Feminism, Masculinity, Wonder Cinema
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.
2. Disney Business and the Rose Taboo
‘It is forbidden.’ (Beast in Beauty and the Beast, 1991).
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is noted for winning two Academy Awards, and for achieving the rare distinction for an animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Yet, this Disney ‘classic’, to use the term coined by Disney to name the genre that dates from the origins of the Walt Disney Studios, is, like many Disney cartoons, a pastiche of other stories Disney has animated, or theatre styles it has lampooned, or wonder tales from the historical library of such tales. The Disney ‘classic’ is a form of branding, a term that is applied in the merchandising and marketing of Disney’s animated feature films that carries powerful cultural politics. This ‘classic’ formula was established in the early cartoons, notably the Silly Symphonies, and made use of musical form and ‘revolved me) animostly around physical gags and slapstick, relying heavily on anthropomorphised (human-like), neotenised (childlikal characters’ (Wasko 2001, 111). In the animated feature films the style is more adapted to the conventions of Hollywood narrative cinema.
The formula, according to Wasko, is supplemented with a process of ‘Disneyfication’, or ‘sanitisation and Americanisation’ in the form of ‘profound changes in the original theme and characters, as well as the cultural and geographic settings’ (113–125). Such changes ‘deny the essence and motivation of the original tales’, effectively emptying the tales of the foregoing values in favour of stock themes and ideology, summarised by Wasko as:...
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