I brought Stellina to see Beauty and the Beast a few weeks back, newly released in 3D (though we opted for a glasses-free screening). It sounded like a dreamy, ideal mom-daughter date on a cold Sunday afternoon. I ignored the quite loud and incredulous inner voice that begged to differ. I reasoned that it's useless to try to fight the Disney princess influence; rather, I've matched every dress-up costume with a drawing pad, encourage puddle stomping, and have introduced her to Pippi Longstocking and the feminist anime oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki.
And indeed, Stellina swooned at the news, then donned her "Belle" outfit (a hand-me-down from a friend, it's the tiny tulle gown that started it all a couple years back), post-haste. At the theater, she perched at the front of her seat, butterfly boots crossed at the ankles, shimmery yellow skirt fanned, popcorn bag the same dimensions of her torso on her lap. It was some unparallelled (or nonpareil, in concession-stand parlance) cuteness.
The film started out promisingly enough. Belle is a book-smart young woman who longs for a life beyond her village, respects and admires her solo parent and isn't impressed by the brawn and swagger of the town hunk, Gaston. While beastly, he isn't the Beast of the title, the cruel prince who mistreated the wrong old lady, who in turn turned him into the tormented Sasquatch he'd remain unless relieved of the spell within x number of years by experiencing, yes, True Love. Along wanders Belle's Dad, seeking refuge from a storm at the Beast's castle (as the sorceress had years earlier). Does the raging ape, having learned his lesson, offer the elderly gent a room for the night? Of course not. Worse than turning him away at the door, he imprisons the guy. Soon enough, Belle bravely sets out, a one-woman search party, fighting off wolves and fierce weather -- so far kicking some serious (fairy) tail. When the Beast encounters her, does he think, "At long last, someone who could possibly break this spell and restore me to my former and less hirsute self, if I impress her with kindness toward her Pops and put them up in my super-swanky, not to mention enchanted, digs?" Alas, no. The Beast agrees to let the father go only when Belle offers herself up as a hostage in exchange.
What follows is basically the Disney version of the Patty Hearst story but with dancing teacups. The Beast continues to act like one (despite the admonishments of his servants-turned-animated home furnishings, who would like very much to be returned to human form, along with their boss); Belle softens to his brutish (and brutal) ways, in classic Stockholm Syndrome fashion. Oh, but he IS changing ... as demonstrated when they learn Belle's father is sick, and he allows her to leave. Releasing the prisoner to go it alone again in the hostile wilderness: gallantry at its finest. God forbid he use his cursed stature for the sake of good, for once.
And she goes back! She goes back to defend the Beast against Gaston and his mob of hunters, rather than let the two horrible suitors take each other out, as justice (and common sense) would seem to beg.
If you've never suffered through the film, you can still guess the ending, with its nick-of-time life-saving, shape-shifting kiss, and subsequent wedding.
(Fast-forward six months past the credits: Belle's at home alone, pregnant. The prince is down in the village, getting drunk and screwing the twins who were hot for Gaston in the opening sequence. All the servants quit within weeks of the royal wedding. After regaining his handsome looks, scoring a prisoner-bride, and discovering the village tavern, their employer had become beastlier than ever. The cook-turned-teapot-turned-cook begged Belle to leave with her, but she refused. He comes home in a blackout; when she inquires as to his whereabouts, he commences to beat her to death with the candlestick formerly known as Lumiere the maître d'.)
Suffice it to say I spent 1-1/2 hours whispering an alternative/corrective narrative into my girl's ear, stuff about bravery and kindness and choices about our behavior, and not putting up with abuse from anyone, anywhere -- not even in fairy tales.
P.S. Last weekend we went back to the multiplex for the smart and gorgeously animated Secret World of Arrietty -- no running commentary needed!