#246 – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

From 344,988 votes, Beauty and the Beast has a score of 8.0/10.

A young woman whose father has been imprisoned by a terrifying beast offers herself in his place, unaware that her captor is actually a prince, physically altered by a magic spell.

Disney really hit a jackpot when it came to this movie. I’ll say this now, I am an unashamed Disney fanboy and they can do no evil in my eyes when it comes to their animated canon. Beauty and the Beast is no exception and as a child I quite literally wore my VHS copy out with constant use, and as I watched today I could remember every word to every song (except that peppy ‘new’ one that was cut from the original release).

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It’s a musical, it’s animated beautifully, and it has Angela Lansbury playing a sentient teapot, there is literally nothing more that you could ask for. But if you do need a more in-depth look at the movie (Why would you? Everyone has seen this) then look no further. From the catchy opening number in which Belle seemingly insults the entire town she lives in to the surprisingly thrilling climax in which a horde of grown men get beaten up by furniture, the movie is a standout for having memorable scene after memorable scene. Every second of the animation is used expertly to develop the now iconic characters. Belle is an inquisitive young woman, to the point of self-endangerment. Over the movie she opens up more and more to the Beast and it culminates in her becoming a full-fledged furry. No, seriously.

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Let’s talk about Gaston. The third principal character and villain of the piece, no one antagonises like Gaston or inspires disgust like Gaston. We could talk for ages about his misogynist outlook or his terrible diet (Sixty fucking eggs a day? Come on Gaston, you even ate the shells) but what’s interesting is the obvious similarities and differences between him and Beast.

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Firstly, obviously, they’re both huge. Whether via a frankly awful diet or enchantress magic, they’re both physically imposing. And also hairy. Beast is furry head to toe, and Gaston even sings about “every last inch of [him’s] covered in hair”. Manscaping obviously hadn’t hit France at this time in history. Then we move on to how they treat Belle. To begin with, they both attempt to confine her (Gaston blocking Belle against a wall, Beast literally confining her to a room) but their behaviours differ at the climax of the film; when Belle makes it clear that her father is the most important thing for her, Beast relents and lets her leave the manor, while Gaston tries to get him sectioned. We can clearly see who the gentleman is. And lastly, and it’s a little thing, but I liked it – how the two men approach books. Gaston wonders where the pictures are in Belle’s book, like an utter boor, but Beast relishes listening to Belle read to him and then swallows his pride and let’s her help him read it himself. This, the man who once was prepared to starve Belle for not joining him for dinner. Christ, Beast is sounding more and more like the perfect man. Am I a furry?

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Okay, enough about the technical aspects of the film – we’ve all seen it. Let’s talk about how a French prince was turned into a hairy beast without alerting the general public. How far do you have to be down the line of inheritance to not have anyone care enough to seek help? And what about the families of the furniture-servants? Am I missing something? Because the only explanation I can come up with is that everyone in that manor/palace is an ex-con escaped from the Bastille or something. Imagine it.

“How come uncle Figaro wasn’t at Christmas mama?”

“Uncle Figaro? He’s a footstool now.”

“Oh.”

See? I know it’s a fairy tale, but come on, internal consistency, Disney.

Little annoyances aside, everyone loves Beauty and the Beast. It is an absolute classic, and with very good reason. Go watch it today and revel in the nostalgia. Or read ahead about the brutality of what could have happened to Maurice. (Will be added post-publishing because am currently drunk.)

RYAN’S HISTORICAL PSYCHOLOGY CORNER

Gaston: Everyone knows her father’s a lunatic. He was in here tonight raving about a beast in a castle.
D’arque: Maurice is harmless.

Based on a throwaway comment from Cogsworth referencing the rococo period (1700-1770ish) and the level of technology we can safely assume that Beauty and the Beast takes place during the nineteenth century, or the 1800s. Had Maurice successfully been inducted to the asylum as per Gaston’s scheme he would have had an interesting time. It was around here that the first documented cases of schizophrenia and dementia are found, but the treatment of such was certainly not a scientific marvel just yet. The 1800s saw the birth of hypnotherapy, something that while used and understood today as a possible avenue of treatment in some very specific cases, would have been largely an effort in vain back then. This can be evidenced by the efforts of Jean-Martin Charcot to treat hsyteria (now known as conversion disorder) with hypnotherapy. With the rationale being that the afflicted were possessed by demons. Yeah. The science of psychology wasn’t very… scientific.

Despite what some may think, this was not totally a period of mass cruelty for those admitted to asylums in Europe. Cast away your perspectives influenced by American Horror Story, for in the 1800s European psychotherapists (or the equivalent) did away with the restraints and handcuffs and solitary confinement that made the environment of a patient like that of a prisoner, and instead they made asylums beautiful, and home-like. This was not so in America, where AHS was quite accurate, as far as that show can go. The Europeans recognised that asylums should be places of healing, not of confinement and segregation, with advancements in biomedical science, pharmacotherapy and a focus on patients’ wellbeing above all else.

In this respect, there is some deal of accuracy in how Beauty and the Beast portrays the presumed owner of the local asylum. He is motivated by money, yes, but also recognises that Maurice is harmless, not requiring admission to the asylum. Maurice may not come across as the guy with the most sound mind, having odd hobbies and a certain lack of social skills (as suggested by the residents’ general derision of him), but it is recognised that this is not sufficient for him to require treatment. Alas and alack, money talks, and the plot went ahead as it did. But hey, it’s a nice touch for a throwaway line. “Maurice is harmless.”


2 thoughts on “#246 – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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