Last night I sat down with my girlfriend to enjoy a final night before her trip home to Seattle. We wanted to relax and we decided to enjoy some cookies and milk on the couch with movie that we both liked, but hadn't seen for some time. The film was Disney's animated version of "Beauty and the Beast."
As I previously stated, we had not seen this film in quite awhile, but the music in impeccable, hence the smooth transition to a successful Broadway version, and the story has exceptional cultural penetration. As the story unfolded on screen, I observed several things.
1) The plot sequence is very formulaic. Were it not for the necessary sequences forced onto the production by the musical interludes, one could very nearly predict the fades and cuts of the camera by what needed to happen. A scene with Belle's father will end as soon as he has ceased to move the plot forward. As soon as he is used to introduce the castle and the beast, the director cuts to the next plot movement on the 'to-do list,' establishing Gaston's "manliness."
2) Belle's attitude toward the people in the town is entirely elitist. The director gets away with this, without eliciting offended contempt from his audience by cleverly portraying a town full of people who legitimately deserve to be marginalized. They are drawn with less facial detail than many of the non-human characters like the sheep at the fountain and Belle's horse, Philippe. Furthermore, the population admires Gaston, publicly declares "We fear what we do not understand" (listen closely to the lyrics), and performs many other irrational actions that are highly improbable to the average Frenchman. The skill that directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale have to implant cultural ideas into the background thought of the viewer is powerful indeed, and ought not to be taken lightly.
3) I have heard friends joke about "Beauty and the Beast" being an awful story because of bestial nature of the love affair. It occurs to me that if Aquinas watched the film, he would say that humanity is a substantial quality of the beast, whereas his bestial elements, while significant are purely accidental and do not interfere with his substantial existence as a human being. (One could argue in similar fashion that Gaston is substantively bestial while only maintaining a thin semblance of humanity.)
4) My final thought regards an element of the film that I had not previously considered. I had always remembered this as a story where a nice, pretty girl meets an ugly beast and he changes to become both loving and loveable. On my most recent viewing, I find a story of two hearts, both changed, each being perfected by the other, so that by the end of the story the Beast's transformation into a "handsome" prince is totally unnecessary.
While I do not agree with the entirety of the film, I find the story charming and I think that a thoughtful digestion of its ideas is highly enlightening. Because of this splendid mix of skillful storytelling, morally didactic elements and beautiful music, I find "Beauty and the Beast" to be an ideal film for girlfriends, couches, hot chocolate, fires in fireplaces and crisp, rainy nights.
"Bittersweet and strange,
Finding you can change;
Knowing you were wrong."