How 'Beauty And The Beast Helps Reinvent The Disney Princess
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How 'Beauty And The Beast Helps Reinvent The Disney Princess

Disney's heroines have come a long way.

How 'Beauty And The Beast Helps Reinvent The Disney Princess

With the release of Disney's newest live-action adaptation, "Beauty and the Beast," nostalgia for some of the franchise's animated classics has been high. As people are rushing to movie theaters, it's hard not to reminisce on the movies that had such a large impact on many people's childhoods.

However, Disney has more recently come under scrutiny for the messages that a stereotypical "Disney princess" sends to young girls. Themes that ran rampant in earlier Disney films, from female characters' need to be rescued by a man, to women being relegated to only traditionally feminine tasks, to heroines being kissed while unconscious (yep, looking at you, "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty") have been forced under the microscope. Studies have been largely conducted on the franchise's effect on young girls, with some claiming that the films are a negative influence altogether.

That's where the Disney Renaissance came in. Ushering in films like "Mulan," "Hercules," and the original "Beauty and the Beast," the company began to give us new examples of what a Disney princess could be. Mulan joined the army to protect her family and save China, leaving the idea of an arranged marriage behind. Meg fought against Hades and the idea that she needed a man, famously telling Hercules, "I'm a damsel. I'm in distress. I can handle this." Belle loved reading and longed for adventure, Jasmine argued that she wasn't a prize to be won; the list goes on and on.

These ladies set the stage for even more Disney women to break the mold of what a princess or female character should be. "Brave" centered around Merida's refusal to enter into an arranged marriage and focused on her relationship with her mother. "Frozen" and "Lilo and Stitch" prioritized the bond between sisters. Tiana shows the importance of hard work and believing in your dreams. Disney's most recent princess (as much as the character herself might argue against it), Moana, did not have a love interest, and instead worked to save her people and find her own identity (plus, I mean, she's only sixteen).

There are still issues with these more recent movies (Ariel giving up her voice and family for the prince, Pocahontas romanticizing colonization), and improvements that could be made (more princesses of color? LGBT representation?), but it's easy to see that the Disney princess brand has come a long way.

That brings us to 2017's "Beauty and the Beast."

I'll admit that going in, I had my doubts. As a kid who loved reading and wanted to see as much of the world as possible, Belle was my favorite Disney princess and one of my inspirations. As an adult, I can see the issues of bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome, but it's still a Disney classic and significant part of my childhood. Plus, it had to live up to Disney's first live-action princess film, Cinderella, which took an antiquated, old fashioned princess story and updated it into a lovely story for a new generation (have courage and be kind, guys). Would the new version of "Beauty and the Beast" be able to do the same?

In the end, though, "Beauty and the Beast" did uphold its promise to make the story "more feminist" and progressive than its animated predecessor. The original elements of Belle's character that made her a favorite of young people are still there: a love of books and adventure, as well as the compassion to look past appearances and popular opinion. It is the new elements, though, that help to make her and the story more modern than ever.

For one, cultural components of sexism and expectations of women were explored in greater detail. While the villagers gawk at her love of books, and Gaston tells her that it isn't right for a woman to have ideas in the original, the consequences for breaking norms are more serious in the live-action. When Belle helps teach a young girl how to read, we learn that women are forbidden from becoming literate and educated. Furthermore, when Belle turns down Gaston's marriage proposal, he cruelly reminds her that women who do not marry are forced to live in poverty after their families pass away. With this information, the women fawning over Gaston are not merely caricatures of women infatuated with a man; they are examples of the desperation that women had in a world where their livelihood depended on marriage and gender roles.

Women are also given more expanded roles in the new film. The role of the enchantress is explored in more detail, and we learn about what happened to Belle's mother, as she looks into her past. Supporting characters from the original, like Plumette and Mrs. Potts, are also given more screentime. Although the 1991 film was animated, there is notably more diversity in the film as well, with women of color in the ensemble and main parts (like Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

As for the character of Belle, she is also given more feminist qualities. In an added sequence, we see that she has invented a new method of washing her laundry that doesn't require the chore to be done by hand. The device is soon destroyed by disapproving townspeople, but Belle taking on the more traditionally masculine role of an inventor (while her father, in this version, is an artist), helps to disrupt the stereotype of Disney women having to possess feminine talents only. She also speaks her mind more freely. While she tells Gaston that she just doesn't deserve him before rejecting his marriage proposal in the original, in the 2017 story, she blatantly tells him that she could never marry someone like him. She also calls out the beast for his cruel behavior when he refuses to let her say goodbye to her father.

She takes her agency a step further, too, by attempting to escape the castle immediately after being imprisoned by the Beast. While Belle has always been intelligent and headstrong, subtle details and plot-lines make her even more inspirational to children.

The 2017 version "Beauty and the Beast" is definitely not a perfect film. There are still very valid reasons to criticize the story and its efforts to become more inclusive and modern (I mean, the Beast still isn't the best guy). However, it's reassuring and exciting to see filmmakers who have such a large impact on people's childhoods working to support and motivate kids in better, more socially responsible ways. There is nothing wrong with girls dreaming of relationships, wearing dresses, or doing chores. What is important, though, is to realize that they can pursue and be passionate about anything and, as Belle says, "want so much more than they've got planned."

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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