Beauty and the Beast is just like every fairy tale turned Disney film: princess needs saving, prince saves princess, prince and princess live happily ever after. The end. The unfortunate part about this is that fairy tales seem to favor men. Don’t get me wrong, I love fairy tales. I love fairy tales when they are dark and twisted. I love fairy tales when they are all Disney-like. This is great news though. With feminists refusing to be heard, Disney has listened and is making their princess films less about needing men and falling love, and more about finding an inner true strength and representing girl power.
So, what happens when you take an older Disney princes film from the 90’s and revamp it into a live-action film featuring one of the most influential young feminists out there? Hopefully, something truly magical occurs. Emma Watson, one of our favorites from the Harry Potter franchise, is attempting to do what most of us have been wanting for a while. She is giving us one of our favorite childhood stories, but making it progressive. There are a few changes to the live action version of Beauty and the Beast that can make a large difference and Emma Watson is in the center of all of it.
To begin, Watson wasn’t sure that this was an okay task to attempt. She had doubts that portraying a Disney princess might not be the best representation of who she wants to be seen as. If she’s like me though, she probably knows all the words to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and went and saw Moana in theaters multiple times… but that’s not the point. The point is that she needed an outside perspective. Watson sought our Gloria Steinem. Watson was looking for a seal of approval before she started the film. And while Steinem does not nor cannot speak for all feminists, she gave Watson the approval she was looking for. Emma Watson wanted to be sure she wasn’t being influenced into doing something she didn’t believe in. That means that she believes that this version of the Disney favorite aligns with her morals.
The weird thing about the cartoon version of Beauty and the Beast was that everyone believed Belle was strange only on the basis that she read books. That wouldn’t work today; it barely worked back then. We only believed that it made sense that people thought a girl reading books was strange because the film was so charming otherwise. The audience for the live action version however lives in the twenty first century. Beyond that, the audience doesn’t just consist of kids this time. It will be a mix of adults and kids, all who see life differently than they did back then. Therefore, the live action version will have Belle as a recluse who invents things, just like her father. Again, not that strange, but at least they are trying to make things more realistic. Women still are criticized for doing “untraditional” jobs. Belle will show us that that doesn’t matter.
The image of Belle standing up to the Beast, not being afraid of him, and then giving him a chance before judging him is exactly why Emma Watson fell in love with Belle when she was a kid. “She was this feisty young woman who spoke her mind and had all these ambitions, and was incredibly independent, wanted to see the world and was so smart,” said Watson in an interview with The Telegraph last November. Watson had originally been offered to play Cinderella in the live action version of Cinderella. She didn’t want to portray Cinderella though. That part obviously went to Lilly James. However, when Watson was offered to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast, she knew she wanted that role.
When watching all the old Disney films, the princesses become more feminist-like with each one. Cinderella is from 1950. Beauty and the Beast is from 1991. After that, we got Mulan. Then we got Merida from Brave. Do you get where I’m going with this? The forty years between Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast involved a lot of change. It’s a lot easier to turn Belle into a more progressive feminist figure than it would be to Cinderella for sure.
Bonus: Disney will have their first absolute gay character in this movie. I say absolute because they have hinted at other characters potentially being gay or bisexual in the past. Le Fou, Gaston’s trusty companion, will be without a doubt gay though. Disney has never shied away from showing how open they are to accepting people from all parts of the spectrum, but this will be the first time where they actually make it less of an idea and more of a fact. While this doesn’t have much to do with the rise of feminism shown through this particular Disney film, it does show that the producers aren’t fearful to do what they want with this movie.
Emma Watson has influenced the live action version of Beauty and the Beast greatly. One can only hope that the film lives up to every expectation we all seem to have of it. We want to see a strong, independent, kind-hearted, intelligent woman on screen. What we don’t want is Belle to be anything less than that.
Beauty and the Beast premieres on March 17th. Make sure not to miss it once it comes out!