Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beauty and the Beastly Boyfriend

I am looking forward to tomorrow night. For as long I can remember, I have enjoyed and then become enamored/fascinated/obsessed with fairy tales, and my favorite has always been Beauty and the Beast.

Although I read many different versions when I was a kid, the Disney film stuck with me because you had a young woman who was smart, bookish, and frankly, a brunette with a ponytail [as a kid, I was always on the lookout for characters I could identify with, not only in character traits I had or wanted to have, but physically as well, and there just weren’t a ton of brunettes that weren’t passive and mousy (I was already mousy enough)]. Anyway, Belle became the starting point of transitioning my love stories into a far too in-depth fascination.

So tomorrow night, Sunday. ABC has a new show called Once Upon a Time. Since they’re owned by Disney, they can use as much or as little of the animated films’ influence as they want, but in an article (with either Sci Fi magazine or Entertainment Weekly, I don’t recall which but they’re the only ones I read), one of the creators said they were trying to stay away from the Disneyfied tales. At most, they have only used a few names, like Pongo and Jiminy.

Now, as much as I love Beauty and the Beast in any form, the more I think about, the less I like the premise. This is a bit heartbreaking for me.

But when you deconstruct it, you have a beautiful girl, essentially forced (because she loves her father and would do anything to see him not die, what choice does she have once he asks her?) to leave home and go to the home of a man monstrous in appearance, sure, but also a monster in character. She must fall in love with this monstrous (in every way) person, so that he can be beautiful again. In the process, she changes him, he falls for her, and she for him, before she realizes she should never have left his side (despite her father dying, usually from illness). It reeks of Stockholm syndrome and/or an abusive boyfriend.

Although she tends to be a more active participant in her life (she has more agency than a girl relying on a fairy godmother/dead mother in a tree, or a girl sleeping through most of her own story, or one who doesn’t know not to buy from door-to-door creepy old sales-ladies), she gets swept up in her father’s mistakes and then “makes the best of it,” and never tries to find any way out of it.

Plus, who hasn’t heard a woman say at some point, “I can change him,” only to have that end badly? He may love her, but that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be a jerk. And does it mean she loves him, or the person she’s turned him into, and is that true love?

So on this episode of Once, the Beast is played by Rumpelstiltskin. As soon as I saw the promo for this, I was intrigued, because it seems like it’ll play right into the idea of Beast as abusive boyfriend. Interestingly enough, the commercials never show Belle in the modern world, only in the fairytale land (looking a lot like her animated counterpart, for no discernible reason when Snow White and others get a drastic makeover), so I wonder if that’s just to keep part of the story a surprise for viewers, or to suggest something more sinister. It would be interesting to see if one version strongly played up that abusive relationship aspects of the story.

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