Article Review Of “The Guy With The Problem: Reform Narrative In Disney’S Beauty And The Beast”
Beauty and the Beast is an animated film which was released in 1991 based on the French fairy-tale by Jeanne- Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which presented a great message to its viewers – true beauty comes from within. Beauty and the Beast centers on the relation between the Beast, a Prince who is mystically changed into a monster and Belle, a young woman whom he imprisons in his castle to become a prince again. Faith Dickens is a Professor in the University of Central Florida. In Dickens (2011) article “The guy with the problem: Reform narrative in disney’s Beauty and the Beast ”, she considers the film’s similarity to the Gothic and the classic romantic genres of the film, but ultimately, she finds that the film better resembles male reform narrative like Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela.
In both Pamela and Beauty and the Beast “a male figure is presented who gets transformed through the presence of a virtuous female” (p. 79). Dickens (2011) asserted that the film Beauty and the Beast does not fit to a single genre. Rather it presents a literary style of the reform narrative which adopts “tropes and conventions” (p. 79) of several genres. Beauty and the Beast “adopts the reform narrative’s exclusive focus on transformation of male characters, the spreading of female innocence and its glorification of the domestic space and virtue” (p. 79). The plot of the film resembles Richardson’s novel Pamela where the title character Pamela is imprisoned by a landlord, Mr. B. In the end Mr. B changed from a womanizer to her husband by the female virtues of Pamela.
Similarly, with the Disney’s film, at first the Beast sees Belle as a mere tool to aid his transformation and lift his curse but as the film progresses he develops a love for what Belle really is rather than her “feminine utility” (p. 81). In fact, Belles character which had a strong attention at the beginning diminishes as the film progresses and the attention shifts entirely to the beast’s transformation, characteristic of a male reform narrative genre. Both Beauty and the Beast and Pamela maintains the innocence of its heroines throughout the story. The portrayal of Belles character as a bold and liberating one loses its way as the film progresses. Dickens (2011) states it as a purposeful initiative to retain the innocence of Belle. The scene in which Belle enters the “forbidden West Wing” (p. 81) depicts her as a Gothic heroine but in the next moment she is scared away by the beast preserving her innocence about the secrets of the castle. The same is evident in the scene in which she is attacked by the wolves when she tries to flee from the castle, where she is presented as an innocent heroine and she needs the protection of the beast.
Female imprisonment in all genres invokes horror in the audience but in a male reform narrative it is framed as a positive and indispensable one. By the views of Dickens (2011) ‘rather than expressing anxiety over Belles confinement, the film promotes her role within the home’ (p. 83). As in the case with Pamela where her confinement is a must to bring about the positive change in Mr. B, the Disney film portrays Belles presence as a necessity for the beasts transformation. In a way the film tells as if beasts existence depends entirely on Belle.
Even though the film diverges from the “cloyingly sexist” (p. 84) Disney films of the past, from a feminist perspective, it appears to be problematic. Belle is presented as a perfect female with all the good qualities which conveys an indirect message that for the refinement of the male character, the female lead needs to be perfect. The film also provides space for the development of the male character whereas the female character stays as it is from the beginning. Even Belles thirst for a broader knowledge and adventure are given no importance and the focus shifts entirely on the beast’s transformation. Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast is a classic fairy-tale romance. The Disney film adopted the basic plot of the story and presented it as a reform narrative. It focusses mainly on the change of a male character through the presence of a pure and virtuous female. Richardson’s novel Pamela has the similar plot and when comparing both the stories the female character remains same throughout the story. Dickens (2011) article gives an insight into how different genres like Gothic fiction and the romantic plots gets entangled to present it in a reform narrative style.
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