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Fairy tale interrupted

Feminism, Masculinity, Wonder Cinema

Allison Craven

Feminism, masculinity and fairy tale figure within an extended analysis of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991), in light of the live-action remake, Beauty and the Beast (2017). The history of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast is compared with Disney's adaptation which centralises the figure of the Beast rather than the heroine, Belle. A flagship during a key period of Disney’s corporate expansion in the early 1990s, in the first section of the book, the production is situated with respect to gender histories in the corresponding period: the rise of post-feminism, and its implicit disavowal of feminism, the mythopoetic men’s movement and the crisis of masculinity. The following section canvasses views of masculinity in second wave feminism and the role of myth and fairy in key works of feminism. A critical discussion ensues of twenty-first century wonder cinema in which the influence of feminist ideas is seen to circulate within the pastiche treatments of fairy tales and enchantment.

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Conclusion: (Not) Out of the Woods

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The shows roll on, the franchises grow, the trends alter. Disney media comes in waves; so, too, the Twilights, and the monster heroes. Snow White (of Huntsman fame) is proof that whatever evanescent victory is manufactured in the digital layer of reality represented by the film industry, it can be quickly extinguished, especially when one’s stepmother is a wicked queen. She remains the fiercest rival of a heroine in historical fairy tale and in the empowered seat of post-feminist wonder. More concerning, while the fairy tale heroine is on the crest of technological history for now, the wave may fall. Scrutiny of these practices and the masculine/feminine polarities remains a feisty task for the feminist.

Belle’s eyebrow is a symbol of wonder in all its senses; an animated gesture in a magical narrative, and a quest for knowledge. Belle’s coy command to Beast to ‘Step into the light’ was a point of departure in this book towards reflections on contemporary wonder cinema, on feminism and fairy tale, and on feminism and masculinity. Disney and other mass storytellers, through their media empires, broker these connections in which the plots are staged, and the content branded. Post-feminist wonder spreads a story of the miracle or magic of gender. An empowered Red Riding Hood or Snow White might once have been believed impossible, yet now we can say, ‘once upon a time’. But it is a sprinkling or a dusting of feminism, and it might not be fairy dust,...

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