he was a child when the spell was cast, most of his interactions would have been with people either in Authority or taking care of him. Belle takes care of him without demanding anything of him other than to be treated well. If he was an adult when the spell was cast, the women he would have known either would have been terrified servants or young women throwing themselves at him. Again, Bell is neither. She doesn’t do anything out of pretense or desire to marry a prince, she does the things she does out of the goodness of her heart. The turning point is the battle with the Wolves after she runs away. Something in him tells him that he cannot let her be killed, and she could have run away and let him die but her kindness and gratefulness prevented that happening.

    The message the feminist don’t like he’s not really there, I don’t think. Because he changes over time, and so does she. It’s not about taming, she didn’t set out to change him, she was just herself. I think that’s the big difference. Intentionally trying to change a man is not usually effective anyway.

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  5. Sorry for adding all my comments now, but I’ve been reading quietly for while now. I think I’ve always understood the Beauty and the Beast symbolism best (maybe because it’s the most obvious and the literal interpretation is FREAKY? I’m probably a little to literal for my age). Or at least I thought, the inner beauty issue. I thought is was a focus of the importance of looking for inner beauty. Also, change. I think another issue in feminism/anti-fairytale people and all connected to it is the idea that some people are completely good and others completely evil and that the completely evil can never change and the completely good don’t need to.

    Another commenter mentioned how feminists thought this was a sort of “reform the bad guy” story; but Gaston is the representative of that sort of man I think. Clearly, the beast has the possibility for change, where Gaston did not. As to Stockholm Syndrome accusation, that to me is another example of how feminists at time DEMEAN a woman’s intellect and abilities. Belle knew exactly what she was doing. Can’t say it speaks well for her father that he accepted that so easily though; I never thought about that until someone mentioned the family’s lackadaisical attitude in Robin McKInley’s Beauty.

    I think the Disney animated movie makes Belle more of an intellectual, independent character. While the live-action makes her a condescending, feminist which doesn’t match well with the story, since it is a love story.

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    1. I agree for the most part, though I’d beg to differ regarding the live-action version. Actually, if anything, Belle in that version came far closer to actually BEING an intellectual and independent character, while the 1991 version if anything had her acting more like a condescending feminist like in the opening song and its reprise (and the first half for the most part, and to a certain degree the second half), not to mention the fact that the way in which she refused Gaston just made her look like a jerk as well (now, let me make clear on this bit: I am NOT saying she should have said yes to Gaston. Actually, if anything, it’s a darn good thing she refused Gaston, but I’m more upset at HOW she refused him. There’s saying “no” to him, and then there’s tricking him into thinking you might say yes, lure him to the door, and then manipulate him into having a mudbath, with the smirk and mock-wave goodbye before cutting to the band playing indicating she fully intended for him to fall in there). That’s also not getting into how Linda Woolverton cut out her baking a cake for her dad specifically because “a liberated woman wouldn’t know how to bake.”

      As far as Maurice, to be fair, Maurice didn’t accept it easily, well, not during the actual imprisonment anyway. He actually constantly refused it, but Belle ignored him. And when he tried and failed to get the tavern to rescue Belle, he decided to just go there by himself and try to find the castle to rescue her himself (and unfortunately wasn’t even ALLOWED to save Belle even once, having her save her dad, not to mention Chip later on). He only accepted it, somewhat randomly, after he nearly got arrested by Gaston, and that was late into the film.

      And… I’ll be honest, after reading about how those women fell for the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre in spite of his looks, AND got burned by him cruelly more importantly, I’m a bit cynical right now about the concept of true beauty coming from within, especially in reference to the idea of not judging a book by its cover. They certainly didn’t judge Sartre’s book cover, and in all frankness, they really should have.

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  6. Well, officially, the story’s message was supposed to be true beauty comes from within and don’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, Belle and the movie, thanks largely to Katzenberg and Woolverton demanding for a far-left feminist message in the movie’s story thanks to unwarranted complaints against Ariel by critics, it really doesn’t seem to promote it well at all, at least, not on Belle’s end at least (I guess Beast and Gaston definitely matched up with their respective roles, even if the latter was very poorly written and the victim of cynical songwriters with the Gaston reprise). In fact, ironically, regarding the female cast, I’d argue the triplets who fawned over Gaston came closer to actually promoting the idea of true beauty coming from within than Belle did by their actual actions (Belle, unfortunately, at least in the first half, came across as acting closer to her wicked sisters from the original tale). And don’t get me started on how the triplets’ mere existence basically blows out of the water the claim that Belle’s the most beautiful woman in the village (for goodness sakes, those triplets looked more like Barbie and/or the girls from the Dead or Alive series of video games).

    And personally, my current issue with Belle right now deals with far worse matters than just whether she tried to tame a wild man. No, it isn’t the Stockholm syndrome thing (like I said, regardless of my current issues with Belle right now, I would NEVER use as a complaint Stockholm syndrome since even I know that’s not the case at all from watching the movie). Actually, I fear thanks largely to an utter failure to show Belle actually being discerning of her literature that she’ll basically join the Jacobins, backstab Beast, or rather, Adam again (and this time very deliberately), and then raze her village to the ground promoting the French Philosophes’ views on the world and remaking the world to match their views. Not helping matters is that Glen Keane confirmed the movie takes place during the mid-to-late 18th century (and most likely prior to the French Revolution, since the village seemed far too peaceful especially during such a violent and horrific event), plus how intellectuals like Belle often fell for very evil ideas like how Marx formed Communism, or how Sartre cheerleads Mao Zedong or Che Guevara, or heck, how Michel Foucault rooted for the Ayatollah during the Iran Crisis. And the reason I specifically singled out her not being explicitly shown to be discerning of her literature is because the French Revolutionaries read Rousseau and bought his sordid claims hook line and sinker without any discernment (and don’t get me started on their fawning of Voltaire, Diderot, heck, even the Marquis de Sade. Apparently, in their case, such was entirely by design with the Encyclopedie and their manufacturing lies against Christianity to destroy it.). It says a lot when I actually place more trust in the triplets than I do her even though I’m not too fond of the triplets myself and personally like Belle to a certain extent. I’ve got a bit more of a explanation here: https://disney.wikia.com/wiki/User_blog:Weedle_McHairybug/Why_I_have_major_problems_with_Belle.

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    1. Sorry, the link didn’t seem to work for some reason. To give you instructions, go to Disney Wiki, then type in User:Weedle McHairybug, then click on the Blog tab. It should be the topmost entry.

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