I have seen very few movies in the theater, compared to the average America. The number of movies I have seen twice is even smaller. The number of movies I have seen more than twice could be counted on one hand.
There is only one movie that I saw in the theater six times: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Why did I—or I should say, we, for I saw it each time with my husband—love this movie so much? A bit of history…
I grew up out of step with the kids I went to school with, partially because I lived in the world of imagination, and many of them did not. My greatest joy was a trip to the local library, from which I would return with a stack of books as high as I could carry. I could read a book back then in a day or maybe two, and every new book was a journey into wonder.
As a bookish, imaginative person, my childhood was a lonely place. Very few of the other kids understood why one would bother with such foolish things. Books did not make them “burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind.” * Daydreaming was a thing that was mocked.
Things changed drastically when I reached college. St. John’s offered an entire campus filled with people who wanted nothing more than to lose themselves in a good story. I used to joke that the entire student body was made of from “that one kid from your high school who never did well in gym class.” (This is unfair, as SJC sports some excellent athletes.) After years of feeling ostracized, it was amazing to live and study in a place where I felt like I fit in. I might be friends with a fellow student or only a passing acquaintance, but I felt like we understood each other in a way that had been lacking in my home town. It was as if we breathed the same air.
I met my husband (author John C. Wright) at college, though we did not date until later. He, too, was a bookish sort, both writing and reading in all his spare time. We lived in the world of stories and books.
When it came time for our wedding, John drew the illustration for the invitations himself. He put on it a frog and a cat—figures from a story he had told me in our early courting days. Our wedding cake sported a black cat and a frog with a crown instead of a bride and groom figure.
For the thank you card, John drew a svelte cat in a wedding dress…and a handsome prince—as if the kiss of the cat-princess had transformed the frog into a prince.
This was John’s own feeling of what had happened to him when I came into his life.
I think you can see why the two of us fell in love with the cartoon movie, Beauty and the Beast. That small town girl who felt out of place and sang about her love of books and stories could have been me. The huge beast, alone and outcast, whose life was transformed by love, could have been John.
The moment when, wishing to please her, the Beast shows Belle a library filled with books from floor to its towering ceiling…practically nothing else they might have chosen to put on stage could have been so magical for us.
Fast-forward four children and many years, and word comes out that Disney is making a live action Beauty and the Beast with the charming girl from Harry Potter and that handsome, delightful actor from Downton Abbey. Remakes can be a chancy thing, but the Cinderella remake, staring another Downton Abbey alum had been totally delightful.
They had managed to update the story slightly, to appeal to modern sensibilities, without ruining any of its charm or magic. And Lily James was so sweet and innocent and appealing. Frankly, I liked her version more than the original.
They had done such a beautiful job with Cinderella, they could do Beauty and the Beast well, too, couldn’t they?
I was hopeful.
Very hopeful. And my daughter was so excited about the movie.
I think the moment I began to worry was when I found out that Emma Watson, the actress playing Belle, was some kind of Feminist Ambassador to the U.N.—and she had been allowed to update Belle.
Update Belle? How could you improve on the most wonderful heroine ever.
Then, I read this:
“Emma Watson noted how in the original Beauty and the Beast
didn’t provide much of a reason for why Belle was an outsider
other than she simply liked books…”
I think this may be the most tin-earred statement I have ever come upon. Is it really true that modern youth are so separated from the past that they don’t know how alone, how ostracized, how out of place intellectuals have always felt in small villages? Could she really not know?
I lived that life—the life Belle sings about so eloquently. I was that girl.
Because I read books.
That is why I loved Belle so much, too. Because she was such a perfect portrayal of the bookish girl.
I saw elsewhere that Watson picked inventor for Belle because, otherwise, “What did she do with her time?”
Again, that shows such an egregious lack of understanding of life in the past as to be truly alarming. There was a reason every man used to need a wife. Taking care of daily needs was a full-time job. Either you had servants to do it for you, like the Beast, or you had a wife—or in this case, daughter—who saw to the daily needs while you worked, or you did it yourself, and probably could not make a good living, as these things took so much time.
Even in the movie, we see Belle go shopping—a daily task, as there is no refrigerator, feed the chickens, and perform other daily tasks. Believe me, if Belle found time to read in among the responsibilities of daily life, that was quite amazing.
Also, Watson so misunderstands the bookloving mind that she decided that the only reason Belle is not traveling to go on adventures like that herself is: because her father is too overprotective and won’t let her go.
Never mind them being too poor to travel widely. Everyone knows the only reason Medieval young women were not jetsetting around the Continent was—overprotective parents.
How booklovers see everyone else
But daily life aside, let’s return to Emma Watson and Belle. Since reading books couldn’t possibly make Belle so odd, and she had to fill her oodles of free time, Feminist Ambassador Watson decided to make Belle the inventor.
Before I go on, I feel constrained to say: female inventors are wonderful. Everyone loves Girl Genius. And one could write a wonderful version of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale where the beauty was an inventor.
But that is not the story Disney told. And Disney’s story cannot become Inventor Belle’s story and still work.
Why? You say, Why not just watch the movie and see?
Well…think about it. Think about the structure of the story–a story I know so very well, having watched it so many times.
If Belle is an inventor, then books are not the sole bright spot in her dreary village life. So, why the song? Why does it matter that “she doesn’t know it’s him till Chapter Three?” Why does the bookseller give her a book she loves—if inventing is the center of her life?
If Belle is the strange beast, a female inventor in the Middle Ages, then that should be what stirs her heart. Making things, tinkering, bringing ideas to life should be what she sings about—what lights her inner candle.
Either Inventor Belle has no time for books, and they are just a side hobby and the song should be about inventing.
Or, Inventor Belle loves books, and inventing is a side hobby, in which case, it is a distraction and unneeded for the story.
Worse…what happens later?
To cartoon Belle, seeing the library was the answer to everything she desired.
But to Inventor Belle? She has to like the library not for itself, but for what it can teach her about inventing. In which case, a workshop filled with the right tools could have done just as well.
The library is no longer as important to her.
Worse, in the cartoon, Belle’s father is an inventor, and his problem is eventually solved by one of his inventions.
But if Belle is the inventor, she has to solve her problem with one of her inventions—totally changing the story.
Or the story ends the same way it did before, and her being an inventor is now just frosting, in which case, she really wasn’t an inventor in any important way, was she? She could just as easily have been a painter or a pastry cook.
Or a girl who loves books.
*–quote from the Hindu holy book, The Mahabharata. This was one of my father’s favorite quotes.