Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Ashamed to Show Oneself: Beauties & Beasts

Yes, Darling Daughter's most recent Disney crush is the rambunctious Beauty and the Beast, and she seems as charmed by it as any of the more obvious Pretty Princess-oriented titles in the Walt canon - which would be a surprise only if one expected a Disney Beast to be genuinely scary, or properly melancholic.
The Disney version clearly owes a visual/poetic debt of sorts to Jean Cocteau's imperishable film of 1946, throughout the making of which Cocteau was tortured by impetigo, eczema, and assorted carbuncles that made him want to hide in the shadows - a punishing and yet fitting mindset for the work he had before him.
Disney stole a few decent strokes from Cocteau but needless to say they jettisoned Cocteau's crowning irony, namely that the restored Prince, in the preening form of Jean Marais, seemed a poor substitute even in Belle's eyes for the majestic, sad, wounded Beast (i.e. Marais under layers of furry make-up.)
What really marks the Disney film as a work of 1991 is how it goes merrily overboard in depicting Belle's boorish and spurned village suitor Gaston as a macho moron (who duly plummets to his death in standard Disney Villain fashion) - whereas the Beast learns how to be an absolute sweetheart, just in time for his revision to human form. John Wayne would not have approved. But then this was the early 1990s, and there was a certain vogue for masculine sensitivity: as John Buffalo Mailer evokes the era to his father Norman in the rambunctious dialogue book The Big Empty, 'Political correctness was at its height and the sensitive ponytailed guy was getting laid more than he should...'

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