Saturday, November 17, 2012

DaWaRou Posts: Completely Missing the Point: CW's Beauty and the Beast

Okay, so I know I really should get these posts up on a weekly basis but...sometimes I can't, so I'm sorry about that. But today we're going to talk about Fairy Tales. I'm John Cortez and this is my third post on the Broken Infinite. Let's get started.

So, as you all know, or should know, we seem to be in this "Fairy Tale Phase" where classic Fairy Tales are being adapted into movies or television series. So far, the only stand out of this Fairy Tale Phase is the ABC series Once Upon a Time. An honorable mention goes to Snow White and the Huntsman but it falls flat with our buck toothed Bella Swan in the lead role, being out acted by EVERYONE ELSE! Today however, we'll be talking about something that's particularly offensive to me, personally and that is the CW's newest drama Beauty and the Beast. Now, I'll let you know right now that if you decide to comment on this, you're more than welcome to do so, but also know that I'm more than welcome to reply to your comment as positively or negatively as I wish. Prepare yourself and don't get all asshurt if I say something you don't agree with.

Now, the original Fairy Tale was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve  and is...quite contrived in terms of shits going on. The better known version was written in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and was a lot more of a "Fairy Tale" in our sense of the word than the original which was basically propaganda for Arranged Marriages. That said, let's take a look at Beaumont's version shall we?

Belle (the Beauty) is the youngest daughter of a merchant who suddenly hits a streak of bad luck and his family loses some status and money. When he hears that one of his ships has come into port, he asks what his daughters want and while the two eldest ask for material riches, Belle only wants a rose since they don't grow naturally in their area...or something like that. So the father sets off and his ship turns out to have been a money waster than a money maker and he gets trapped in a snow storm but takes refuge in a mysterious castle. He's treated comfortably and fed well and he discovers that there's a garden blooming profusely in the dead of winter. There he sees a rose and picks one for Belle but then the Beast, the master of the castle, is all like "I'm gonna kill you for pickin' my roses, dammit!" After the father begs for his life, the Beast relents to let him go if one of his daughters comes to take his place for eternity and so Belle decides to go. The Beast's treatment of her is radically different from how he treated her father as he's on his absolute best behavior and treats her with every kindness imaginable...well except for the whole freedom part. Every night, the two engage in fabulous conversation as they wine and dine and every night the Beast proposes to Belle who refuses but does grow fond of him as she gets to know him better. One day when Belle learns that her father is sick, the Beast decides to allow her one week of freedom and gives her a Magic Mirror that shows her anything and a Magic Ring of Teleportation. Upon returning home, Belle's sisters, jealous of the fabulous way she's been living, conspire to keep her home longer than she promised and when she looks back at the Beast in the Mirror, she sees him dying in the rose garden, returns and confesses her love for him which breaks the spell on him and turns him into a handsome man. They get married and live happily ever after.

Now some versions of the story often do one of two things with Beauty's relationship with the Beast. They either keep the Beast polite and when he proposes to her she says no because she's having dreams of a handsome prince that she believes the Beast is hiding somewhere in the castle or they add a love interest for Beauty, often someone she doesn't really even want to marry for one reason or another. The story has been adapted MANY times before and most older tellings of the story tend to be very good and very effective in teaching that beauty is something that's only truly on the inside. The story was adapted into a more Urban Fantasy Romance TV series during the late 80's and then THIS happened.

 The year was 1991, one year before I was born, when Walt Disney Pictures made their most perfect and beloved film of all time Beauty and the Beast. Taking place in late 18th century France (very fitting as France is often very romanticized, French is the Language of Love I mean Everything Sounds Sexier When French right, and the original story was devised in France) the story is first told though stain glass windows expositing to us that there once was a prince who was an incredible douche with everything anyone could ever ask for. One night an old crone came knocking on his fabulous castle doors and was all like "Please let me inside! It's cold...I'LL GIVE YOU A ROSE!" to which the Prince was all like "Fuck you, you old bitch!" and turned her away. She warned him not to be deceived by appearances and he slammed the door in her withered face. As it turns out, the old crone was really an Enchantress which is a better way of saying she's a very pissed off Fairy who's actually quite beautiful and the Prince, now realizing what kind of shit he's now in, tries to beg for forgiveness. She takes it quite well and turns him into a monster as punishment and not only does he get punished but EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING IN THE CASTLE GETS PUNISHED WITH HIM! The damn bitch! Who shit in her corn flakes that morning?! Any ways the Prince now a Beast, shuts himself away in his castle with the rose, actually an enchanted rose that acts as some sort of magical timer and a Magic Mirror (why the fuck didn't the bitch just offer him the mirror?) that allows him to see ANYTHING HE WANTS! (Honestly, if my ass was out in the harsh French winter, I'd have offered the Magic Pervert's Looking Glass. It'd probably have worked better.) She tells him that the curse she's placed on him an his staff will only be broken when he can find someone to love and who will love him in return by the time the last petal falls from the rose, which had been blooming till his 21st birthday. If he can't meet those conditions...well he's shit out of luck. We next meet our main protagonist, the beautiful Belle (YAY REDUNDANCY!). Belle is HANDS DOWN Disney's BEST protagonist, and probably their BEST female character, EVER. I mean she's a long way from Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora all of whom had typical goals at the time that being find a husband and get married, though Cinderella just really wanted to have a life of her own. In 1989 we got Ariel from The Little Mermaid who was kind of a mix of the old and new wave of princess in that yes she wanted love but she was actively in pursuit of it and refused to let anyone or anything stop her. Belle though? Belle is beautiful (obviously, it is HER NAME!), but she's also a very plain and conservative beauty with a GREAT head on her shoulders and her nose always in a book. That earns her MAJOR points with me as I do love my women to be intelligent and well read (being French is a welcome bonus!) but she's also odd by her village and time frame standards. Women in the 18th century probably weren't known for being independent or unmarried or reading anything at all. Belle was a reader, a dreamer and a feminist in her own time. She didn't put up with other people's shit and she wanted far more than anything a man could possibly give her. She wanted adventure, excitement and the kinds of things she only read about in her books. After being proposed to by Disney's best misogynistic douche Gaston, Belle discovers that her father is being imprisoned by the Beast and willingly trades away her life, her dreams, her future, her happiness and everything she has just to free her father. After the Beast freaks her out, she runs away but comes back when he saves her life and the two begin to grow close to each other. Eventually, the Beast figures out that he has fallen in love with her and he lets her go to save her father when he comes to try to save her. She comes back when Gaston leads a mob to kill the Beast and it's her love for him that turns him back into a human being...and a kind of average looking one at that but hey your mileage may vary.

Now THAT isn't the BEST description of the movie, it's pretty simplified but it works and gets the job done, besides, by now most of you have already seen and fallen in love with the movie so there's little point in describing it to you. The point is that THAT is the best way to tell the Beauty and the Beast story. These were some of the most complex and interesting characters ever produced for a Disney film at the time and even today they're still pretty great. Both Belle and the Beast have clear motivations. Belle is motivated by saving her father but her primary motivation is to get away from the monotony of her every day life. She doesn't just want "more" like the more modern Disney Princesses, she wants adventure and excitement, something greater than herself and something that she can barely comprehend. The Beast on the other hand started off with everything he could ever want and anything he lacked he could've easily taken by force but he was a spoiled selfish prick, probably very similar to Gaston. Once he was turned into a Beast, he began to lose his humanity. If  you pause the movie while Belle is in the West Wing or you just pay really close attention, you can actually see bones of animals the Beast has killed because that's how he's been feeding himself. He wants his humanity again but he's already given up hope on ever being Human again, that is until Belle arrives and he struggles with his temper and expressing his emotions properly. Even Gaston is portrayed as a more realistic antagonist than most of Disney's other villains. All he wants is Belle, nothing more and nothing less but he lacks a single shred of Human decency and his horrible personality is what pushes Belle further and further away from him. Deeply complex and interesting characters, beautiful animation, amazing music and loved the world over. I'm not even sure if there's a single person in the world who doesn't like Beauty and the Beast.

Now we've got this...THING. Where do I begin?! First of all...I'm seeing two beauties and NO BEAST! How can you even DARE TO CALL YOURSELF BEAUTY AND THE BEAST WHEN THERE IS NO BEAST?! HOW?! HOW?! HOW?! HOW?! I don't even have the energy to describe the show but it's boring. I haven't watched anything more than the pilot episode and I almost fell asleep. Basically Lois Lane's mom was killed and she got saved by a Beast. She becomes a detective to try to solve the mystery and ends up running into Mr. Bishonen Scar over here who's a former Iraq Super Soldier who now hulks out when he's angry and he's got a scar and faked his death. One of the elements that I believe to be an unspoken rule about a Beauty and the Beast story is that the Beast can't have any contact with the regular world. He'd be too dangerous or he'd be hated by society and humanity or both. This guy...he's hot. Hes' sexy, he's what girls swoon over. And I'm supposed to believe that he's a Beast?! Really CW? Really? Well, congratulations CW, YOU COMPLETELY FAIL! I'm more than welcome to debate this show with anyone who even dares to defend it. I can't see a single good thing about it. Even the Beauty isn't all that beautiful. Why not get someone a little more sexy and exotic or beautiful in a more conservative and bookish sense. Don't get the next Twilight. I mean she was okay in Smallville, I don't really buy it. After watching the Disney version 3 times now since I started writing this, I've kind of exhausted my anger but...basically, CW has completely missed the point. The Beast isn't a Beast, the Beauty's not all that smart or interesting and while she is beautiful...not a whole lot. I talked about this with my Dad and he told me that while he understands my complaints, this is the kind of shit that makes money. I blame Twilight. It's pretty much telling people "It's okay if you love a long as it's DROP DEAD SEXY!" If you're going to tell a story in which a Human falls in love with any shade of Beautiful Monster like an Elf or a Fairy or a Mermaid or something, at least make sure you make that Monster a Monster in personality. Especially if it's the Fair Folk. Make them amoral, ambiguous  and manipulative and even if the Human is obviously in love with them, the Monster should have some sort of attraction not based on anything romantic but more in something like a plaything and then grow to love the Human. If you're telling a Beauty and the Beast  type story, make sure both the Beauty and the Beast have interesting motivations and goals. Make them want the thing they can't or don't have. Make your Beauty a strong and well rounded female character who's not really looking for love but looking for something she can't really define. Make your Beast an actual ugly monster like a Gargoyle, or a Gorgon...I'll even settle for a Werewolf or a Vampire because THOSE can be monstrous destructive temperamental beings with an obvious desire to regain the humanity they might've lost. If they're naturally a monster, make them sympathetic but OBVIOUSLY dangerous and uncontrollable. Give them flaws and reasons for doing the things they do.

I think I've gone over this thing as much as I really care to so let me wrap this up. Beauty and the Beast might not have been intended to carry a moral about Beauty being on the inside but it sure does now. There are key elements of the story that are practically prerequisites if you intend to tell it and even a modern audience should be able to smell the bullshit and bile coming from their media but apparently we can't since this is apparently doing really well on the CW. So, if you're going to indulge in any version of this fairy tale, be sure you compare it to the original Fairy Tale and to the Disney version. Its' not a hard story to fail or fuck up, but somehow...well, I'm John Cortez Turner and this show is a beautiful beast of bullshit. DaWaRo~!

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