Saturday, October 4, 2014

Is Belle a Social Climber?

While I do think that Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful movie and one of Disney's best, I've started to have a problem with something in it. It has to do with the song "Belle (Little Town)" at the start of the movie.

This movie has good songs, this one included. But as someone who has chosen to live in a little town because I like it here, I'm pausing over the lyrics more than I used to. The question is, why does Belle have a problem with this town? Is it because it's small? Does she just want the chance to go to the theatre at night and a bigger book store during the day? Or does she want to pretend she's fancy folk? After all, the movie puts Belle in an ambiguous social standing. Traditionally, she is the story of a merchant, but Disney made her father into an inventor. He and Belle live alone in what appears to be a humble cottage home (they do have chickens, too) and seem to be counting very highly on his invention being successful. So Belle, in the movie, doesn't seem to have a very high social status--so why does she complain about the "little town" she lives in?

Admittedly, there is the problem of culture. Belle appreciates culture. She likes to read and think and come up with ideas. She's surrounded by farmers and bakers and hunters who don't understand her fascination with books. She simply wants people she can have a conversation with, and that's understandable. But that feeling of isolation can happen anywhere, even in a city. Why does she have to complain that the baker bakes bread every day? Then she's just acting like him, complaining that she reads books every day.

Then there is the desire, which often comes with youth, for adventure. Belle sees the town as little because she is just at the start of her life. She wants to travel, to see places, to meet people--to have adventures. Such a desire often implies that there will be a Wizard of Oz ending. You know, where Dorothy has a series of adventures that teach her that everything she wanted could be found within herself, wherever she happened to be. In Beauty and the Beast, I feel like there is no resolution for Belle's condemnation of the town.

In theory, Belle learns about what is most important. She learns that beauty is found within. She learns that a true connection between two people has nothing to do with outward circumstances. But this is also what Belle does: she leaves a small town to marry a rich prince in a big castle. True, he happened to be a beast when they met--but she always knew that he was cursed. What would have been the story if he were a cursed farmer? Would any of Belle's desires to get away from the "little town" have been satisfied then?

My next question is, should I even be complaining? What if we decide that this is an issue where there is no resolution within the movie. Does it really matter? Not everyone likes small towns. Some people like "to see the world." Belle decided she wanted something more and she went for it. What's wrong with that?

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