On the eve of the 25th Anniversary Special Edition release of MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE DISNEY MOVIE OF ALL TIME (fyi, it’s Beauty and the Beast), the sweet motif woven throughout my childhood of Good conquering Evil appears ever-increasingly distant.
In 1991, probably for the first time in its history, Disney created a villain that wasn’t obviously evil; and in its portrayal of The Beast, gave me an small inkling of the notion of irony. Gaston was, by all Parisian accounts, the man every woman [should have] wanted. The Beast was, and not simply nominally, an absolute brute. A kidnapping brute, no less.
The haunting melodic introduction warned the viewer, from the beginning, that looks often deceive. A beastly brute and a handsome hunter transform throughout the movie into revelations of their true forms based on their characters and their actions. Evil does not actually win, no matter how handsomely disguised. Good will triumph, no matter how rough and uncut its origin.
What I only realized as I grew older and re-watched (and re-sang) my favorite story was that Beauty and the Beast is a warning to us that Good’s triumph over Evil is not very pretty; it may in fact, nearly kill us.
I do remember feeling the injustice of the final scene, even as a toddler. The Beast lay bleeding, dying, on the cold stones of a rain-soaked balcony. Belle, desperate and pleading, had come back for him! They had fought off Evil for each other; they had saved each other, if only figuratively. She LOVED him! But Gaston had still struck. Love was not an actual shield, it did not have the immediate restorative powers that other fairy tails boasted.
The injustice of the final scene may have been a warning, however brief, that the fight between Good and Evil will not be so transparent. It will not be so swift, as the sword that struck Maleficent. It will not be so grand, as the boulder that crushed the Evil Witch. The villains in our lives may not even be so obviously villainy-looking as the purple and black-tentacled Ursula.
What happens when we face those opaque, subtle, disguised villains in our lives? In our society (looking at you, Brock Turner and Kraigen Grooms)? What do we say to the friend who’s been diagnosed with a completely preventable disease because of a selfish stranger? Or the friend who’s been torn and bruised and violated, but is instead being painted with a scarlet letter? How do we sing along to favorite tunes and revisit favorite childhood fairy tales whose messages seem irrelevant in the face of our own injustices? When the justice system fails to provide just that (looking at you, Pasadena officer who said fingerprinting my jewelry box after a robbery was “really just something I probably got from a TV show”)?
We can only say what Belle said. We say, “We’ll love you, from now until the last petal falls.”