Thursday, March 30, 2017

Reading for Education or Entertainment? A Brief Review of Disney's Live-Action Beauty and the Beast

Theatrical poster for the film.
While Disney's Beauty and the Beast is sure to hit every nostalgic bone in my body, I have decided to delay seeing it until it comes out on DVD.

This is partly because of how Cinderella turned out, but also because--from what I've heard--I anticipate being dissatisfied with the direction director Bill Condon and Emma Watson decided to take Belle's character.

In the live-action film, Belle faces more extreme prejudice in the village for reading because she is a girl. When she tries to teach another girl to read, she is even punished.

The Los Angeles Times describes Belle's "passion for education" as "one of the emotional cornerstones director Bill Condon used to build new plot points and broaden the characters."

They quoted Condon saying, "'Books, not boys. And everything that books represent....It's a double thing for her. There's an escape into the adventure of books, but it's also just feeding her imagination, and the zeal for knowledge. That's something that, I think, is important to a lot of us.'"

As a young girl, Belle was my favorite Disney Princess, largely due to the fact that she had brown hair and liked to read, two traits I share.

I can confidently say that I did not connect with her based on her "zeal for knowledge." I have never been ostracized for a desire to educate myself through reading because I am a woman. I find it difficult to believe that any woman raised in a first-world culture has, especially when women outnumber men in higher education by an increasingly large margin.

I connected with Belle because she read aggressively, fully immersing herself in stories she loved, and re-reading when she could not obtain new material.

I have faced criticism for that behavior.

I appreciate Belle in the original cartoon because her character's behavior argues that there is something worthwhile in reading for entertainment.

In the original cartoon, the villagers did not understand this. I never thought that the whole village was sexist--Gaston certainly was, but he was the bad guy. The villagers were working. They clearly thought that Belle's behavior was strange but not necessarily because of her gender.

For me, people who criticized my reading habit usually doubted its value as a pass-time. They usually had other things they thought I should be doing (such as homework or chores) and other responsibilities that were being neglected (not without reason). I was not allowed to read while I was babysitting my younger siblings because I became so engrossed that I ignored whatever they were doing.

There are five villagers other than Belle who are not working in the opening scene. Gaston pursues Belle because she is beautiful, the three blondes pursue Gaston because he is beautiful, and LeFou follows Gaston as a lackey.

The original cartoon makes it clear that Belle's time is spent better than these others, even though she, too, is not technically working and that the villagers do not understand this.

Is this true? I would have liked the live-action remake to explore the value of reading further.

In our world of boundless entertainment, what makes books most valuable? How do we justify consuming entertainment instead of spending our time in more "productive" ways?

I think that would have been a more worthwhile theme than the non-issue of women being allowed to educate themselves through books.

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