Walt Disney has turned "Beauty and the Beast" into a parable about socialising masculinity without lessening its appeal. But Celia Brayfield thinks Superman and Lois Lane are unlikely to live happily ever afterby Celia Brayfield / July 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Once upon a time, when the Walt Disney Company re-created a fairy story, it did not suffer too much in translation. Embellishments would be small scale-a few proactive tweety-birds or new names for the seven dwarfs. The old stories were retold with classic restraint and Disney meddled only with modern tales (resulting in butchery of The Swiss Family Robinson and Jungle Book).
With Beauty and the Beast, however, Disney finally decided to reinvent a classic. The millions who have already seen the ?10m stage musical in London and elsewhere, and enjoyed the cartoon film which preceded it, have been told a radically redesigned story.
This is no longer the tale of Beauty, youngest daughter of a once wealthy Parisian, who asks her father only for a rose as a gift when he travels up to town hoping to restore his family’s fortunes. It is now the Beast’s story, and his struggle to master his savage nature in order to win her love, break his curse and save his jolly servants from turning into furniture.
Forget the traditional gentle Beast devoted to his books; in Disney’s reading, the brutish exterior conceals a brutish interior; the Beast owns the books but cannot read. He is, in fact, a violent, hyperactive, illiterate, unskilled thug trapped in the underclass, until he meets the new post-feminist Beauty-no longer even a blonde-who starts reading his own library to him. His potential for change is contrasted with the crass, unregenerate machismo of Beauty’s village suitor, Gaston. Beauty’s father is no longer a ruined businessman, but an eccentric inventor, and her six snotty siblings have been written out, as is appropriate for a time when the average single parent has only 1.7 children.
This radical surgery has adapted a European folktale for the task of social engineering in modern ghetto cultures. Instead of a story of transforming love, we have a parable about socialising masculinity. The story’s new purpose is similar to that of Anne Fine’s Mrs Doubtfire, in which Robin Williams as an immature father has to transform himself into a middle-aged nanny to regain his children; it is also close to the reworking of Peter Pan as the film Hook by Steven Spielberg, in which the elaborate nostalgia for childhood informing JM Barrie’s tale was replaced by crude propaganda for active fatherhood.
Children always want their favourite stories told the same way, so redesigning tales…