Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is one of the greatest films of all time, but it severely distorts the fairy tale on which it is based. The film Beauty and the Beast has perverted the original story’s folk wisdom and its connection to reality. When I first went to see Beauty and the Beast, it was with the original folk tale in mind. The musically stunning opening number featured a young woman singing that she wanted so much more than “this provincial life” and I knew what was coming next . . . or thought I did.
The ancient Beauty and the Beast is the story of a family with several daughters. One daughter is humble and knows her place, but the other daughters are vain and desire more than they have. When their father loses his wealth, the wicked daughters are unhappy, but the godly daughter is content. The father regains his riches and the bad sisters demand costly gifts while the pious younger daughter demands nothing but a single red rose. In the end, the patience and humility of the justly named Belle, whose form matches her soul, are rewarded. Beauty’s Christian, sacrificial, love transforms even a Beast and she is revealed as fit to rule.
In the Disney film this message is turned on its head. The common folk are crude in the style of their animation and in their characters. Small town, provincial values and folk wisdom, are shown ridiculous and stifling. Belle is rewarded for being discontent with her lot and recognizing her own superiority. In the end, the only people she loves, her father and the Beast, are aided because she loves them and she is a superior creature. The townspeople are annihilated and Belle is left to rule in a castle with her prince. It is her love of self that motivates her love of others. Because she is self-confident, she can love those wise enough to see her true value. She demands more of life than she has and she gets it.
It is not the fairy tales that lie. It is the modern telling of them, close enough to still resonate, but subtly changed that fail. Beauty and the Beast is a lovely film, but full of falsehoods. It has value as a work of art, but little value as a reflection of reality.