Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Monster, a Child

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 of 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 boy 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.


  1. I thought I had responded to this post, I guess it didn't hold......anyway, liked your for fairies and their apparently haven't read "Peter Pan".....Tink is not a very nice fairy, certainly not the Disney version....anyway, maybe once the Beast became the beast that part of him simply doesn't remember he can read?....just a theory.

  2. Well, this fairy is all human-sized, so you wouldn't expect her to have Tink's problem where there's only room for one emotion in her body at a time, but maybe creepy lust for your little foster son is just a really big emotion? IDK. The other fairies in the story are fine. But this one. I just wrote a twenty page research paper on the topic, and I'm still not over it.

    1. Fairies are usually ambiguous to malevolent in folklore (Belle Dame sans Merci). The 19th ceture *fairy* tale (which based based on tales and legends of Virgin Mary) changed that. Villeneuve's fairy is special in that she is closer to the fairies of folklore than those of literary fairy tales.

      And interestingly enough supernatural creatures punishing people for the most minor offenses are also common in folklore. Think of the Russian fairy tale in which the "unkind" girl is killed for daring to admit that she is cold, while the "kind" girl is outright lying. Those forces do not judge by a human system of justice or morality,they have their own set of standards. The fairy in the Disney version seems to be one of them.

      Btw: Be careful to judge behavior based on todays standards when the story is set in the past. It usedto be quite common for royals to leave their children with caretakers forlong periods of time, class distictions were very real and the prince marryinga commoner could have hurt the whole kingdom politically and in times without cars or even well-planned roads not allowing in a stranger (who seemed to a frail old woman) could very well lead to their deaths in winter.

  3. I also don't like the musical version of BATB!! Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that I was in it my senior year of high school and very bitter that I didn't get the role of Belle...I do like "Human Again" and the Beast's solo "If I Can't Love Her," but HATE Belle's extra solos. The words are meaningless and they just fill time when the audience is ready for the plot to move on.
    The whole age of the Prince bothered me for a while too. And I guess in some early version they had the curse scene with a little boy and changed it for obvious reasons-he clearly looks like an adult in the stained glass intro, the creators all just missed the timeline math?? (and corrected it by changing the words to "the rose would bloom for many years" instead of "till his twenty first birthday" in later versions).

    I agree the whole illiterate thing doesn't make sense, surely a royal prince would have a tutor? I think we're just not supposed to take it that seriously...or assume he was too stubborn when young to let someone teach him? I had never considered linking the Villeneuve fairy to the Disney version, but the movie creators did do their research, so maybe they did have in mind? Interesting to consider at least.

  4. I saw the musical some years ago(with Hugh Jackman as Gaston - he wasn't yet a big name)and thought it delightful. Especially that big ensemble piece "Be Our Guest." I thought there were some elements of Robin McKinley's novel "Beauty" in which the girl was intelligent and loved reading. In the novel, the Beast explains that he got the curse because his ancestors' goody-goody ways and self-righteousness had irritated a local fairy who had declared that the first family member to put a foot wrong would get the curse - and unfortunately for him, that was himself. He never says what he did. ;-)

    I agree with Julia that we can't always judge a fairytale by our own standards. Things have changed over the centuries!