After reading this great LA Times piece from Meredith Woerner about the new Beauty and the Beast remake (perhaps you have heard of it?), I suddenly felt something I almost never feel: a desire to see a musical. Not usually my cup of tea. I am not overly fond of cartoons, so I have never even seen the (Disney) original. I do vaguely remember seeing a French version for a college film class, but it made nary an impression on my neanderthal brain. Typically, I would classify this type of movie as a date movie – for early in the relationship. Very early. Or maybe a good option if you got stuck with the kids, and Kong Island was playing at the same time in the theater next door: “Here’s 20 bucks for a candy bar; I’ll see you animals in two hours.” Yet there I was, at 9am on a weekday, fighting off that “what the hell am I doing?” feeling with, “This is for work.” Just me all by myself – followed by $170 million worth of other people over the weekend.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s fun, funny, exciting, romantic (almost as romantic as Kong) – and, most importantly, pretty damn great for book people.
Here’s what you, your date or the kids can take away from this movie and its book-lover heroes Belle and Beast:
Belle, the voracious reader (which is what the word “belle” means in French, if you didn’t know – from the Greek), appears to be the only young lady in the village who can see past Gaston’s surface qualities.
Stuck in this hopelessly provincial village, Belle manages to expand her understanding of the world through her reading. She does not know only the people who live next door or down the street, but also “knows” the people she encounters in fiction, history, etc.. This gives her a more sophisticated method of assessing the qualities of the village’s most eligible bachelor, the jerk-face Gaston. While she is able to detect arrogance, meanness and stupidity by comparing him with familiar characters from her reading, the other girls simply do not have as many reference points, and in their assessments must stop at ‘Has large hands”.
If you want to make the right kind of woman fall in love with you, you’d better have a good-sized library.
The point in the movie where Belle first looks at Beast with a sparkle in her eyes is right after he’s shown her his impressive library. Now, it’s certainly true that the sparkle is more for the books at that moment, but that’s a powerful hit of dopamine, and it’s his library and he’s standing right there. It’s a pretty great move for that stage of their relationship. Plus, he is honest. When she asks if he’s read all of them, he admits he hasn’t. No need to front, when you’re the real deal. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s combed his fur.
Not everyone supports literacy, in particular, those who hold power unjustly.
Belle is perhaps the only young lady in her village with an overt interest in reading – if not the only one who can read. There is a clear patriarchy: at one point, you see the boys all going in to school, while the girls are doing laundry. Not only is Belle ridiculed for reading, but she is flat-out harassed when she is seen teaching a younger girl how to read. Her love of reading and willingness to teach others could upset the laundry schedule! And what happens if she suddenly wants to go to school? Anarchy! The only one (besides her dad) who supports her interest? The local minister, which leads us to…
…Being unselfish with even a small library is good work.
The minister has the only library in town, and it is literally one small shelf of books. He lends them to Belle liberally. This simple thing is a bit of a risk for him. They must be expensive, what if she loses one? What if one of the knuckle-dragging villagers grabs it from her and throws it in the mud? What if he himself suffers abuse for encouraging her reading? He does it anyway, and it absolutely contributes to her growth, and, as we’ve seen, perhaps saves her from marrying Gaston le Bag de la Douche.
Poetry is one of the few man-made things that blends effortlessly with nature.
In a romantic scene where Belle and Beast are strolling through his wintery garden, she reads poetry out loud as he takes in the scenery. It’s nice. Compare/contrast, say, playing darts in the garden or watching a movie or doing your taxes. There’s nothing wrong with those other activities, but you can’t enjoy nature while doing them. You have to pick: movie or lake, basketball or warbling nightingale, doing an oil change on your car or a bracing thunderstorm. Mixing poetry and nature, on the other hand, is seamlessly complimentary, like chocolate & peanut butter or bourbon & corn chips (trust me on that one).
Arguing about literature is a good sign of compatibility.
Early in the movie, Gaston feigns enthusiasm about a book Belle is carrying, and when she questions him about it, he has nothing to say. (This is, of course, because he hasn’t actually read it, but that’s beside the point.) Later, Belle and Beast have a disagreement involving the merits of Romeo and Juliet that then continues into the tales of King Arthur. And then they fall in love. It’s as simple as that.
Books can be weaponized.
In the climactic battle between the village mob and the bewitched furniture, a stack of books are used as non-lethal projectiles. I can’t remember which sentient household object flung the books, but if you have books, a good arm and aim, you could defend your home against doltish, mobbing villagers. Also, as seen in this video, you can punch someone in the face with a book. Make sure they are actually attacking you before doing this, and use the spine, so you don’t damage the book.
Belle and Beast are our kind of people: literate, tough, independent, and covered in fur. This classic remains a classic not just because it’s lavish, filled with stars and has cool effects – oh yeah, and singing – but because, like any classic, there is substance in the details.