You can love something and still acknowledge that it's problematic. It’s a point we make often at Fangrrls. For many of us, we grew up loving the Disney princess stories even though they have their share cringe-inducing moments when it comes to the less-than-stellar messages they send to young girls. To be fair, the majority of these movies are decades old and often based on fairy tales that are even older, long before equal rights or representation in media existed.
Disney has been making noticeable and commendable changes on the animated front. We talked about the evolution of the Disney princess, and how Moana symbolized a new era in giving younger audiences a female protagonist who cares less about her Prince Charming and more about being a leader on her own. But what happens when a popular classic gets a live-action reimagining for the big screen in today's landscape? Leading up to the release of Disney's new live-action Beauty and the Beast, both director Bill Condon and Belle herself, Emma Watson, made a point to declare that this Belle would be far more feminist than her previous incarnations. So exactly how does real-life Belle compare to her 1991 animated predecessor?
Her relationship with Gaston went from disgustingly cordial to just plain disgusted
This scores a major point for live-action Belle, who doesn't have the patience or time to worry about Gaston's over-inflated male ego by being "nice" and tells him flat-out that she's not into him, whereas animated Belle sugar-coated her rejections and let him down easy by saying she didn't deserve him. Today's Belle hardly contains her blatant disdain for Gaston, a point he continues to tell himself is really her playing "hard to get," because even in a fairy tale, the male entitlement is real.
1991's Belle usually laughed nervously and batted her eyes, politely and almost flirtatiously making excuses for why she couldn't accept Gaston's endless advances. But today's Belle never tries to explain away or justify her rejection, making it known that she has better things to do, even if those "better things" are doing nothing at all. This is an important message to teach audiences of all ages: women don't owe anyone an explanation if they're not interested in them romantically, and they aren't required to be nice when inundated with unwanted and unwelcomed advances.
Belle's no longer a 'V'
Victim, you pervs. What did you think I meant? In the animated version of Beauty and the Beast, Belle spends a lot of time beside herself, distraught over her circumstances and still being way too nice to the men who don't deserve it. When Beast first invites her to dinner, it's Cogsworth that initially breaks the news that she isn't coming, and when confronted by Beast, she says "No, thank you." You know, because it's rude to be impolite to your captors and all.
But 2017's Belle, once again, doesn't waste time mincing words or thanking anyone who hasn't earned it. She immediately starts looking for a way to change her situation and escape and let's Beast know that she'd rather starve than have dinner with him herself versus relying on a messenger to relay the news. It's clear that Belle, despite having sacrificed herself for her father's freedom, is not resigning herself to the role of victim. Later, when their relationship evolves and Beast asks her if she's happy, she honestly answers that no one can truly be happy if they aren't free, making it clear that this time around she hasn't forgotten she's a prisoner and her happiness lies more with her agency than it does with him.
Belle is capable
In the animated version, Belle was weird because she liked to read and that was about it. Live-action Belle is of course the same bookish girl (otherwise those lyrics to "Belle" wouldn't make much sense), but this time she's also an inventor. Assigning her a skill was already a step in the right direction, but taking it even further was showing Belle's process and how she invented a "washing machine." Moments later while she relaxes with a book while her "machine" is cleaning her clothes, she calls a younger girl over and starts to teach her to read. Later, when warned by Gaston about the dire future for "spinsters" in their village, she rolls her eyes and flatly declares that she's too young to have kids, a seemingly innocuous line that holds a lot of weight by dispelling the myth that young girls' only goal is getting married and having babies. It's one of a number of subtle moments that show Belle as a far more developed character as opposed to a carbon copy of her previous, two-dimensional version
The doe-eyed girl from both the animated and Broadway versions has been replaced with a more determined-looking one. Belle still ends up with a Prince, but this time around her ultimate fairy tale was more rooted in making her own decisions than living in the castle, happily ever after. Live-action Belle gives younger audiences a far more realistic and admirable protagonist to look up to than the animated classic.