I know I’ve already written extensively on this subject (on a related note, stay tuned for next week), but last week I went to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, and, well. Here we are again.
The thing about the live action musical, first of all, is that it drives me nuts. I hate it. There’s like three new songs. The Beast is illiterate. Like, what? I know the matter of his age at transformation time is shrouded in continuity errors, but the most reasonable choice is that he was eleven. Who doesn’t teach an eleven year old to read? Especially a royal eleven year old? This is Beauty and the Beast, people, not The Whipping Boy.
So I was, while mostly enjoying the experience immensely, stuck through the entire first half on that one little detail. Why couldn’t he read? He was eleven. He was eleven.
He was eleven.
He was eleven, in a gigantic palace, and he was the only one around to answer the door. Where were his parents? Where are his parents now? Why didn’t they teach him to read? Why didn’t they teach him to be kind to strangers?
He was eleven, and he was horribly cursed for being rude. Has this fairy never heard to stranger danger? Of course he wasn’t going to let her in. Newsflash: kids are rude. They’re also sensible, at least the ones not named Snow White. (Seriously, kid? The first two creepy old ladies you invited in when you were home alone tried to kill you, but surely the third is a nice one. I mean, come on. Really?)
When a creepy looking old lady knocks on the door, an eleven year old boy, home alone, is probably not going to want her to stick around. And who could blame him? He’s a child.
So now, having long since come to the conclusion that the fairy is the bad guy in the original novel, I’m beginning to have serious doubts about her in Disney, too. Fairy raises little boy, fairy wants to marry little boy, little no says no. Bam! Little boy is a monster now. Fairy approaches little boy, late at night, in a creepy disguise. Little boy does not react with kindness and maturity. Bam! Little boy is a monster now. I’m noticing a pattern, and it has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with her. (And with his mom, because seriously, lady? You leave your child with a pervy old fairy for years so you can fight a war. You try to prevent him from marrying the girl who saved him. You don't teach him to read. You are not around when he is terrified and newly monstrous. Get your act together. Your son needs you.)
Even in the versions where they try to make the Beast look like he deserved it, we’re still seeing him punished, if not for nothing at all, then at least in a manner that is nowhere near proportionate to his crimes. And the Beast is a victim. And the Beast is a child. Again, and again, and again.
Never trust the fairies.
P.S. The second half of the play was pretty much the most incredible thing ever, and the Beast was awkward and adorable and displayed traits consistent with someone who had been neglected and abused since childhood and was still very young, and long story short I kind of wanted to marry him, and also got glared at by lots of people when I couldn’t contain my squealing.