As a child, I was in love with the movie, and Belle was my favorite princess. Even now I have out of reach ambitions to become Belle at Disney World. However, as I grow older and my views on feminism, politics, and the world develop, I drift away from the fairy tale I used to love.
Belle is considered a "feminist" princess. She reads and stands up for herself, making sacrifices for her father. As a young child, I thought this was great. I loved to read and was significantly different from every other child (I didn't know it was related to mental illness, I just thought I was a princess), so I related to her. I thought she was strong, and liked her significantly better than Sleeping Beauty, who slept while everyone did the work for her. Aurora was weak, and Belle was strong. Arguably speaking, this was a movie that lead me into feminism, or more appropriately female empowerment.
Now that I'm older, and not a child, I began to see the flaws in here. Beauty and The Beast is a story of Stockholm Syndrome and beastality.
Stockholm Syndrome is, simply put, when a victim falls in love with their kidnapper or captor. This tale romanticizes stockholm syndrome, which some consider to be a serious mental illness as a result of manipulation and psychological torture. Even after the Beast and Belle "fall in love," he still refers to her as his "prisoner."
Beastiality is grotesque and disturbing, but as a child I liked the Beast better when he was the Beast than when he was Adam. The point of the story is that appearances do not matter when it comes to love, but rather the quality of their character. Gaston is notoriously beautiful but an evil character. This is different from other Disney tales, in which the villains are typically "uglier" than the heroes. Ursula is fat, with traits of gluttony, which is considered unacceptable in society. (Keep in mind, I'm speaking in terms of societal expectations; big is beautiful). By twisting the Beast so far beyond humanity, incorporating different animals, it's like Belle did not fall in love with a human, but an animal.
Additionally, the fact that the Beast melted away into a handsome prince practically ruins the "image isn't important" message. Not to bring up Shrek, but Shrek. While it is one of the longest running memes, Shrek actually has a positive message for children watching. Fiona was a not a beautiful princess at the end, but an ogre, and she was still loved.
Another concerning aspect is the fact that Belle is supposedly so beautiful she stands out from the crowd. A lesson girls learn: looks don't matter, unless you're the woman. Her beauty was used as a plot device, and was a driving force in her personality. Even when the Beast talks of Belle, he talks of her beauty. I may be incorrect, but not once does he speak of her intelligence.
The choice to name her "Belle" is a disappointment. It means, beauty. The entire movie is based off of the fact that she's hot. While there is nothing wrong with having an attractive princess, basing her whole character development off it is damaging. Instead of naming her Belle, why not name her Kaya, or Rae, or Sophia? Why put emphasis on her intelligence in the beginning of the movie if her entire character is based off beauty?
The decision to cast Emma Watson as Belle was disappointing, to say the least. I always liked her as Hermione when I was a child, but again as I grew older I developed a better understand. Emma Watson is famous for her feminist rhetoric, but is it positive?
Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN on feminism, and her entire speech was about men. She has never spoken, or so far as I know, about the struggles of trans women, black and brown women, or women in Palestine. She has an elevated platform. When she speaks, people listen to her. But she speaks of the struggles of white women, and nothing else. And if your feminism isn't for all women, it's not feminism. Emma Watson grew up in a wealthy family and went to private school. Her privilege has got her places, and she has yet to acknowledge it.
There has also been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Disney's decision to make LeFou a canonically gay character. Throughout the entire movie, LeFou chased after Gaston, and danced with another man for about two seconds at the very end of the movie. This is a damaging stereotype: an unattractive gay man chases after a conventionally attractive straight man in an almost pathetic manner. This is insulting to Howard Ashman, a gay man who worked on the original Beauty and the Beast, who died of AIDs.
Why am I psychoanalyzing an animated Disney movie? Because this is what our children consume. When I was younger I played pretend that I was kidnapped, and fell in love with my kidnapper, because I watched this movie so much. These movies, which we make mostly for children (or nostalgic adults like myself), and it has a strong influence on them.