What if the hero didn’t win? I mean, like, just for a change of pace, what if Disney made a movie where the “handsome prince” goes after the damsel in distress but ends up, I dunno, just like dying instead and the girl is left to live out her life with the villain?
Psych— trick question, Disney already made that movie. It’s called Beauty and the Beast. Care to come down the rabbit hole with me?
Everyone knows Gaston is a creep. At least, the Gaston that we see is a creep. But that’s the problem, don’t you see (heh, see what I did there)? The problem is that Gaston doesn’t make sense as a creep. Here we have a tall, muscular, handsome, skilled and popular hometown hero who deliberately abstains from the women flocking around him in order to pay attention to the inwardly and outwardly beautiful but socially inept town outcast; it all just screams classic romance.
Yet instead of getting Zac Efron we get a boorish, misogynistic and conniving villain, a role exclusively reserved at that time for much sleazier looking characters (read: Jafar, Hook, Ratcliffe). All the aesthetics of a hero, yet characterized as a villain. By classic Disney standards, it just doesn’t make sense. That is, until we ask, who is telling this story?
Enter the girl. Preferably with a cleverly woven musical number (bonjour!). What do we know about Belle? She’s beautiful, intelligent, bookish and the obvious choice for female protagonist. Well at least you got that part right, Disney. We also know, however, that she goes through an insanely (using that word carefully, stay tuned) traumatic event. It would only be natural to assume some psychological fallout. I’m not talking Stockholm syndrome; no, much better. Er- worse. I meant worse.
There is a generally accepted mental condition called False Memory Syndrome, in which a person forms (you guessed it) false memories concerning a traumatic event in order to cope. These false memories forge a new reality for the person, who not only believes the false memories but actively avoids any evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t take too large a leap of logic to suggest that Belle— the daughter of an actually senile old man— could have developed such a condition, forming false memories about her experience (and thus telling a warped version of the story) in order to cope with the trauma. But of course this is all speculation. What we really need is some evidence that the whole thing is a fabrication, a story created by Belle’s abused psyche. Evidence like…
Remember the bit in the beginning, in the opening musical number when Belle gets her favorite book and sings/describes the story to the sheep?
Nice bit of meta foreshadowing, we all thought. Think again. If Belle really is forming false memories to cope with her trauma, what else would she use as her source material but her favorite story? She wants her life to be a fairy tale so badly, then one mental shock later her life is a fairy tale. And not just any fairy tale— her favorite one, the one she’s memorized and constantly sings about escaping to. Well now she has, at least in her mind.
So what really happened? The facts are these: (1) Belle is a social outcast, imprisoned by a beast; (2) Gaston is the hometown hero, intent on rescuing and marrying Belle; (3) Gaston dies in his struggle with the beast; (4) Belle spends the rest of her life in the castle (now full of objects-turned-people) with the beast (now a prince). Do you see it? There is no prince. In fact, there’s no one in the castle, except the beast.
Ok let’s bring this home. As soon as Belle sacrifices herself for her father, accepting her life-sentence as the beast’s prisoner, she begins to converse with the now-animate objects in her room. Already she is cracking, forming castaway-esque friendships in her isolation. But don’t worry, here comes the hero to rescue her from the villainous monster! He doesn’t rescue her, though. He fails. He dies. Her only chance at rescue gone, her actual Disney-happy-ending-handsome-prince-marriage lying at the bottom of a ravine, Belle breaks completely. The beast becomes “the prince in disguise,” all of the objects become actual people. The story itself warps in her mind so that hero becomes beast and beast becomes hero. Tale as old as time? No; this is no love story. This is the happy ending that never was. There is no prince. There is, and forever will be, the Beauty and the Beast.