The other night I was feeling a bit moopy, so I curled up under a blanket and watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with H.
I must be some kind abominable sap but I think it’s my favourite Disney. Although actually, now I stop and think about it, that’s a pretty difficult question. I actually came to Disney pretty late in life – H associates these films with childhood nostalgia, and I associate them with H, but I kind of like that.
I have this fondness for The Emperor’s New Groove, which is weird because it breaks all the rules of what I look for a Disney movie. But it makes me laugh more than should be possible for a film I’ve seen like … ten or twelve times. It’s just so full of joy. Joy and llamas. And Eartha Kitt being fabulous. I also think it’s informed more of our personal idiolect than any other cultural artefact. Why do we even have that lever, yay I’m a llama again, I’ve never liked your spinach puffs, or to save postage, I’ll poison him with that. All very very useful phrases, to be used literally or symbolically, as the occasion warrants. I confess I occasionally fall back on “yay I’m a llama again” in professional contexts to describe situations that go from really bad to slightly-better-but-still-quite-bad.
But, yes, llamas aside, when it comes to Disney, I’m all about songs, and if it doesn’t have a good villain song, then I’m definitely out. I mean, that’s where Aladdin really let me down, you know? Jafar is 100% quality, and even turns into a giant snake and, I think, falls onto spike while being a giant snake (talk about double whammie) but he’s got no song. What the hell, Disney? Well, he’s got a small musical gloat (Prince Ali) but it’s a reprise so I don’t think that counts. Don’t get me wrong, I respect taking the heroes theme song and using it to take the piss, but he deserved his own song.
Ursula, of course, has a splendid villain song, but I’m not that mad keen on the surrounding film. I just can’t get behind a dude who needs a lobster to tell him when to kiss a girl. I love Hercules, because Meg is the best, but Hades – although deliciously camp in every conceivable way – has no villain song. Dammit. The Lion King has Be Prepared but I’m still cross with Jeremy Irons for being pointlessly homophobic and then claiming he was just being rational. Right. I think there’s a song about killing all the non-white people in Pocahontas but we don’t talk about Pocahontas.
Which leaves The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I like more in concept that in execution. I mean, Esmeralda is a bit of a fox and I like the fact that only Quasimodo sees the gargoyles animate, which sort of implies that maybe he’s gone a bit nuts with loneliness and is basically talking to figments of his imagination. I mean, wow, Disney, don’t pull your punches or anything. Use the comedy sidekicks to further underscore just how fucking not okay this whole setup is. I feel a bit bad for Frollo because in the book I seem to recall he’s pretty nuanced and tormented, and twisted by circumstances as much as by being a raging nutjob. Although, again, it’s been years since I read Hunchback and the only thing I can remember with any vividity is this completely random scene where Hugo gets really excited describing Esmeralda’s pretty feet – which are about to, y’know, stuffed into a slipper of red hot metal. So, I think you’re alone on that one Victor. But in the Disney version Frollo subtly unravels from sinister and evil to cackling and evil. I think by about forty minutes in he’s shrieking about burning down the whole of Paris.
Dried frog pills, Judge?
But Hellfire, as far as I can tell, is the Disney …well … it’s the Disney non-consensual love anthem.
I mean it’s awesome but also … holy god, why did you write that. It basically involves Frollo freaking out because he’s got the hots (oh d’you see what I did there) for Esmeralda. My favourite bit is the verse where he first blames Esmeralda for being too darn sexy and then God for making Esmeralda be too darn sexy:
It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame
It’s not my fault
If in God’s plan
He made the devil so much
Stronger than a man
Of course, Beauty and the Beast is up there in having several songs and not one but two villain songs, one about him (Gaston) and one performed by him (Kill the Beast). And I kind of like Gaston as a villain because he covers this wide gamut of hilarious to annoying to genuinely threatening. And also, yes it’s not exactly the most wildly subtle and sophisticated device you can imagine, but he brings necessary tension to the plot and serves as a moral/aesthetic contrast to the Beast.
Though, actually, the thing that really stands out for me about Beauty and the Beast was watching it with my goddaughter. And she seemed moderately into it, not admittedly as much as me, but she’s quite laconic so this is often the case. Anyway, we got the end and she was doing serious frown face. And she felt like that the whole thing had ended really badly for Belle because she’s started off singing about wanting adventure in the great wide somewhere and ended up married to – and I quote – “a pointless boy” who lived just down the road.
And I felt really smug and proud of her. Like, yes, you have done well with this. Which is wrong, of course, because she’s her own person and I shouldn’t – however secretly – be claiming her awesome, like it has anything to do with me.
I thought about it a bit and offered up the notion that perhaps love was the greatest adventure of all.
And she said: “No, that’s being a pirate.”
So, that was me pwned. By a small girl.
The other completely weird thing we noticed about the film when we were watching was that the narration tells us that the Beast’s spell will break or be made permanent on his 21st birthday. And, later, Lumiere sings that “ten years we’ve been rusting.” Which means when the Enchantress first cursed the Beast for being a dickbag … he was eleven.
How harsh is that.
I mean, obviously, it doesn’t really need to make chronological sense, it’s a re-telling of a fairy story, but I just have this image of some eleven year old kid being all like “I don’t want your smelly rose” and the Enchantress being all “FUCK YOU THEN!”