Why Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is not about Stockholm syndrome

I have no idea whether this started as serious feminist critique or as comedic satire, but if you’ve read any Disney-related stuff on the internet in the last five or ten years, you’ve probably heard someone asserting that Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm syndrome. I’m not going to bother with links. This stuff is everywhere. If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t heard it before, just Google it. Now, I don’t mind acknowledging problematic elements in childhood favorites, and I don’t mind “lol, your innocent childhood faves are actually The WORST” satire. But today I’m going to talk about why this particular criticism of this particular movie is seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

To begin, let’s establish what Stockholm syndrome actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, it is:

the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor

Beauty and the Beast fails this basic definition right out of the gate. Belle isn’t a hostage, and the Beast isn’t her captor. Maurice breaks a law, namely trespassing on royal grounds, and is imprisoned for it. Sure, it can easily be argued that he received an excessive sentence without trial and that the dungeon conditions weren’t humane, but “Don’t trespass on royal property” is a pretty reasonable law from a security POV. This would be like finding some random person camped out in an unused corner of the White House, claiming it was because they got a flat tire.

So, anyway, Maurice is in jail because he broke a fairly reasonable law. Belle comes to find him of her own initiative. She knows her aging father won’t last long in the dungeon, so she volunteers as tribute to serve his sentence for him, also of her own initiative. The Beast does not in any way manipulate or intimidate Belle into that choice. He doesn’t expect or consider that she would make such a choice at all. But he decides it’s a fair exchange. He doesn’t care who pays for Maurice’s crime as long as someone does. Sure, the Beast later admits that he considered the possibility that Belle was an eligible spell-breaker, but apparently that didn’t matter enough to him to actively force or coerce her to stay for that purpose. Because he didn’t. In fact, he dismisses the idea that Belle could fall in love with him out of hand. The servants have to badger him into making an effort (a futile one in his eyes) to get Belle to like him.

And the Beast’s efforts are futile at first, because Belle has no reason to trust him. She’s glad to get out of the dungeon, but the opulent bedroom, the wardrobe full of fancy gowns, and the invitation to dine at the Master’s table don’t impress her. She’s not fawning with gratitude that her warden moved her to a better cell.

Belle only starts warming up to the Beast after he’s followed her example and risked his life to save her. I mean, yeah, he was following her because she was running away from his castle (where she was under house arrest because she was serving a sentence for a trespasser, and then she went and trespassed herself). But he could’ve left her to the wolves and saved himself, and he didn’t. And Belle takes this for what it is – an act of basic human decency. She isn’t swooning over her captor because he’s tossed her an extra crumb. She thanks him for saving her life, while maintaining that her life was in danger in the first place because he had frightened her into running away.

What most establishes here, imo, that this isn’t a Stockholm syndrome case or any other kind of abusive relationship, is that when Belle tells the Beast he should learn to control his temper, she gets the last word. The Beast doesn’t retort that Belle shouldn’t have made him lose his temper, nor does he faux grovel and shower her with assurances that it’ll never happen again. They’ve been arguing over whose fault the incident was, and “You should learn to control your temper” is what makes the Beast stop, silently acknowledging that there is no good counter-argument.

And we see over the course of a full season that the Beast does start controlling himself and acting more human. We don’t see a cycle of the Beast losing his temper, Belle threatening to leave, the Beast winning her back only to lose his temper again. We see consistent, long-term change. Belle sees it, too, and that’s when she starts falling for him.

Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk about the library scene. 

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I’m going to guess that, if you were a kid who loved Beauty and the Beast, this was the scene that made you believe in true love. This was the tale as old as time. This was the impossible standard against which all future suitors would be judged. This was the true fantasy. Not being kidnapped and falling in love with your captor. Not finding a “beastly” man and being the one to reform him. Not being given outrageously expensive gifts.

THE BEAST LOVES THAT BELLE LOVES TO READ.

This scene is in such stark contrast to Gaston’s statement that “It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas…thinking…” The Beast gives Belle ALL THE BOOKS! so she can get ALL THE IDEAS! and think ALL THE THOUGHTS! Not only that, he invites her into a dark corner of the castle, in contrast to shutting her out before. I’m trying not to stray too far into speculation and subtext here, but I think it’s a reasonable extrapolation that the Beast had been utilizing the library himself over the last ten years, and that a love of books (or at least literacy) was something he and Belle had in common, unlike pretty much everyone else in Belle’s poor, provincial town.

After all this, Belle asks to leave for the same reason she originally asked to stay. Her father is in danger. The Beast lets her go. He doesn’t force her to stay or manipulate her into “choosing” to stay, despite the fact that he’s fallen in love with her and that his curse is on the verge of permanency. Later, Belle returns to the Beast, not because she misses the (non-existent) abuse, or because she can’t live without him, or because she can’t function as a free person. She does what she always does. She risks herself to save someone she loves, and who loves her.

I can’t wait until the live action Beauty and the Beast comes out next month, and I’m interested to see what inevitable changes are made to the story. I just hope Disney doesn’t try to “fix” the Stockholm syndrome “problem”. In the words of a wise clockwork butler,

If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.

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Tangled Woods

I saw Into the Woods last night. It was incredible. I was already a huge fan of the original musical, and while there were a few incidental changes, the movie did an excellent job of portraying the characters and exploring the complex, abstract themes in Sondheim’s original.

I could write a whole book on those themes and the way Into the Woods explores them. Maybe this’ll turn into a series of posts, or maybe I’ll get distracted by the weekend and never touch the subject again. Who knows. But anyway, the aspect of Into the Woods that I want to talk about in this post is how Into the Woods compares and contrasts to another Disney favorite of mine, Tangled. SPOILERS for both are ahead.

Meryl Streep as the Witch, Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. Image via Teaser Trailers.

Into the Woods‘ Rapunzel arc and Tangled both tell the story of a young woman who’s spent her life hidden away from the world by a singing witch inspired by Bernadette Peters. Continue reading “Tangled Woods”

5 Crossovers That Need to Happen on Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time, in case you haven’t heard, is an ABC show currently in its third season. The best way to describe it is “Enchanted for grownups.” Or “the ultimate Disney crossover fanfiction.” Or “that show where Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter got knocked up by Rumpelstiltskin’s son and their kid got adopted by Snow White’s evil stepmother who was almost the lovechild of Rumpelstiltskin and the Miller’s Daughter and that’s just the beginning.”

Or “LOST, with Disney characters.” Image via Wikipedia.

Although Once‘s original pitch was classic fairy tale characters living in the modern world, it quickly became obvious that “classic fairy tale” = “anything either in the public domain or owned by Disney.” So far the world of the Enchanted Forest has intersected with Wonderland, Frankenstein, the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, Neverland, and most recently, Oz. Which is AWESOME. Go big or go home, right? Once Upon a Time is almost sure to get a fourth season. Here are a few yet-untapped veins in the Disney properties and public domain gold mines.

5. SHERLOCK HOLMES

There’s always a mystery afoot in Storybrook. Who better than Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest public domain detective, to show up and solve one? Sadly, it’s unlikely that CBS or the BBC would loan Miller or Cumberbatch to a rival network. Just as well, though, since pulling Holmes and Watson out of 19th century London seems more in keeping with Once’s style. Most likely scenario: Sherlock must solve a paternity case, and he discovers that he himself is the Blue Fairy’s son, Aladdin’s brother, and Captain Hook’s father.

4. DRACULA

Srsrly tho, WHY have there not been vampires in Storybrook yet? Half of Regina’s Evil Queen costumes look like they were designed for a vampire (hmmm, maybe Carmilla would be better?). There could be this whole storyline about Dracula only being able to drink blood from someone if they have a heart, and Regina has to use her magic heart-stealing powers to save the whole town from being vampired, and Dracula is Jiminy Cricket’s son, Grumpy the Dwarf’s brother, and Mulan’s father.

3. NARNIA

The property rights situation on this one is complicated, but Disney distributed the Narnia movies, so I’m throwing it in here anyway. We’ve already seen several characters travel to and from Storybrook via wardrobe. Agrabah, a major location in the underrated Wonderland spinoff, could easily be part of the Calormen Empire. Come on, writers; I want a twisted, tangled backstory about the War of the Drobes in the land of Spare Oom. A story in which Mister Tumnus is revealed to be Red Riding Hood’s son, Ariel’s brother, and Mushu’s father.

2. MARVEL

Specifically, a Once Upon a Time/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. two-part crossover episode. The big reveal would solve Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s major ongoing mystery regarding Skye’s parentage thusly: Aurora is currently pregnant with Skye, and Mulan is the father.

1. THE FRIGGIN’ MUPPETS

Miss Piggy: “Mirror on moi’s dressing room wall, who’s the biggest diva of them all?”

Muppet mirror: “O Queen of Hams, if camp could kill, we’d all be slain by Regina Mills.”

Miss Piggy drags the Muppet crew to Storybrook to investigate. A battle royale between her and Regina ends in an accidental curse that turns everyone in Storybrook into Muppets. They spend the whole episode trying to put things back to normal. Chaos and random musical numbers ensue. All is put to right at the end, but not before it is discovered that Miss Piggy is Cora’s other long-lost daughter, Kermit the Frog is Princess Tiana’s brother, and Gonzo is Rumpelstiltskin’s grandfather.

Dear Persephone (A Frozen Follow-Up)

Last week I begged Persephone to return from the Underworld so Demeter would end the polar vortex. After some beseeching, I said that the people of Earth would continue uploading covers of “Let it Go,” Queen Elsa’s epic showstopper from Disney’s Frozen. Well, on Sunday, I woke up to freezing rain, which later turned into snow. So this happened. Idina Menzel I ain’t. I’m barely Adele Dazeem. But here is my goddess-trolling humble offering.

In case you have no children or internet (how are you reading this post again?) and thus haven’t seen the original version of this Oscar-winning anthem, here you go:

In news related only in the sense that it involves me putting things on the internet, I have a Facebook page now. It’ll feature all updates from this blog, some links from my other social media, and random stuff that I find interesting and relevant and think my readers might, too. It’ll also feature updates about Thalia’s Musings, of course, although there’s still the Thalia’s Musings Facebook page for that. So, if this sounds like something you want in your news feed, go forth and like!

Twisted: A Very Wicked Disney Musical

Promo poster for Twisted. Image via Do312

You probably know the musical comedic genius of Team Starkid from A Very Potter Musical and its sequels. What? You’ve never seen A Very Potter Musical??? Well, I’ll have to blog about that some other time, because it’s awesome. Draco is a girl in drag and Zac Ephron is a [SPOILER!] and Harry Freakin’ Potter is played by a pre-Glee Darren Criss (aka Blaine Warbler).

But today I’m fangirling about StarKid’s latest production, Twisted: The Untold Story Of A Royal Vizier. It parodies both Wicked and Disney’s Aladdin, as indicated by the promo poster. It’s as affectionate and irreverent a parody as any of StarKid’s other works. Ja’far (not to be confused with the copyright-protected Jafar) gets the Elphaba treatment as the virtuous scapegoat for all the kingdom’s problems. His “scheming” is really applied poli sci, his “sorcery” is advanced science, and his “evilness” is a desire to rid the streets of criminals who steal bread from simple hard-working bakers. He also shares an unexpectedly poignant romance with Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights fame. Aladdin, tragically orphaned at 33, is a perfect satire of a douchy hipster trustfund baby who’s too cool to work for a living like everyone else. The Princess is every 16-year-old rich white privilege-checking Social Justice Warrior on Tumblr who dreams of saving the world but has a lot to learn about how it actually works. Since her name is never mentioned, I’m sure she is not the licensed Disney Princess Jasmine.

Want a quick sampler? Watch the opening number, with its profanity-laced classic Disney-style crowd song (the villagers do not greet Ja’far with “Bonjour”):

Or the balcony scene, which references pretty much every Disney moral panic conspiracy theory of the 90s:

Or this title-dropping gallery of Disney’s most fabulous villains:

Got a couple hours? Watch the whole thing!