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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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1. Fairy Tale Interrupted; or How Disney’s Beast became Beauty

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Although she should have been only concerned for the prince, she could not refrain from asking what happened to the Beast. (Beamont 1989, 244)

The story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ gained literary form in French in the eighteenth century, most likely as an adaptation of the classical myth of ‘Cupid and Psyche’. Histories of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and its retellings and variants have been considered a number of times (Hearne 1991; Tatar 1999; Griswold 2004; Heiner 2013). The purpose in this chapter is to highlight the way Disney’s production of the musical animated film of Beauty and the Beast shifts the focus of the tale from Beauty to the Beast. The way in which this shift occurs, and the sense in which the heroine is situated to guide the cinema audience’s view of the Beast, is the interest of this chapter.10

Perhaps in honour of the eighteenth-century French tale on which it was based, or in reference to Jean Cocteau’s (1946) film, La Belle et la Bête, Disney names its heroine, Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), rather than Beauty, and devises a rival suitor, Gaston (voiced by Richard White), who vies with the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) for Belle’s love. The Disney film begins with the prince and a backstory about the enchantment that made him the Beast. One miserable night, the prince answers a knock at his door and finds an old hag offering a rose in return for...

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