Tale as Old as Time

Beauty and the Beast

My all-time favorite Disney movie. Belle is my favorite princess. The movie is a beloved classic and was the first animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. It did not win that title, but did win Best Original Song, Beauty and the Beast and Best Original Score. Angela Landsbury will always be Mrs. Potts, even though I enjoyed her in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (I’ll come around to that movie when I do musicals) and Murder, She Wrote. I learned of David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth long before I realized he was Major Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H. He went on to voice several other Disney characters (and sadly passed away in March of this year). Never made the connection between Jerry Orbach (you all probably know him from Law and Order, or maybe as Baby’s father in Dirty Dancing) and Lumiere until the 25th Anniversary disc and my parents made a comment.

The opening music to the 1991 animated film is very similar to Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns; the eerie runs of the piano, though they seem to differ slightly in key. Beauty and the Beast also has strings backing and changing the tone; not quite so haunted and nightmarish but still setting the stage for something magical. Instead of a storybook introduction, the narrator (David Ogden Stiers) is accompanied by a stained-glass depiction. A spoiled prince is faced with a beggar woman wishing to come in from the cold; for such kindness, she offers a rose. But the prince refuses, twice, even when cautioned that “true beauty is found within.” Upon the second refusal, the beggar transforms into a beautiful enchantress (“enchantresses” are good, “witches” are evil). The enchantress then casts a spell/curse (depending on how you want to look at it) on the prince, transforming him into a beast and all who dwell in the castle into objects as punishment (why punish the servants who most likely had nothing to do with it and are already dealing with a horrible prince?) In order to break the spell/curse, the prince must fall in love with a woman and the woman must love him in return. In the animated version, the deadline is his twenty-first birthday. If not, then the prince is doomed to remain a beast for all time.

opening stained glass
Opening stained glass window

Years go by and we are next introduced to Belle, who dreams of excitement and adventure opposed to the “quiet village” with “every day like the one before.” “There must be more than this provincial life!” she dreams.  The villagers, while remarking on her beauty, also consider her a “funny girl,” “strange,” “rather odd;” simply put, “she’s different from the rest of us.” They also claim that “it’s a pity and a sin, she doesn’t quite fit in.” Belle visits the bookshop [oddly, not listed in French, like the rest of the village] where she is gifted her favorite book. As many bookworms are wont, she eagerly shares the story with anyone near, including a passing flock of sheep (yes, that book foreshadows the tale to come). Local star hunter and overly-muscled man, Gaston claims that since she’s the most beautiful girl, that makes her the best and worthy of him, since he is the most handsome man. The silly trio of matching young women call him a “strong and handsome brute.” (That should be a clue). After the song, when Gaston approaches Belle, he informs her that it’s not right for girls to read. They start thinking and getting ideas, to which Belle retorts “Gaston, you are positively primeval.” (The dunce thanks her, not knowing she insulted him).

Belle’s father, Maurice, being an inventor, is not the best judge of what is “odd.” I’ve always thought his wood-chopping invention was unnecessarily complicated. But he leaves the next day for a fair and gets lost (despite having gone to the fair several times previous). Those woods do not look friendly and Phillipe is smart and wants to leave. Until they’re set upon by wolves and are separated. Maurice finds the beast’s enchanted castle and enters in search of help and safety. Inside, he hears strange voices coming from nowhere (Lumiere and Cogsworth talking, but, a candlestick and mantle clock shouldn’t be talking). Maurice eventually picks them up and discovers they are enchanted and he’s…perfectly fine. They let him sit by the fire and bring him tea, which displeases their master. The Beast is angry that this man has entered his domain and throws him in prison (harsh, but we already know he’s unreasonable).

belle and gastonBack in the village, Gaston has set up his wedding and still has to propose to the girl. He claims that he will make all of Belle’s dreams come true. She rightly points out he knows nothing about her dreams; and they certainly do not include massaging his stinky feet, bearing six sons, and keeping track of dogs. Attempting to remain polite, Belle tells Gaston, “I don’t deserve you,” while opening the door and letting him fall into a mud puddle. Gaston vows, “I’ll have Belle as my wife, make no mistake of that.” Very ominous. Once he’s gone, Belle emerges and reprises why she does not want to be “boorish, brainless” Gaston’s “little wife,” and she desires to live great adventures. “And for once, it might be grand/to have someone understand.”

Phillipe appears and leads Belle to the castle (which he was never at). Lumiere secretly guides Belle to her father (after exclaiming to Cogsworth “It’s a girl! She’s come to break the spell!” [let’s not rush to conclusions, Lumiere]). She offers to take Maurice’s place, but doesn’t agree until she sees exactly who she is dealing with. The Beast [he’s never named; common consensus amongst the fandom is Adam] remains heartless and ushers Maurice out before he can even bid farewell to his daughter. Lumiere does get the Beast to agree to giving Belle her own room, since she would be with them for some time (aka, forever). The Beast informs Belle that she may go anywhere in the castle, it is her home now, except the West Wing. His parting words are “You will join me for dinner. That’s not a request.”

Back in town, Gaston is moping. “Disgraced, publically humiliated” because someone actually said no to him. LeFou, Gaston’s little stooge and punching bag, riles the town up into singing Gaston’s praises (boiling down to Gaston being the manliest of men). Gotta say, not impressed by someone whose every inch is covered in hair, nor by someone as large as a barge. Maurice stumbles in at the end, pleading for help to rescue Belle. Everyone laughs at him and his claims of a “horrible, monstrous beast!” Even Gaston throws him out, declaring him to be crazy and old, yet leading the muscular man to “thinking.” *Gasp!* “A dangerous pastime.” Since Maurice is Belle’s father, he can manipulate the man and essentially blackmail Belle into marrying him. And the villagers see absolutely no harm in this. (We discover a little later that Gaston’s plan involves locking Maurice up in an asylum. The film hints that this is bad, and historically it was. When Maurice wasn’t home, Gaston leaves LeFou to watch the house…in the snow.)

At the castle, Lumiere is sure that Belle and the Beast will be in love by midnight, breaking the spell. Mrs. Potts cautions that such things take time. And not aided by Belle refusing to come to dinner. Beast loses his temper, as he is wont, but Belle stands up to him (through the safety of her door). He thunders, “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” Well, when Belle emerges later, Mrs. Potts is not about to let the girl starve. After all, she is their guest. The kitchen whips up the production Be Our Guest (for what would dinner in France be without a little music?), which gives us a glimpse at their life. [This is also where some incongruity comes in. Lumiere at one point states “ten years, we’ve been rusting.” Meaning, if the rose is wilting and almost dead, that the Beast is now twenty-one, thus, making him only eleven when the curse was cast. What enchantress curses an eleven-year-old? And where are the parents? This is solved in the live action version] I loved this sequence as a child; all the flashing lights, the singing, the dancing. (I’m sure it was a delight to adapt to Broadway.)

be_our_guest

Afterwards, Lumiere and Cogsworth take Belle on a tour of the castle. Unfortunately, they point out the West Wing. They realize their error at her interest and attempt to distract her with a library. While they dance off, Belle stays and moves on. It is a foreboding part of the castle, gargoyles at every corner, eventually coming to the Beast’s destroyed chambers. There’s a slashed portrait on the wall. There’s a pause on the eyes (hint hint), but then the glowing rose catches Belle’s attention. She removes the glass cloche and is about to touch it when the Beast leaps out, screaming to “Get Out!” Belle flees the castle, but is set upon the wolves. (This part frightened me as a child.) Beast, realizing that his temper has gotten the best of him again, goes after her and rescues her. She makes a good stand, arming herself with a stick, but there are too many wolves. The Beast does incur some wounds and Belle takes him back to the castle (hesitating for a moment; this could be her only chance to escape). Inside, Belle tends to his wounds amidst verbal sparring. She shouldn’t have run off. She wouldn’t have if he hadn’t frightened her. She should have stayed away from an area termed “forbidden” (though really, what can you expect? It’s human nature to want what we can’t have. Tell us “don’t go somewhere,” and what do we want to do? Go there.) Well, he should learn to control his temper. Belle’s got him there. She still quietly thanks him for saving her life.

Over the course of the next few days/weeks (not entirely sure how long…might be days because we later see Maurice still in the woods. Can’t imagine it taking weeks to find the castle. And this is why people claim “Stockholm Syndrome.” My argument…at least she’s not instantly falling in love with him, unlike some princesses.) Beast and Belle slowly fall in love, realizing there’s Something There. They both admit that once they get to know one another, they see the kinder parts (hitting on the “true beauty is found within” from the prologue). Beast admits to Lumiere and Cogsworth “I’ve never felt this way about anyone.” Cogsworth throws in a joke about giving Belle “promises you don’t intend to keep.” [This was thrown in by David Ogden Stiers]. But soon they agree upon gifting Belle Beast’s enormous library. I. Want. That. Library. It’s massive; I can only wonder at how many books. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, you need a ladder to reach a good portion. I love Belle because she reads.
1991 library

The 25th Anniversary brought us another song that had been originally written for the film, but had been cut due to time. The Broadway production showcased Human Again, and the anniversary disc brought to life the full animated number. The objects are looking forward to being human again and returning to their lives. Cogsworth wants to retire to get away from Lumiere. At the end, Belle is reading to Beast, Romeo and Juliet (I think in some versions it is a tale about Guinevere and Arthur), encouraging Beast to read again. While they sing, the castle is cleaning itself up in preparation for that evening.

Beauty_and_the_Beast danceThe iconic section of the film, and my favorite part, the ballroom follows. Mrs. Potts lovingly sings their tale, “barely even friends/then somebody bends, unexpectedly. Just a little change/small to say the least/both a little scared/ neither one prepared/Beauty and the Beast.” This is my favorite Disney love song. The dance is the most complicatedly choreographed of the princesses, and it was a technical masterpiece for its time, being the first time to use CGI (the background). [I discovered this in Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, by Charles Solomon; a behind-the-scenes history of making the classic film with some input on the 2017 live-action remake. I splurged because it’s my favorite.] I was fascinated by the little cherubs moving on the ceiling to watch the dance as a child.

After their dance, Beast leads Belle out onto the balcony and asks if she is happy at the castle, with him. She replies “yes,” but she also misses her father. Beast then shows her his magic mirror, which allows him to see anything he wants (he’s used it previously to see her in his castle, when he was sure she could never love him). Belle sees her father in trouble and Beast releases her from her promise to stay at the castle. He gifts her the mirror, so she can look back on him. She rides off after her father and the enchanted objects wonder aloud “why?” Mrs. Potts realizes that Beast has finally learned to love. But Belle hasn’t openly returned his love, so they are not free of the curse.

LeFou witnesses Belle and Maurice’s return and informs Gaston. The hunter comes knocking with the man from the asylum in tow. The crowd once again laughs at Maurice’s claims, and Belle actually begs Gaston for help. He’ll help, for a price: her hand in marriage. She refuses again and decides to prove her father’s story, showing everyone the Beast in the mirror. This just frightens the villagers and further turn them against Belle and Maurice. Gaston locks them in their cellar and agitates the mob into a frenzy. The Mob Song extols their fears and how they’ll kill the Beast. “We don’t like/what we don’t understand/and it scares us/and this monster is mysterious at least.”

Throughout, Belle realizes she has to warn the Beast. Once the mob reaches the castle, the enchanted objects band together to fight off the encroachers. What is a bit more terrifying as an adult is realizing that the mob is stating “here we come, we’re fifty strong/and fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” Beast is so morose, he allows the invaders to simply come, it doesn’t matter anymore. In the animated version, Chip snuck away in Belle’s bag and is able to start Maurice’s invention, chopping down the door to the cellar, freeing them.

The objects surprise the invading villagers and fight them off soundly; except for Gaston, who sneaks up into the castle. He eventually comes across the Beast (who at this point, just wishes for death). Gaston taunts Beast, “did you honestly think she’d want you, when she had someone like me?” Frankly, the man is a maniac, laughing manically as he causes another being pain. He enjoys hunting the Beast. Beast refuses to fight back until he hears Belle below. Then he turns his strength against Gaston. Gaston, free for a moment declares “Belle is mine!” In response, Beast picks Gaston up by his neck and dangles him over the edge. Gaston begs for his life, “I’ll do anything!” Beast’s reply: “Get out.” Beast turns his back on Gaston to reach Belle. Gaston uses it as an opportunity to stab Beast in the back. Belle manages to pull Beast to safety while Gaston falls and plummets to his death. The damage has been done to Beast. He’s happy to see Belle, one last time, then closes his eyes as the last petal falls. Belle cries “please don’t leave me. I love you.” The last three words break the curse. Lights shoot down and Beast rises in his cape, transforming back into a prince. [I also love the music that plays here, the trumpet fanfare and the deliberate march, the strings simply holding notes so the straight beat is emphasized].

Beauty_and_the_Beast_stained_glass_ending
Finale stained glass

Belle doesn’t recognize the prince at first, but the eyes are her clue. We get our kiss and the castle transforms back, the rain turning to gold glitter. We see Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, Mrs. Potts, and Chip as humans. A reprise of the ball and Beauty and the Beast signify a happy ending. The closing shot is a new stained glass window, Belle and the prince happily dancing.

I adore Josh Groban singing If I Can’t Love Her from the Broadway production. Well, I tend to love Josh Groban singing anything. I don’t really remember the song from the versions of the show I’ve seen. The year after I graduated high school, they did Beauty and the Beast and one of my friends was cast as Belle, so I went to see it. I also went to a neighboring school while I was in school to see their version. And found out recently that a work friend was in the production; we’ve found that our paths crossed years before we worked together. (We went to see the new movie together).

The blu-ray copy of the 2017 live action remake offers the option of watching the movie with an overture; like a traditional Broadway musical that weaves all the themes together to give a taste. And unlike the live action update to Cinderella, Disney kept Beauty and the Beast as the full musical. This film features Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from Harry Potter) as Belle, Dan Stevens (Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey) as the Beast, supported by Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as Gaston, Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf from Frozen) as LeFou, Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter) as Mrs. Potts, Ian McKellan (Gandalf from both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games) as new character Maestro Cadenza, and Tony award winning Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe. (Do you think they could get any more A-list actors and actresses in the movie? But I love all of them in their roles.)

I like the touch of Disney changing the castle to match the movie. The prologue, narrated by Emma Thompson, has been updated and fills in some plot holes. The enchantress erased the memory of the castle and its inhabitants from the village (because, wouldn’t the village [named Villeneuve this time around] have remembered their rulers at some point?) and by this point, both of the prince’s parents have passed on and he’s a grown adult. The rose will bloom, but there’s no end age given. We don’t get a full glimpse of any of the servants yet (Spoiler: they’re fully revealed at the end of the movie.) Audra McDonald’s soprano voice lends an overall realism to the film. The terms of the curse are the same.

Personally, I think casting Emma Watson as Belle was genius; it combines my two favorite bookworms: Hermione Granger and Belle. And I think she sounds wonderful, again bringing a realistic sound to the movie (not that I have anything against the original’s Paige O’Hara). New characters have been added and major characters have been expanded. The bookseller is now Pére Robert, which makes it more historically accurate, since the priest would have been the most educated and most likely to have books. The book Belle is reading is Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, again lending authenticity to the story. I liked the touch of Pére Robert telling Belle “bon voyage!” as she leaves, since Belle uses it as an escape and feels like she’s visiting other places.

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Emma Watson as Belle and Luke Evans as Gaston in the opening crowd scene

I was also surprised by Luke Evans’ performance. I was unaware that he gotten his start on stage, and his voice had me almost swooning in my seat the first time I watched the movie. I actually enjoy this version of LeFou (despite finding Josh Gad as Olaf annoying). I laughed at LeFou pointing out to Gaston that Belle is so well read and he’s so…athletically inclined [read: not well read]. He focuses more on how Belle is unlike everyone else. I like this version of Gaston at times, till his true colors start showing. Tee hee, the silly girls are splashed with mud. As for the chorus, it’s nice to hear a fuller mixture of tones; again, more realistic.

Belle is more blunt with Gaston. She is not busy, she just doesn’t want to have dinner with Gaston. As Gaston remarks to LeFou, she has…dignity. How outrageously attractive. Yes it is. But you still should not refer to the woman you wish to court as “prey.”

Maurice creates music boxes in this iteration and his home is filled with paintings and sketches. A new song was written for the movie, How Does a Moment Last Forever. We get glimpses of Belle’s mother (someone not even mentioned in the animation). She too was different from other people, but they learned to admire her. She was incredibly fearless. Maurice takes his creations to sell at a market and will bring Belle home a rose, like the one in his painting. Belle is the inventor, creating a new way to do laundry because she isn’t content with how things are. It also allows her time to read, or more importantly, teach another young girl how to read. The village’s headmaster sneers that one girl reading is enough. Another old woman remarks that something must be done about Belle. They dump her laundry and Pére Robert is the only one to help Belle clean it up. LeFou calls Gaston to the rescue. The hunter’s advice to Belle is that the simple folk of the village don’t trust change, and if Belle is not careful, she’ll end up like the hag, Agathe; a spinster once her father passes. He encourages her instead to consider a future with a certain man from the village. However, Belle has met all the men of the village and she has no desire to start a family with any of them. This may be Gaston’s world, but it’s not hers. She firmly tells Gaston “I am never going to marry you,” closing the door (literally) on their conversation. Once he’s gone, we get an imitation of The Sound of Music hill scene; Belle escaping the village, yearning for someone who understands.

Maurice’s path is blocked with lightning strikes a tree, though he’s aware enough to notice it snowing, in June. Wolves slink out of the trees and give chase to he and Phillipe. They once again find the castle for shelter. This Maurice is more perplexed by the enchanted objects and starts to leave. However, he catches sight of a rose garden and picks one for Belle. There’s a shadowy creature that stops him and Phillipe runs off. The horse finds Belle the next morning and she rides off (in far more sensible clothing).

This Belle also arms herself (admittedly, it’s a stick, but it’s better than nothing) before entering the castle. Her father cautions her that the castle is alive. A deep voice proclaims Maurice a thief, for taking a rose. Belle rebuts that the rose was for her, she should be punished. Maurice warns the punishment is life in prison. The voice retorts he “received eternal damnation for one,” he’s only locking this man up. Belle once again offers herself in Maurice’s place, casting light onto the captor, revealing the Beast. She even argues that “forever can spare a minute,” so she can say good-bye to her father. She’s clever and pushes Maurice out of the cell, locking herself in so her father can be free, promising to escape.

It is Lumiere who frees Belle, and continuing to show spunk, she arms herself with a stool, uneasy hearing a disembodied voice. She even uses it, and re-arms with a pitcher at Cogsworth’s appearance. They are the ones to show Belle to a suite and explain a bit about the castle, including the off limits West Wing. As Belle enters her room, which is exquisite, if a little dusty the tune Home from the Broadway show can be heard (I love this song too and grinned when I heard it in theatre). Plumette’s role is expanded in the live action version, beyond Lumiere’s fling. The hideous gown that Madame de Garderobe puts Belle in supplies materials for Belle to make a rope with which to escape.

I also honestly prefer the new version of Gaston; I read in a magazine or book or somewhere that LeFou’s character was updated a bit; the violent humor not appropriate for live action (very true). He’s fleshed out and not simply a stooge. Still over the top, but I think that suits Josh Gad’s personality. The friendship is still skewed in Gaston’s favor and LeFou still hangs on his every word but this Gaston at least attempts to be a friend, complimenting LeFou at the end of the scene. I also enjoyed the added dancing element and wish they would have made it longer. Gaston’s character now has a backstory (not entirely made clear in the movie, but in the additional material), he’s a war hero; Maurice calls him “Captain” at one point. Gaston does not care about being fair in hunting (not good news for the woman he refers to as “prey.”) LeFou remarks on his own illiteracy at the end (proving the importance of education and reading). When Maurice enters the tavern, Gaston stands up for him, instead of laughing at him. His ulterior motive, which LeFou quickly guesses is that helping Maurice will earn him points with Belle.

Come suppertime at the castle, the Beast enters his dining room to discover that his servants have set a place for his prisoner. And further discovers that they’ve given her a suite in the East Wing, well, Cogsworth rats out Lumiere. They’re urging a romance because they’re becoming less human every day. Beast retorts that “she is the daughter of a common thief.” Mrs. Potts comes back with “you can’t judge people by who their father are, now can you?” giving the Beast a significant look. (Not too much of a stretch for the audience at this point to guess that the Beast’s father may have something to do with how spoilt he became, leading to his curse.) So, the Beast “politely” pounds on Belle’s door, telling her to come to dinner. The servants figure she is scared to death in her room. Not so much, more like working on an escape attempt. I admire how Belle stands up to the Beast. She calls the Beast “insane,” prompting the Beast’s outburst of “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” That fury scares Belle, so when the Beast uses the magic mirror minutes later, he sees her curled up in a corner.

Mrs. Potts enters a while later. Instead of being angry or upset at Belle’s escape attempt, the kindly housekeeper simply offers the young woman a warm cup of tea before she leaves. That leads to Mrs. Potts commenting on dinner and leads Belle to the dining room. Maestro Cadenza is part of the ensemble, the husband of Madame de Garderobe, and Lumiere carries on with his production of Be Our Guest. It’s truly a CG marvel, but lacks a little bit of the whimsy of the original animated version. “Ten years” is removed, so as to not date the characters. For those paying attention, when Lumiere sings “they can sing, they can dance/after all miss, this is France,” he uses the butcher’s knife as a guillotine. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere has the singing chops and charisma to help carry the number (he has previously stared in Down With Love and Moulin Rouge).

After dinner, Belle remarks to her new friends, “I don’t understand why you all are being so kind to me? Surely you are trapped her as I am? Don’t you ever want to escape?” Mrs. Potts swears that the master is not as terrible as he seems, underneath he’s really a “prince…of a fellow.” She sends Belle to bed, but Belle takes the opportunity to explore the West Wing. She makes her way to the Beast’s chambers, witnessing the scratched portraits. In the family depiction, the mother is spared claw marks. Again, she’s entranced by the rose and the Beast scares her. She flees, evading Frou Frou, the fancy footstool, ignoring Lumiere’s plea “please don’t go, it’s dangerous!”, but once again, doesn’t make it far before wolves attack. She lands some hits with a small branch, but she’s still lucky that the Beast came along when he did. After the brief battle, Belle returns to the castle with the Beast and they have the same banter, ending in Beast needing to learn to control his temper.

In another part of the woods, Maurice is endeavoring to lead Gaston and LeFou to the castle, but Gaston has had enough with Maurice’s story. LeFou even whispers “you really want to marry into this family?” Magic, Gaston insists, is not real. But wolves, starvation, and freezing to death are. He admits that he only came because he wants to marry Belle. Maurice refuses on her behalf and Gaston, despite LeFou’s efforts at calming him (with thoughts of the war…and widows. Not entirely how LeFou means that. Does he mean Gaston slept with widows? Or enjoyed killing and thus making widows?) punches Maurice, then ties him to a tree. If the old man won’t help him, then he is in Gaston’s way. LeFou wants to explore other options rather than murder, but Gaston threatens to leave without him. Agathe wanders by in the morning and rescues Maurice.

While the Beast sleeps off his wounds, Mrs. Potts explains his tale to Belle – leaving out the details of the curse, particularly how it’s lifted. They stood by and did nothing when the Beast’s father corrupted his son after his mother’s death. The servants earned their fate and it’s not Belle’s concern how to lift the curse. The group separates, reminiscing their Days in the Sun (another new number written for the movie). Belle realizes that she’s changing in her short time at the castle. Before, she was “innocent and certain/now I’m wiser but unsure.” She’s “stronger now, but still not free.” The Beast later wakes to Belle reciting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which he joins in on. She’s surprised he knows Shakespeare, to which he retorts, he had an “expensive” education.” But he’s not impressed that her favorite play is Romeo and Juliet, claiming it to be full of heartache and pining. There are so many better things to read. “Like what?” Belle urges. Again, that library is beautiful. And even more so because it’s realistic! (This is why Oxford library is at the top of Places I Want to Visit list.) I made the same squeal that Belle did when Beast gifted it, even after making a joke about of course he hasn’t read all the books, some of them are in Greek! For a girl who has had only a handful of books to read over and over for her entire life, now her world has exploded!

2017 library
(Hard to capture it all in just one image)

Again, the couple slowly falls for each other, seeing Something There that they didn’t notice before. The pair reads at the dinner table, soon sitting next to each other. Belle helps the castle clean and Beast nails her with a giant snowball. A quiet interlude was added with the couple in the rose garden, discussing Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table, and commiserating how laughter dies when they enter a room. Belle admits that the villagers call her a “funny girl,” and not as a compliment. Beast states that her village sounds horrible; they should run away. And he has a way to do so. This enchantress left another gift, a book that can transport you to anywhere you want to do. But he remains a Beast and there is nowhere in the world he’d be accepted. But Belle can now see all the places she’s read about. He encourages her to “think of the one place you’ve always to see. Now, find it in your mind’s eye and feel in it your heart.” They are transported to the windmill apartment where she was born. Her father never told her how her mother died, but Beast recognizes a doctor’s mask (one of those old, terrifying ones), and deduces “plague.” He apologizes for ever calling her father a thief. Now knowing, Belle whispers “let’s go home.” (Huge clue as to their relationship status!)

LeFou still wants to return to the forest to rescue Maurice (we discover it’s been five days). They don’t need to; he’s in the tavern and accuses Gaston of attempted murder. Gaston sidesteps the charges, pointing out that he wants to marry Belle, why would he harm her father? And one cannot trust the word of a beggar woman. Maurice turns to LeFou, but Gaston pressures his “dearest companion, oldest friend and most loyal compatriot.” Gaston turns the accusation onto Maurice, claiming his ravings make him a danger to himself and to others. Some other men of the village move forward to take him away. LeFou is visibly unsettled by what transpired.

The Beast apparently told Belle that she looked so beautiful in the ballroom, so they should have a dance. She agreed and now they are preparing. His servants insist that he tell her how he feels, because if not, the Beast will have to suffer through cold tea in the dark and dust for the rest of his days. (A humorous bit is that they discover his old style of make-up does not suit his current form.) I love the updates to the classic outfits. The embroidery on the Beast’s coat lends a regal touch. Belle’s new dress simply floats over the floor and seems more comfortable. The dance is magical, the choreography elegant; the candles during the lift look like stars. I do have to admit, I prefer Angela Landsbury singing to Emma Thompson. It’s a beloved song from my childhood, I tend to be stubborn about change. Beast timidly probes Belle whether he has earned her affection. Sadly, Belle can’t be truly happy if she’s not free. She still misses her father. Beast offers his mirror and she witnesses Maurice in trouble. Beast releases her; she’s free. He still insists that she keeps the mirror, so she can look back on him.

2017 costumes
Updated look for 2017

And the song that makes my heart melt every time, Evermore (my mother and I contest who sings it better, Dan Stevens or Josh Groban [I the former, she the latter, there’s something that strikes me to the core about the deeper voice]). The Beast bemoans that he once thought he was master of his fate. But he let a woman steal into his melancholy heart. She’s changed him, forever. He will always remember her, but now she is physically gone. But her presence left a lasting mark that will never leave him. “Now I know, she’ll never leave me/Even as she fades from view./She will still inspire me/be a part of everything I do.”

In the village, a mob has amassed to send Maurice off to the asylum; Pére Robert tries to stop them, but no one listens. Maurice refuses Belle’s hand to Gaston again and Belle rides in as they lock the coach, still in her gold gown. She begs the crowd to free her father, even asking Gaston for help. Gaston claims loyalty to her family, but her father’s claims are too wild. Her word alone is not proof, she would say anything to rescue her father. The mirror shows them the Beast, but Gaston sees it as sorcery, dark magic [Luke, you’re letting your Bard out, lol]. Clearly, Belle is under some sort of spell, especially when she spouts that Gaston is the monster, not the creature in the mirror. He has her locked away as well and now has “a threat to their very existence” to destroy. LeFou protests, but Gaston threatens he’s next. The former captain riles up the mob, “you can bet they all will follow/for in times like this they’ll do just as I say.” LeFou, now really wondering what side he’s on, mutters, “there’s a beast running wild, there’s no question/but I fear the wrong monster’s released.” The mob marches to the castle and the servants must prepare to defend their home. Beast is still despondent. Meanwhile, Belle reveals that she knows the truth of what happened to her mother and asks her father for help. Yes, it’s dangerous. But Maurice can see that his daughter loves the Beast. He can pick the lock, “after all, it’s just tumblers and gears.”

Cogsworth sounds so much like Gandalf for a moment when he orders the objects to man the barricades (hmm, I wonder why?). Madame de Garderobe still dresses up three of the village men in gowns, though this time, one likes it. She comes to her husband’s rescue, shouting “this is it! The fat lady is singing!” when a crotchety woman orders “silence that harpsichord!” LeFou catches Mrs. Potts and informs her that he has changed sides; he and Gaston are in a bad place. She tells him he is too good for Gaston. The hunter has snuck up the stairs and found the Beast on a tower. He tries to hurt the Beast first by saying “Belle sent me,” then fires his pistol (more violent that the arrows in the animated film). When he goes for his crossbow, Belle is behind him (in her undergarments, having discarded the gold gown), snapping the arrows. Incensed, Gaston tells Belle, “when we return to the village, you will marry me. And that beast’s head will hang on our wall.” They struggle for his pistol, the crumbling castle giving way beneath Gaston, knocking the gun away temporarily (Gaston merely falls one level).

The sight of Belle spurs the Beast on. Gaston pounces and pummels the Beast. Belle’s cry has Beast turning and dangling Gaston over the edge. The hunter begs for mercy and Beast releases him, ordering him to “get out.” He finally turns back to Belle and at the last leap, Gaston’s second shot hits him in the back. He reloads for a third shot, sending the Beast careening onto his balcony. The archway beneath the man gives way and he falls to his death (you can actually hear a small thud at the end). Belle and the Beast share a tearful reunion, but three bullet wounds take their toll and the Beast closes his eye as the last petal falls. This time, we witness the servants turn fully into objects, first Plumete, Garderobe, Cadenza, and Frou Frou. Then Mrs. Potts as she’s looking for Chip, Chip a moment after his mother has gone silent. Finally, Cogsworth and Lumiere. I cried in the theatre. I knew it couldn’t end that way, but it was still heart wrenching. Belle finally whispers “please don’t leave me, I love you.” A kiss to his brow breaks the curse and Agathe (revealed to be the enchantress) casts a golden light that surrounds the Beast as he transforms back into a prince. They did a better job this time of matching the eyes between Beast and the prince. (Dan Stevens as the prince is very handsome) And hurrah for a kiss! The golden light rains down on the castle, changing it back and bringing the servants back as human. Turns out, when the enchantress erased the memory of the castle, a few spouses were stuck in the village. The forgetful Monsieur Jean is Mr. Potts, and the crotchety woman is Cogsworth’s wife (he’s not happy to see her, hoping to turnbeast finale back into a clock…because she’s been lonely).

The Finale is beautiful; Belle has a new dress, the prince is in light blue and Audra MacDonald shines as a soprano [I like to sing along to this piece in the privacy of my car so I can drop into my operatic voice and savor the high notes; well, not the last, I’d need to warm up more that]. Emma sings the forgotten verse of Beauty and the Beast. LeFou and Stanley share a brief dance (there was a bit of an uproar of Disney including a gay character. It was barely a minute, leave it be). Belle wants the prince to grow a beard and he responds with a flirty growl.

[Fun note: the credits include French job titles]

Along with the Broadway adaptation, there have been a few television shows and direct-to-video stories connected with the animated film.  I’m sure I saw some of them, but I could not tell you which since I don’t remember and don’t own any.

belle
Meeting my hero

As I stated at the opening, Belle is my favorite princess (I told her as much when I met the costumed actress in Disney World), primarily because she reads. I have loved reading since I was a child; my parents read to me from a very young age and I would enjoy sitting and reading for hours on end. Still do, though most of the time it’s online fanfiction anymore…my stack of books to be read is ever-growing (and to imitate Ariel a little), I want more. Just like Belle, I loved going to far-off places and on daring adventures immersed in a book. “With her nose stuck in a book,” described me a good portion of my young school days. I always had a “book for fun,” with me in school, so I could occupy myself if class finished early. Even in college; I’d read before classes start, I’d read during lunch, I’d spend weekends lying on my bed, reading. Indoor recess; I read (I overheard some other girls ask my friend why she liked hanging out with me because I read so much). My favorite room in any school was the library and I’d always befriend the librarian. For a long time, my career goal was to become a librarian (life did not go according to plan). The career goal that stuck with me, however, is to become an author so I can tell all the stories in my head to others.

And just like Belle, I have always been a bit of a misfit. My dearest wish, same as hers, is “to have someone understand.” (Until then, that is what TV shows/movies and fanfiction are for). So, to see a young woman so very much like me, get a happy ending, still gives me hope (when I beat back the cynicism). She’s feisty, she speaks her mind, she’s not scared away from being different. Belle is a strong and positive role model. Heck, she evens help rescue her prince!  A truly great role model for girls and young women.

Speaking of fanfiction; some recommendations!

emjee (MerryHeart) on AO3 has a small series of college Alternate Universe stories featuring Belle and Beast (again, typically named Adam) based on the 2017 counterparts.  Still want a guy like Adam 🙂

hester-latterly (also on AO3) has a marvelous tale Honey You’re Familiar (Like My Mirror Years Ago), a modern “marriage of convenience” AU, again based on the 2017 film, wonderfully told and I’m eagerly awaiting its finish.

As always, I welcome your questions or comments. Do you have a version of Beauty and the Beast you prefer?
Up Next: Aladdin

“We Got a Hot Crustacean Band”

The Little Mermaid

We’ve reached the Disney movies that came out during my lifetime. The Little Mermaid is also the first movie part of the coined “Disney Renaissance,” when Disney returned to making movie musicals. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, though we no longer have a storybook opening to introduce the tale. Instead, we’re greeted by a sailing ship, with the sailors singing Fathoms Below. One comments to Prince Eric and his advisor, Grimsby, that King Triton is to thank for the fair weather; Grimsby denounces mermaids as “nautical nonsense,” while the sailor insists. Once under water, we eventually come to the city of Atlantica, which is preparing for a concert, featuring Triton’s daughters, composed by Sebastian.

[Note: is has been suggested by pintrest that Triton’s daughters stand for the seven seas, depending on their hair and personality. As a kid, I just he just wanted all of his daughters to have names starting with “A”]

The-Little-Mermaid-Movie-Poster

Ariel misses her debut because she is out exploring old shipwrecks with her fish friend, Flounder, searching for human artifacts. Flounder is certainly more cautious than Ariel and they manage to run into a shark. They take their findings to the surface to ask a sea gull, Scuttle, what they are for. According to the idiotic bird, a fork is a “dinglehopper” and used to comb one’s hair, while a pipe is a “snarfblat” and is a musical instrument. That reminds Ariel she missed the concert. Triton is furious and is even more so when he finds out Ariel has been going to the surface. Such actions are forbidden; she could have been seen by a barbaric human (the prequel that came out in 2008 explains that Triton’s wife had been killed by humans). Ariel’s retort is that she is sixteen, she’s not a child (and every adult is thinking, oh yes you are). Triton fires back with the classic, “as long as you live in my ocean, you obey my rules.” (That rarely works on kids/teens.) Once the argument has ended, Triton assigns Sebastian to look after Ariel.

 

part of your worldWhat Sebastian discovers is Ariel’s treasure trove. And while Ariel has numerous bits and bobs, she wants more; she yearns to be Part of Your World. As anyone who daydreams about life being different, she guesses, “betcha on land/they understand/bet they don’t reprimand daughters, bright young women.”  [Yes, for a while, I thought I’d be all grown up at sixteen….nooo.  I’m almost twice that and I still have no idea what I’m doing.  Yes, Ariel dear, human daughters do get reprimanded when they do something stupid]. All the while, the sea witch Ursula (who apparently once ruled the ocean) has had her two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam tailing Ariel and figures that she can exact revenge on King Triton through his daughter. Ariel is intrigued by a dark shape and swims to the surface to discover Eric’s ship is throwing a celebration for the prince’s birthday (complete with huge statue, which Grimsby hoped would have been a wedding present; the whole kingdom wants to see their prince settle down with the right girl [at least they include “right”]). The party is cut short when a hurricane blows in; lightning hits the sail and starts a fire. The ship runs into a reef and the crew is thrown overboard (or manages to get into a lifeboat somehow). However, Eric’s beloved canine companion, Max, is still onboard. The prince goes back for Max, but his foot gets stuck in the crumbling deck. He throws Max overboard and we next see an explosion, caused by the fire hitting gunpowder. Ariel swims in to rescue the handsome prince. They wash ashore a beach and she reprises her song, even more desperate to be part of the human world.

 

Ursula is positively cackling; King Triton’s daughter has fallen in love with a human! A prince, to be precise! Sebastian attempts to talk sense into the teenager, rationalizing life is better Under the Sea (a catchy, full-ocean production that I can’t help but smile every time I hear). Ariel’s sisters, and even Triton notice her changed behavior; humming all the time, always in a happy mood. The older girls inform their father that the youngest is in love. He assumes it’s a merman (who else could it be?) and calls in Sebastian. Sebastian, despite telling himself to “remain calm,” spills the secret. Ariel is happily flirting with the statue of Eric that has landed in her trove (how serendipitous) when her father appears in the shadows. He is absolutely incensed and destroys her treasures, including the statue, as a way to get through to her. As we’ve noticed before, he regrets his actions once his temper has abated. Flotsam and Jetsam swoop in and persuade Ariel to go to Ursula to solve her problems.

Ursula welcomes Ariel into her domain and justifies that she uses her powers to help Poor Unfortunate Souls [gotta admit, I’d love to perform this song; it’s sassy and so much fun to portray a villian]. The only way for Ariel to get what she wants is to become a human. And for this, Ursula just wants Ariel’s voice. When Ariel protests on how can she convince Eric to bestow true love’s kiss by the third sunset (in order to remain a human versus turning back into a mermaid and belonging to Ursula) Ursula retorts that she’ll “have your looks, your pretty face.” After all, human males prefer ladies to not say a word [I could go into how this has happened in periods of society, but I shan’t] The teen signs the contract, Ursula casts her spell and Ariel indeed becomes a human. Sebastian and Flounder rush her to the surface.

On land, Eric hasn’t been able to get the woman who saved his life out of his head, or the prince erictune she sang. Max leads him to Ariel (the dog recognizes her scent). She seems familiar, but without her voice, she can’t be the one. Nevertheless, Prince Eric is a gentleman and eagerly agrees to take care of the young woman (they assume she was in a traumatic shipwreck). Sebastian follows Ariel into the castle, though he has to run for his life in the kitchen from French chef Louis, who loves Les Poissons. During dinner, Eric stares at Ariel and is happy to give her a tour the next morning. Ariel demonstrates that she is certainly different from other ladies. That evening, Eric takes her out in a boat and Sebastian takes matters into his own…claws; they’re running out of time to keep Ariel out of Ursula’s grasp. The crab sets the mood and urges the prince to Kiss the Girl (and helps Eric guess her proper name). Yet, just when the couple is leaning in, the eels dump them. Things are getting too close for Ursula; she has to take matters into her own tentacles. While Eric is deciding to choose Ariel over a mysterious woman (thanks to advice from Grimsby), a mysterious woman appears on the beach! With the voice he remembers! And…Eric is hypnotized.

Scuttle wakes Ariel the next morning, congratulating her on the happy news of her impeding marriage to Eric; the whole kingdom is talking about the wedding that afternoon. But when Ariel runs down the stairs, there is a dark-haired woman simpering next to Eric, who is instructing that the wedding ship leaves at sundown. The ship sets sail at dusk, without Ariel onboard. Yet, Scuttle has more news; he’s discovered that the new woman, Vanessa, is Ursula in disguise. Sebastian has Flounder help Ariel get to the ship, he’ll fetch Triton, and Scuttle is to stall the wedding. Scuttle is aided by the nearby animals who wreak absolute havoc. Max is pleased to get back at Vanessa (who kicked him; add animal cruelty to the charges, and further proof to Eric if he wasn’t hypnotized). In the commotion, Ariel’s voice is released and returns to its proper host, breaking the spell over Eric. Unfortunately, before they can have a proper conversation and kiss, the sun sets, turning Ariel back into a mermaid. Ursula has returned to being an octopus (or squid) and takes off with Ariel.

They meet up with Triton, who attempts to break the contract with his trident. Signed, it’s binding and no magic can change it, except, an exchange; Triton for Ariel, relinquishing the crown and trident to Ursula. Reacting as a father, Triton agrees. Now the commander of the seven seas, Ursula advances on Ariel, but Eric throws a spear to distract her. He’s lost his love once, he won’t lose her again. His attack causes Flotsam and Jetsam to pull him further under water. Sebastian and Flounder team up to release him. Ursula’s shot with the trident, meant for Eric, misses (thanks to Ariel) and hits her pets, destroying them. Angry, she grows until she towers over the surface. Ariel and Eric were initially caught on her crown, but jump away, quickly separated by the waves churned by Ursula. The sea witch traps Ariel and is bent on killing her with a blast from the trident. Those same waves also brought up the shipwrecks; Eric commandeers one and aims, running Ursula through (he jumps off during her death throes). With her death and the return of the trident, her curses are reversed, reverting her garden of creepy seaweed back to merfolk, including Triton.

Ariel once again returns Eric to shore and she wistfully sits on a rock (in a mimicry of the real Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen; I thought the movie took place in France for the longest time, actually, it’s probably set in Denmark). Sebastian muses to Triton that children must be free to live their own lives. One problem – how much Triton is going to miss his daughter. He grants her legs (and a new, sparkly dress; better than that sheet from earlier). Ariel eagerly runs to Eric and they finally get their kiss. Which transforms into a wedding. Triton rises in the water for a final goodbye, Ariel whispering “I love you, Daddy,” and Eric bowing to his father-in-law. He casts a rainbow over the ship and we know “they lived happily ever after.”

ArielMarriage

Little Mermaid did have a spin-off cartoon that ran in the nineties (I watched regularly) and it has been adapted into a Broadway stage musical (I think I saw part of it while at Disney World). There was a sequel, Return to the Sea involving Ariel and Eric’s daughter, Melody; and as already stated, there was a prequel. There is another Little Mermaid movie that came out in August of 2018 that seems to have a completely different storyline from the Disney classic (I was excited, then confused). There have been rumors of a Disney live-action retelling for several years, but nothing is truly known for certain, especially a release date.

While Ariel is not my favorite princess (nevertheless, it found its way to our VCR plenty), I do appreciate that she wanted to take her fate in her own hands (to good and bad consequences. If it involves visiting an evil witch and signing over your voice or “belonging” to someone, bad. Good that she fights for what she loves). She swims after Eric’s wedding ship, even though she’s uncoordinated as a human, to save Eric. She does not ask her father for legs at the end, but he was kind enough to gift them (that whole: if you love something, let it go). Triton is a typical father (though he has to balance raising seven daughter and running a large underwater kingdom). He wonders if he did the right thing and wants to lay down rules, but not stifle his children. Eric is a good match for Ariel. He does not hesitate to rescue his beloved dog, takes care of his advisor and crew. He takes in a woman in trouble even though he had no clue who she was. While Ariel instantly fell in love with Eric and Eric had fallen in love with the woman he rescued, he also fell in love with the true Ariel. All in all, a better role model for young people.

Questions? Comments? Any other adults find it a little disconcerting that a man is being encouraged to kiss a young woman who can’t speak?

Next Time: Beauty and the Beast

Once Upon a Dream

Sleeping Beauty

Another classic fairytale, complete with a princess, a prince, fairies, magic, and a dragon. Disney’s animated film score is heavily based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet suite (I want to see the ballet), which is credited at the beginning of the film. Beyond that, is opens with a storybook and narration quickly filling us in on the backstory of King Stefan and his unnamed queen desperately hoping for a child, then – a princess is joyfully born! “Hail to the Princess” comes straight from the opening march of the ballet, and we’re introduced to neighboring King Hubert and his son, Prince Phillip, who is betrothed to infant Princess Aurora (this was a common occurrence during real life medieval royalty). And this prince actually shows some personality! His little nose wrinkle is adorable, because what boy is going to be pleased to be told, “this little baby is going to be your future wife”?

trio auroa and philip
From left to right: my friend Dawn Winkler, Prince Phillip, my friend Krista Ivan, Princess Aurora, and myself. Same band trip 🙂 Apparently, Phillip and Aurora are hard to find; we stumbled upon them by accident, just wandering around the one morning.

The king and queen invited three “good” fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to their pseudo-christening and they bestow (almost) three gifts. Flora gives the gift of “beauty” (because all fairytale princesses are beautiful). Fauna gives the gift of “song” (and the young woman does have a more mature singing tone, compared to previous princesses Snow White and Cinderella). Merryweather is about to give her gift when the “evil” fairy Maleficent appears. Oh dear, she’s not wanted. And the only line the queen has: “and, you’re not offended, your Excellency?” Oh no, and to show she bears no ill will, Maleficent too has a gift for the young princess. Aurora will indeed, grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her, but on the evening of her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel…and die! With a cackle, she fades away. Merryweather is able to soften the blow of the curse, instead of death, Aurora will merely sleep until she is waken by true love’s kiss (it’s always true love’s kiss…that plays a huge role in Once Upon a Time), for “true love conquers all”.

King Stefan and his queen reluctantly agree to Flora’s plan for the fairies to raise the princess until her sixteenth birthday in an attempt to protect her from the curse. Stefan also burns all of the spinning wheels in the kingdom (the historian in me wants to know how they make clothes after that). Time lapse: sixteen years have passed and the fairies are preparing for “Briar Rose’s” celebration. They send the young woman out, with the warning to not speak to strangers. Aurora tells her animal friends (I guess a requirement for Disney princesses is the ability to speak to animals) that she’s dreaming of a prince and the animals proceed to steal clothing from a strange man in order to create Aurora’s prince. “Once Upon a Dream” is the ballet’s waltz and the man appears and steps in to dance with the young woman. At first, Aurora tries to follow directions and leaves, but he’s dashing and charming and they stroll through the woods romantically.

aurora and phillip woods

Meanwhile, Maleficent is furious that her creepy demons haven’t located the princess in sixteen years. They truly are imbeciles and have been looking for a baby the entire time. Alas, I must agree with Maleficent that they are a “disgrace to the forces of evil.” Instead, she charges her trusty crow to find her prize and he discovers a cottage…pink and blue sparks shooting out of the chimney do not aid in secrecy. Inside, the fairies are continuing with their preparation and we must wonder how they survived for sixteen years; Flora is terrible at sewing and Fauna cannot bake. In a last-ditch effort, Merryweather retrieves their wands to help, sadly resulting in a fight primarily between her and Flora, thus generating the sparks. (To give them some credit, they had shut the doors and windows to prevent being discovered; they just forgot the chimney) Briar Rose arrives home to tell her guardians that she met a wonderful man and intends for him to visit that evening. They have to tell her the heartbreaking news that she’s actually a princess and already betrothed; everything she knows is changing.

At the castle, Stefan and Hubert drink “Scumps,” toasting to the future of their children. Which Phillip interrupts when he tells his father that he has found and fallen in love with a woman in the woods. When he arrives at the cabin that evening, Maleficent is waiting for him, not “Briar Rose.” She captures the prince, informing him that the peasant woman he met, by whim of fate, is the princess to whom he is betrothed, and sets about to see her curse through. The fairies have taken the princess back to the castle and leave her alone for a moment to gather herself. An eerie wail hypnotizes Aurora and lures her through a secret passage to an ominous spinning wheel, where she in fact pricks her finger and falls into a sleep. The three fairies put the rest of the castle to sleep until they can get the handsome man Aurora met and fell in love with to kiss her awake. To do so, they must venture to Maleficent’s castle, where the demons are dancing around the fire in a mimicry of Night on Bald Mountain (that little animation has in fact given me nightmares).

Sleeping-beauty-dragon

Maleficent’s plan is hold Phillip at her castle until he is too old to be a threat, then she’ll release him to kiss his princess awake (and promptly die, I’m sure). The three fairies sneak in afterwards and gift him the “enchanted shield of virtue” and “mighty sword of truth” (always important in a fairy tale). Phillip set about hacking his way through a forest of thorns, but soon he must “deal with [Maleficent]…and all the powers of Hell!” She transforms into a dragon (in a battle that is shorter than I remember) and is slain by Phillip’s sword (again, typical Disney death, she falls off the cliff). The fairies lead Phillip up to the tower where Aurora is sleeping. He kisses her awake and the kingdom wakes up. They appear before Hubert and Stefan (to one of my favorite Tchaikovsky pieces) and a reprise of the waltz.

[Fun note: if some of the voices sound familiar: the woman who voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella is Maleficent, and the woman who voiced the Fairy Godmother is Flora]

Maleficent is the live-action 2014 adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, except told from the point-of-view and including the backstory of the villainess. Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, Imelda Staunton (aka, Dolores Umbridge) is one of the pixies, among other stars (one of the other fairies was the Queen in an updated Musketeer movie, the king was Murdoch from the updated A-Team movie) and there is a sequel due out in 2020. The narrator announces “let us tell an old story anew and we will see how well you know it.” There were bordering kingdoms; one of humans, greedy, ruled by a terrible king, and the other; a magical realm of fairies and creatures, called the Moors. The human king envied the Moors wealth and wanted to conquer the land. But it has a protector, in a young girl with horns and wings: Maleficent.

One day, a human boy is caught stealing a crystal and Maleficent must pass judgment on him. The boy’s name is Stefan. They bond, as orphaned children, and become “unlikely” friends, and for a time, the old hatred was forgotten. On Maleficent’s sixteenth birthday, Stefan gives her [a supposed] “true love’s kiss.” But Stefan was like the king, jealous and conniving. He has managed to become a servant to the king and when the king is on his deathbed following an encounter with Maleficent and the Moors, he takes the chance at the king’s word, whoever can kill the “winged elf” will become the next king. Stefan sneaks into the Moors to “warn” Maleficent. She forgives him for his absence and for a night, all is as it was. However, Stefan sneaked a potion into her drink, putting her to sleep; yet, he cannot bring himself to kill her. Instead, he cuts off her wings. These are his proof to the king that he “killed” Maleficent. He is crowned and gains a queen, Leila [who resembles Keira Knightley, but is not] (I also wonder if this is the daughter that the previous king, Henry, mentioned and Stefan married her to aid his control of the throne).

Maleficent mourns the loss of her wings and that is how she gains her iconic staff. The next day, she saves a crow from being beaten to death, turning him into a man. In return for her rescue, Diaval will be Maleficent’s wings. The real turn in Maleficent’s character comes when she finds out that Stefan had done all that to her, just to become king (I have to admit, I understand her rage at this point). So, she becomes queen of the Moors (they never officially had a monarch previously) and her former friends now cower before her. We next witness the birth of Stefan and Leila’s daughter and once again, Maleficent attends the christening. Her speech to the assemblage is identical to that from the animated film, though her curse changes a little; the “true love’s kiss” is a dig at Stefan, and the “sleeplike death” will last for all time, “no power on Earth can change it.” Once again, Stefan orders all of the spinning wheels burned [and again, how do they make fabric after that? And what possesses one to leave the burned remains in the castle?]

Maleficent_Angelina_Jolie

The pixies, Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewit, are charged to care for baby Aurora for sixteen years and a day. They prove to be truly incompetent and it is lucky for Aurora that Diaval and Maleficent found her, or she would have died; either from starvation or falling off a cliff. One day, toddler Aurora comes across Maleficent healing a tree in the forest and hugs the woman [she was played at this point by Angelina’s own daughter, because she was the only child not scared]. Throughout the years, she plays with the crow. At the same time, Stefan darkens with paranoia and vengeance and plots Maleficent’s demise (ignoring the fact that he wife dies). He sends soldiers to the wall of thorns that Maleficent has erected. They fail, and he remembers what he learned as a boy; iron burns fairies. He has a new idea.

Maleficent shows Aurora the Moors and the young woman is fascinated. The creatures like her and she eventually lightens Maleficent’s heart. Aurora refers to Maleficent (not knowing her true identity at first) as her fairy godmother (a cute play on traditional fairy tale roles); she remembers the silhouette of Maleficent’s shadow from her childhood. Maleficent even attempts to remove the curse, but she recalls that she had included the clause that “no power on Earth can change it.” Not even Maleficent’s own magic can lift the curse. She continues to protect Aurora and tries to warn her about the evil in the world and Aurora expresses her wish to come live in the Moors. Maleficent agrees. Aurora encounters Prince Phillip on her way home to tell the three pixies her decision (witnessed by Maleficent and Diaval; Maleficent feels that Phillip could be the answer to “true love’s kiss,” even though she believes it does not exist).

At the cottage, the three pixies are forced to reveal that Aurora is the princess of the kingdom and she must go back to her father. (They get confused on the timeline and take her back on the day of her birthday, not the day after) Aurora confronts Maleficent about the curse and declares that she is the evil in the world. The young princess rides back to the castle alone. Stefan shows no emotion at seeing his daughter for the first time in sixteen years. He remarks she looks like her mother, but neglects to inform the lass that the woman is dead, and he stands still as Aurora hugs him. He locks her in her room so he can focus on a battle plan. None of it prevents Aurora from being hypnotized and led to the dungeon full of spinning wheels. She pricks her finger and falls asleep.

Maleficent knows the curse will come to fruition; she finds Prince Phillip and carts him off to the castle. Iron spikes impede her, but she manages to get Phillip to the hallway outside Aurora’s room. The pixies let him in and convince him to kiss the sleeping princess (and thank you, young prince, for resisting at least a little, calling to attention the fact that you’ve only met the one time). But the kiss fails. The pixies kick him out and leave to find someone else. Maleficent emerges from the shadows and apologizes to the young woman, but knows she cannot ask for forgiveness; what she did was unforgiveable. She places a gentle kiss on Aurora’s brow. That does the trick. Now they must escape the castle together and retreat to the Moors. Alas, Stefan and his soldiers are waiting for them. Maleficent turns Diaval into a dragon, setting the hall alight. An iron net deters Maleficent, but she eventually faces off against Stefan. Aurora discovers and frees Maleficent’s wings and that’s the real turning point. Stefan suffers a Disney death and falls off a tower during his duel.

Maleficent_Crowns

Maleficent removes her crown and takes down the wall of thorns. The kingdoms are united under Aurora, who is crowned in the Moors (Phillip is in attendance) and they were brought together by one who was both hero and villain: Maleficent. The closing narration sums up that “the story is not quite as you were told. And I should know, for I am the one that they called Sleeping Beauty.” Our parting shots are of Diaval, as a crow, flying with Maleficent.

My mind-set on the animated Sleeping Beauty has been that it’s a typical fairy tale. There are a hundred ways to tell it and the characters are interchangeable. Princess Aurora doesn’t strike me as a “fight for yourself” princess. It has been noted that she doesn’t speak the entire second half of the film, even after she is woken by “true love’s kiss,” or when she meets her parents. Prince Phillip is admirable as a typical prince and this time, he actually does something. He fights the dragon; he rescues his damsel in distress; he speaks his mind to his father. Pity he’s not more remembered for that. Maleficent is intimidating visually. We are left to wonder why she suddenly appears at a celebration and randomly curses an innocent baby. I guess it’s hand waved as “she’s evil” and apparently the queen of all darkness.

Which is why when Maleficent was first announced, I didn’t plan on seeing it. But after watching the live action Cinderella, I decided to give it a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised. As a scholar with an interest in faerie lore and mythology, I was excited to see the added element of iron burning the Fae. Overall, I enjoyed how Maleficent was portrayed as a Fae, that not all fairies are tiny little creatures with wings. They have immense power and a tie to nature.

I enjoyed how Maleficent’s character was fleshed out and well rounded. Most of the characters were given greater detail (Phillip suffered, unfortunately). We now have a believable reason for Maleficent cursing Stefan’s child. I thought it was interesting that they expanded the crow character and he was a fun addition. I wonder if there’s a romantic inclination towards Maleficent or Aurora. He’s reasonably loyal to Maleficent and he seems attached to Aurora. For a moment, while re-watching, I thought it would be him that broke the curse by kissing the sleeping princess; but I content with the mother/daughter relationship emphasis instead. Phillip’s presence at the Moors at the end has me wondering if they’ll expand that tale in the sequel.

Again, there is a typical warning as in most fairy tales: “don’t talk to strangers.” There’s never really a bad consequence to those who do: in the animated, Briar Rose meets the man who will rescue her. In the live action, Aurora speaks to the woman she coins as her fairy godmother. In both cases, it ultimately turns out well for her. I appreciate in the live action that dragons are not painted as completely bad (considering my favorite movie is How to Train Your Dragon). In the animated, of course the powers of Hell will transform into a dragon. An element of dragon mythology is that dragons kidnap princesses and lock them away. Diaval as a dragon doesn’t get much action in the newer movie, but it’s understandable since the action should be focused on Maleficent’s struggle.

So…? Any questions? Comments? What’s your position on dragons?

Next Time: 101 Dalmatians

If the Shoe Fits

Cinderella

Just about the most popular and well-known fairy tale. Lately, there has been an explosion, led by Disney, of modernizing the tale (often involving music) of an oppressed young woman becoming the star despite “step-sisters” getting in the way. There’s A Cinderella Story starring Hillary Duff, and Another Cinderella Story with Selena Gomez. Going back, there’s a twist to the tale, first as a book, then adapted to film starring Anne Hatahaway, Ella Enchanted (I enjoy the last song to the movie most since it’s Elton John). Rodgers and Hammerstein created a musical, entitled Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and that has been performed countless times (recently revived on Broadway) and there are a couple movie versions; one starring Julie Andrews and another from the 90s starring Brandy. Cinderella even appears in Into The Woods.

I do not have a strong enough desire to delve that deeply into the tale and so I’ll focus on Disney’s 1950 animated classic and their 2015 live-action remake. And because I absolutely love Ever After, it will go with its sisters.

Disney’s version is a form of the traditional tale. After a completely forgettable opening song that I never remember, the story book opens and the narrator begins “Once Upon a Time.” The titular character gains a cruel stepmother who was jealous of her kind nature and forces Cinderella to become a servant upon her father’s death. Yet Cinderella has remained optimistic and dreams of a happier future, prompting “A Dream is a Wish.” She has friends in the birds and mice of the home and they help with her chores (keeping with the theme of helpful animals from Snow White).

The castle is visible from Cinderella’s room, where the king tells his Grand Duke that the prince has avoided his responsibilities long enough and it’s time for him to marry and settle down; he wants grandchildren. Since the prince is returning home (we never find out from where or why he was away or how long) it’s the prime opportunity to throw a ball, where a boy and girl can meet in the right conditions, prompting a proposal out of the son. Asserting that it “can’t possibly fail” the king orders all eligible maids invited.

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Same Disney trip

Cinderella delivers the invitation to her stepmother and stepsisters (in this version, they are Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella). She expresses a desire to attend the ball and Lady Tremaine agrees if she finishes all her chores. Of course, they give her so much to do, she does not have time to alter her mother’s old dress. Instead, during “Cindrelly” the mice and birds complete the alterations, making use of old articles from Anastasia and Drizella. Her stepfamily take their frustration out on the dress the night of the ball and Cinderella cries in the garden. Her fairy godmother appears and “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” she turns a pumpkin into a carriage, four white mice into horses, and transforms Cinderella’s tattered dress into a sparkling ball gown, complete with glass slippers with the warning that the magic will wear off at midnight. Cinderella entrances all at the ball, most keenly the prince; they share the only dance, then stroll about the castle pondering “So This is Love.” Just as they’re about the kiss, the clock chimes twelve and Cinderella rushes away, leaving a glass slipper in the stairs. The Grand Duke sends guards after her, but she evades them.

The news comes the next morning that the prince will marry whomever the glass slipper fits (the king does use this to his advantage, pointing out that it could fit any number of girls) and Lady Tremaine notices the daze that Cinderella is in and rationalizes that she was the mystery maiden. With glowing eyes (creepy), she locks Cinderella in the attic. When the Grand Duke is at the home with the slipper, Cinderella’s animal friends free her. Tremaine causes the slipper to be smashed, but Cinderella has the other slipper. There’s a wedding “and they lived happily ever after.”

In 2015, Disney re-made their tale with an all-star live action cast, featuring Lily James (Lady Rose from Downton Abbey) as Cinderella; Cate Blanchett as the Stepmother; Richard Madden (apparently a main character from Game of Thrones, I think. Still need to watch that!) as Prince Kit; Stellan Skarsgard (Bootstrap Bill Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean) as the Grand Duke; Sophie McShera (Daisy, also from Downton Abbey) as stepsister Drisella; Holliday Grainger was Anastasia; Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) briefly appeared as Cinderella’s mother, and the narration was provided by Helena Bonham Carter, who was also the Fairy Godmother. Kenneth Branagh directed (he directed the first Thor movie, but he’ll still always be Gilderoy Lockhart).

The opening provides further backstory; we actually see Ella’s mother. It’s from her that Ella learned to “have courage and be kind” and to see the world as it could be, with magic, including believing in fairy godmothers. As “the most happiest of families” tragedy was bound to strike. Ella’s mother sickens and dies. Years later, her father remarries the widowed wife of a friend, Lady Tremaine. Anastasia and Drisella are horrible from the start, but Tremaine seems to attempt to be pleasant, supposedly desiring to restore life and laughter to the house by throwing parties. Yet she “temporarily” moves (read: banishes) Ella to the attic when the young woman is kind enough to offer her larger room to her bickering stepsisters. When Ella’s father dies unexpectedly on a trip, Tremaine dismisses the rest of the household and gives Ella more chores to “distract from her grief.” She is the one to coin “Cinderella” and has Ella remove her place setting at the table.

This prompts a distraught Ella to ride into the woods where she meets Kit, a kind “apprentice” at the palace. Kit is in fact the prince, hunting a stag. They circle their horses and actually have a conversation with each other. When Ella remarks that her family treats her “as well as they are able,” Kit replies with sympathy. Ella, ever sweet, tells him that others have it worse; Kit insists that her treatment is still not her doing. They both express an interest in seeing each other again. (Wow, he has blue eyes)

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Richard Madden as Prince Kit

It is obvious Kit is taken with Ella (or a mysterious girl, as she never tells him her name). She gets him thinking on topics. The servant girl from the forest echoes his private sentiment that we must all simply “have courage and be kind,” and that “just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.” The Grand Duke I’m sure would consider it dangerous thinking. The King is ill and dying, putting the kingdom in peril and they are both encouraging Kit to marry, in tandem as tradition and to strengthen the kingdom. They will hold a ball, but Kit requests that invitations go to all maidens, noble and common. His captain points out that it’s Kit’s way of seeing his “good, honest country girl”.

Of course, Ella’s stepfamily still refuses to include her in their preparations. She still refurbishes her mother’s dress. Tremaine starts the tearing and spits that she “will not have her daughters associated with you.” Ella is a ragged servant girl and that is what she will remain. Ella’s once again in tears and this time, she has lost her belief. She apologizes to her mother that she doesn’t have courage any more. Yet, she’s still kind to the old beggar woman who requests some milk. The beggar woman transforms into a fairy godmother (in a very poofy white gown). A pumpkin is still transformed into a carriage and this incarnation has kept Cinderella’s animal friends (not my favorite animatronic animals) so four mice become four white horses, a goose becomes the driver, and two lizards become footmen (I kept expecting to hear “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo”). A touch of magic conceals her identity from her stepmother.

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Dancing at the ball

Another grand entrance and Ella realizes that Kit is indeed the prince (he makes the argument that a prince is an “apprentice” monarch); they share a beautiful waltz. Afterwards, the couple sneaks off for a private conversation. Tremaine overhears the Grand Duke telling the captain that he has already promised the prince to Princess Shaleena. When midnight does strike, Ella must leave and the stairs claim another glass slipper, and she still manages to evade the Grand Duke.

The king sadly dies shortly after the ball. But he encourages his son on his death bed to find the mystery princess; he is to marry for love, not advantage, and to become his own man. Kit curls up against his father one last time, prompting tears on my part. After an appropriate mourning period (per the narration) the announcement is made that the new king will search for the woman who fits the glass slipper. He bargains with the Grand Duke that if she is not found, he will marry Princess Shaleena, but no effort will be spared in searching.

In the meantime, Lady Tremaine finds Ella’s matching glass slipper and confronts her. She proposes that she will support Ella’s claim to the prince, in exchange for marrying Anastasia and Drisella off to wealthy lords, and Tremaine will “manage that boy,” thus ruling the kingdom. Ella refuses; she couldn’t save her father from Tremaine, but she will protect the kingdom and the prince from her. Tremaine smashes the slipper and locks Ella in the attic. She then goes to the Grand Duke and reveals the identity of the mystery princess. In exchange for keeping the secret, she will be made countess, once again making advantageous marriages for her daughters, and as for the servant girl; the Grand Duke can do what he likes with her, she’s nothing to Tremaine.

So the Grand Duke purposefully makes Tremaine house last in the search and once the slipper refuses to fit either Anastasia or Drisella, he wants to make a quick getaway. But Ella’s animal friends manage to open her tower window so her singing (Lavender Blue – I have no idea why this song features so heavily in the movie; though it is a pretty rendition) reaches the soldiers. Kit is disguised amongst their ranks and demands to see the last girl. HIs trusted captain brings Ella before him where she finally admits that her name is Cinderella; she is not a princess, she does not have a dowry, or even knows if the shoe will fit. But if it does, will the king take her as she is, “an honest country girl who loves you?” Kit replies of course, but only if she will take him as he is, “an apprentice still learning his trade.” When the movie closes on their wedding, narration tells us that Kit and Ella were the fairest and kindest rulers of the kingdom, remembering to see the world as it could be, believing in courage, and kindness, and occasionally, magic.

Ever After is a 1998 historical dramatic retelling of the Cinderella tale, starring Drew Barrymore as Danielle and Anjelica Houston as her stepmother. The story is set in 16th century France and includes special historical guest Leonardo da Vinci. The film opens with the Brothers Grimm invited to see “Your Majesty,” (the old woman is never named) who finds their collection of folk tales charming, but she would like to set the record straight on the “Little Cinders Girl,” who was in fact her great-great-grandmother, Danielle de Barbarac.

ever after title

Her tale begins with eight-year-old Danielle happily gaining a new mother and two new sisters; the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent,Marguerite, and Jacqueline. Her own mother has been dead for some time, the servants commenting that Auguste de Barbarac raised the girl on his own However, he must travel shortly after his marriage and tragically suffers a heart attack and dies in the drive.

Ten years pass, according to our narrator, before another man enters Danielle’s life. The King and Queen of France are discussing the arranged marriage of their son, Henry to the princess of Spain. But when they go to wake their son to join their discussion, they find he has run away, again. To continue with his flight, he must appropriate Danielle’s father’s horse, startling her during her chores. He’s cloaked, so she does not see until he dismounts that the thief she’s pelting with apples in her monarch. For her silence, a bag of gold coins. Danielle uses these to buy back an old servant, Maurice, the husband of one of the two women left. To do so, she must dress as a noblewoman (I assume she borrows gowns from her stepsisters), a great risk at this time period as such an act is punishable by death.

Henry runs into Leonardo da Vinci during his flight and is honor-bound to retrieve a painting a band of gypsies have stolen. Of course, it’s the Mona Lisa. This delay allows the royal guards to catch up with Henry, though they must stop at Danielle’s home first, to return the horse. The Baroness, while unaware of the earlier episode between Henry and Danielle (the apple throwing), wastes no time pushing Marguerite in front of the prince. After being pleasant to the self-serving woman, Henry arrives back at the palace in time to catch Danielle (dressed as a courtier and thus unrecognizable) arguing over freeing her servant. She is well spoken, impassioned, and obviously educated, prompting him to ask for her name. She gives him “Comtess Nicole de Lancret” (borrowing from her mother, whom she apparently resembles). They have quite a conversation and Danielle unknowingly echoes his parents’ words, that as a prince, he has been born to privilege and with that comes certain obligations. In her case, he has a duty to his country and the people in it, including the hard-working peasants.

In the King’s and Queen’s case, Henry has a duty to marry for political gain, never mind love or the fact that he doesn’t want the crown. King Francis compromises with his son; they will throw a masked ball “in honor of Senior da Vinci,” at which time, Henry will announce his engagement. Henry has until then to find a love match, or King Francis will announce the engagement to the Spanish princess. Queen Marie cautions that “divorce is only something they do in England (historical note: this is a call out to Henry VIII who famously divorced two of his wives: if you have any further questions on this matter, I will happily discuss!)

News of the ball that has been opened to all eligible maids of the kingdom has reached the Baroness (through a spy in the royal guard) and she begins scheming to pair Marguerite with Prince Henry. She shows her daughters Danielle’s dowry, a gorgeous gown of her mother’s; Rodmilla intends for Marguerite to wear it instead. Jacqueline protests, arguing they should include Danielle; she is the only family member to treat her stepsister decently. The Baroness is offended by Danielle’s manner, particularly after “all she’s done for her” and Marguerite is the one to coin the name “Cinderella.” Rodmilla dismisses Jacqueline’s suggestion, but changes her tune when Danielle enters.

Over the course of the film, Henry spends time publicly with Marguerite (their scheming is unfortunately working), yet he also runs into “Nicole” several times. He takes her to the Franciscan Monastery to visit their library. They are embroiled in an adventure on their return, resulting in spending the evening with a band of gypsies. The next morning Henry informs his parents that he wishes to build a university with a vast library where anyone can study; oh, and he wants to invite the gypsies to the wedding. On the other end of the spectrum, the Baroness rudely wakens Danielle. demanding breakfast. “You have two hands, make it yourself.” This spurs Rodmilla to give Danielle’s dress to Marguerite (not that she needed much urging). Danielle is furious and when Marguerite mocks the fact that Danielle’s mother is dead; she retaliates with a richly deserved punch to Marguerite’s face. In the end, Danielle has to choose between her copy of Utopia from her father, or her mother’s shoes. She hands over the shoes, but Marguerite still drops the book in the fire. Rodmilla orders Danielle whipped (occurs off-screen) and we see Jacqueline tending to her stepsister after.

Rodmilla and Marguerite meet with Queen Marie and Rodmilla figures out that Danielle has been playing the comtess and seeing Henry. She spins the queen the lie that Nicole de Lancret is engaged to a Belgian. Meanwhile, Henry and “Nicole” meet alone again. Danielle tries to tell the truth, but it’s hard when the prince is declaring his love and seems so happy to have found freedom and purpose in his life; before, he had wanted to escape his gilded cage, but “Nicole” has opened his eyes to how he can care for his people and his country. Back at the house, Rodmilla confronts Danielle about her lie and about the dress she’s hidden. Danielle refuses to tell and angrily declares “I would rather die than see my mother’s on that cow!”

She’s locked in the cellar and the servants manage to get word to de Vinci to get her out. She wears her mother’s dress to the ball and arrives just as the prince was ready to announce his engagement. Rodmilla spoils their happiness, revealing Nicole as Danielle, a servant. Henry rejects her and she flees the ball in tears (leaving behind a shoe when she falls at one point). Da Vinci talks some sense into Henry and seeing how miserable the Spanish princess is during their wedding, the prince calls it off. Unfortunately Danielle has already been sold to another master; a leering landowner, Pierre le Peu. The snake would enjoy breaking Danielle, but her father taught his daughter how to use a sword. She threatens to slit her captor from navel to nose unless he releases her. She’s met outside by Henry, begging her forgiveness and proposing.

Baroness de Ghent and her daughters are called to appear in court, where Rodmilla is confronted with the fact that she lied to the queen. The monarchs first choice of punishment is to strip her of her title and ship her and Marguerite (Jacqueline is spared), to America; unless someone will speak for them. A freshly crowned Danielle appears and will speak for them, for Rodmilla is the only mother she has ever known; it is her wish that her family be treated with the same courtesy that they have treated her. Thus, Rodmilla and Marguerite are sent to be laundresses.

Henry and Danielle’s “happily ever after” features Da Vinci’s newest painting La Scapigliata (Head of a Woman) as a portrait of Danielle, a belated wedding present. Henry remarks that it looks nothing like his wife, to which Danielle rebukes “you, sire, are supposed to be charming.” We come back to the “present” where the old woman informs the Brothers Grimm that the portrait hung in the university until the French Revolution, but the most important point is that these people lived.

ever after ending

Re-watching Disney’s original animated movie, I don’t have anything specific against it beyond the typical comeback that you don’t fall in love with someone in an evening. At least this time the couple spoke to each other. Being an adult compared to a child, I see the king’s actions not as innocently. As a child: aww, he wants grandkids to play with; as an adult: you really shouldn’t be forcing your son into a marriage. It’s as bad as when stories attempt to marry the princess off just so she can produce heirs. Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are just plain horrible. But it does have a cute little message about dreaming and hoping; except we don’t all have fairy godmothers to grant those wishes immediately.

I love that the live action remake included more backstory, for both Ella and Tremaine. I wouldn’t say we gain much sympathy for the woman, because she’s still cruel to a young woman who had nothing to do with the events that made her bitter. It’s tragic that the light and love of her life died and tragic still that her second marriage, which she understandably made to survive in the world, ended in death. But when Ella demands an answer from Lady Tremaine on why the woman is so cruel, in light of the girl being nothing but kind to her and no one deserves to be treated the way she was, all Tremaine can respond is that Ella is “young, and innocent, and good…” essentially boiling down to the excuse that she was jealous.

Cate Blanchett plays evil beautifully; the stepmother in the animated version is older, possibly attractive at one point, but those years are past. In the live-action, she still possess poise and grace and comes across with just enough gentility in public that her motivations are not questioned. She and the Grand Duke are well-matched; claiming that their actions and words are in the best interest of their charges, but really, it’s all self-serving. They come to an arrangement about Ella easily and even mutually chuckle at the fact that Tremaine is threatening the Grand Duke.

Ever After has Rodmilla explain to Danielle that her own mother was hard on her, making her strive for excellence; that is how she became a Baroness (and the mother to potentially the future queen). Immediately followed by her telling Danielle she looks so much like her father, and that’s why she’s well suited for hard labor. She later coolly remarks (the way that Anjelica Houston is so good at) to Danielle, when she begs if her stepmother ever loved her even in the smallest amount, “how can one love a pebble in their shoe?” Here, even more so than in the 2015 Disney production, the Baroness is jealous of how close her second husband was to his own daughter. Rodmilla admits to Danielle (still flippantly), she hardly knew her new husband before he died, how could she have had time to love him?

Both movies also flesh out the prince and their families. We actually have names! Kit is a very charming prince, someone I would honestly want to meet. He never treats Ella as a damsel in distress, beyond “rescuing” her from her runaway horse. Kit genuinely cares about his kingdom, mentioning that the war was hard on everyone in the kingdom; a trait I believe he picked up from his father. He accepts his role as future monarch. He is a more vibrant counterpart compared to his animated original. In a different characterization Henry does seem spoilt in the beginning of Ever After but that makes it a more interesting arc. He is educated and asks da Vinci for advice in progressive thinking. Henry displays some of his indulged princely airs at the ball, when he dismisses Danielle and later when he informs da Vinci “I will not yield!” But he’s humble when he asks for her hand.

And our princesses are far better role models in the live action films. Danielle rescues herself from le Peu. She has the idea to buy back her servant (truly more of a friend); she speaks directly to the prince and makes him see the truth, she defies her stepmother to keep her mother’s dress safe. In the end, she could even let the king and queen send her horrid family members to America, instead, she grants them some small measure of mercy. Ella is intelligent as well, proving her knowledge of French to her stepfamily (and confusing ditzy Anastasia and Drisella). She speaks quickly to the king as she’s leaving the ball, intrepidly informing the monarch of his son’s love. Her words leaves an impression with the king, which is why he urges Kit to find her and marry her, for love. These women truly show that hard work (which is dirtier than portrayed in animation) will be rewarded.

I adore the costumes in both the live-action films. The ballgown from the 2015 Disney re-make is simply gorgeous. That skirt is enormous and I’m certain that it was not easy to walk or dance in all those layers, but it had the right amount of sparkle. Ever After had a profound impact on me, setting the romance in a historical period, which historical clothes, and showing me a “modern” heroine in those times. (On a personal note: that’s the kind of heroine I am planning for my own fantasy series), making it my favorite version if I was forced to choose.

Questions? Comments? What’s your favorite version of Cinderella? Let me know!

Up Next: Peter Pan

Disney’s First Princess

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Ah yes, Disney. I’m in the generation that grew up during the coined “Disney Renaissance,” the early nineties when they put out some of their best work. Hercules, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin all had cartoons on the Disney Channel. I love Winnie the Pooh to this day. I sing along with Disney songs almost anywhere. Very nostalgic.

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I’ve been to Disney World once, on a band trip my senior year of high school. This is at the Princess Meet-and-Greet

But, going to start with the first full length animated movie. Released in 1937, it retells a Brothers Grimm tale about an evil sorceress who becomes the stepmother to a beautiful princess, named Snow White due to her “skin as white as snow” (it’s a fairy tale, they can have…not normal names). But the queen is jealous and wants to be known as the fairest in the land (here, they use “fair” as a synonym for “beautiful” because the queen is certainly not kind.) When her magic mirror tells her otherwise, she orders a huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart as proof. Because Snow White is the eternal optimist (her mannerisms remind me of Shirley Temple, a child star of the same era), the huntsman can’t bring himself to kill her. Instead, he tells her to run away into the forest and never return.

That forest has given children nightmares; falling in line with the purpose of original fairy tales to scare children into behaving. Snow’s fear fueled the terrifying images, until she calms down and sees it for cuddly woodland creatures. Those bunnies are absolutely huggable. They lead her to a filthy house in the middle of the woods and they all clean!

Okay, let’s interrupt the narrative a little further to discuss a few things. Modern women look back on this and huff about how the princess just wants to clean and take care of men/children. Let’s remember when this was produced; women were not a major part of the workforce yet. And, the original Grimm fairy tale was unlikely to be proponent for women’s rights. Re-watching this, I take it as, that’s what she wants to do, fine. I don’t have to. However, can someone explain to me when woodland creatures learned how to clean a house?

Returning to the story; they all whistle while they work and take a well deserved nap afterwards. The owners of the house, seven dwarfs, not orphaned children, return from their work in the mine. At first, they’re suspicious about having an intruder in their home, yet that melts away when they discover it’s a beautiful young woman.

They’re smart enough the next morning to warn Snow White that the queen will still be hunting her and to not let strangers in the house (good message for kids). Snow’s not the smartest apple in the barrel and willingly talks to a haggard old woman (personal vendetta: not all witches are evil, and why do they have to be ugly? The queen goes through all that work just to be known as the prettiest? Alas, those all fall into traditional fairy tale tropes). When the birds try to warn Snow White, she takes pity on the woman – and does the thing that the dwarfs just told her not to do! Proving that animals are smarter than humans, the woodland creatures fetch the dwarfs. Sadly, it’s too late. Snow White has fallen prey to the Sleeping Death, though not permanent death, since the queen cackled the dwarfs would bury her alive.

Classic Disney death, the queen falls off a cliff followed by a boulder (though not every death is accompanied by creepy vultures). The dwarfs hold vigil for months; we witness the changing seasons. And the prince has been searching for months for this young woman. Yep, that classic trope of love at first sight, and love’s first kiss. “And they lived happily ever after” completes the fairy tale.

I can understand “I’m Wishing;” she’s a fourteen-year-old princess from some undetermined historical period. Entirely accurate to be wishing for a handsome prince to marry (doesn’t quite jive with modern viewpoints, again, it’s the thirties). Young girls and tweens still wish for a prince to see them off their feet. Fully grown women still secretly wish for love (we just know it’s a lot harder to acquire).

Snow White’s song is interrupted by a strange prince coming up to her, then serenading her. I reiterate my question: how do you love her if all you’ve done is listen to her and see her for thirty seconds? Later, Snow White tells her new dwarf friends she dreams of her prince returning. Okay, first issue, how do you honestly know he’s a prince? He could be lying, a vagabond that stole the prince’s clothes. And you know you’ll be happy, how? We keep circling back to the fact that you’ve known each other all of a minute. That is not love, that’s barely infatuation or a crush. One is essentially saying, “oh he/she is cute.” It means nothing. You’ve never spoken to each other. This is not how marriages worked even in the medieval or Renaissance time. Arranged marriages were negotiated. Royalty had to go through a rigmarole to get married. Guess we’ve got to chalk it up to “because it’s a fairy tale.”

I’ve gotta to compare the dwarfs here to the dwarves of Tolkien, brought to life by Peter Jackson. There are some similarities; they have memorable names: Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, and Dopey vs Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Fili, Kili, and Thorin. They’re all miners, though, the Tolkien dwarves are far more traditional. Children, that is not how gems are mined and smart people do not throw away the slightly imperfect ones. They’ve got fun songs: Heigh-Ho vs Blunt the Knives (those dwarves clean up similar to woodland creatures). And they’ve all got beards, for the most part and color-coded garments. However, Tolkien created a wonderful history for the dwarves, rich in culture. His are characters that take part in the grand scheme of things. Disney’s are…lifelike garden gnomes. And would you really want to go up against the dwarves from the Hobbit?

In conclusion, Snow White has never been a favorite Disney movie of mine, but re-watching it, it’s not too bad.  Fine watching if there’s not much else on TV, but not something I would be in a hurry to elect to put on. Kids, do not talk to strangers or accept food from strangers or let them in your house. Most of the other views are honestly outdated, but if you don’t let yourself get distracted…. I respect it for being groundbreaking for animation. I do have to say, I enjoyed the recharacterization that Once Upon A Time made to Snow. I can totally get behind a woman who takes her destiny into her own hands and kicks butt at the same time.

I do not intend to do an analysis on Once Upon a Time. I love the show, but it’s seven seasons.

Questions? Comments? Want me to do OUAT? Let me know.

Next Time: Cinderella