That Hollywood found it necessary to give the world a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast surprised few and excited many. The classic fable that teaches children it doesn’t matter what you look like if you’re a boy is a beloved favorite of little girls past and present—regardless of whether they came of age before marital rape was outlawed in all 50 states or in an era where the New York Post routinely terrorizes single, college-educated women living in cities.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing like paying flesh-and-blood adults to act out the cartoon relationship between a human female and the dog that has kidnapped her to make us realize that perhaps this Disney tale shouldn’t be shown to impressionable children.
It’s hard to know what part of this live-action remake made me more uncomfortable—the implied physical chemistry between Emma Watson and a talking animal, or the admission that locking a woman inside your castle against her will is an action that might eventually lead to a healthy relationship. I’ll start with the bestiality plot line because I’m honestly less disgusted by the thought of a human copulating with a beast than I am by domestic abusers.
Many Americans—Democrats and Republicans alike—share a deep fondness for animals. Videos of piglets, puppies, and non-violent gorillas just being themselves pepper our social media feeds on a daily basis. There are several hundred Buzzfeed employees who have managed to afford a life in New York City simply by culling the best of these for their audience. The strength of humanity’s love for animals is rivaled in intensity only by the revulsion we feel at the prospect of having sex with one of these animals. This revulsion is perhaps best illustrated by modern culture in an unforgettable Black Mirror episode during which Britain’s prime minister is given an ultimatum: fuck a pig on national television or let the country’s Royal Princess die at the hands of her kidnapper. He doesn’t commit to the pig option until the very end because fucking a pig is, in his opinion, nearly as bad as allowing someone to brutally murder a woman you love.
And yet millions watch, undisturbed, as a beautiful young teenager is swept off her feet and across a dance floor by a bovine farm animal.
“But he can talk!” one might argue. “He reads Shakespeare! He had an expensive education!”
That brings me to my next point and the primary message of the film. His animal exterior is of little import because Belle can see through to his heart and mind.
If America demonstrated as much empathy to its non-violent criminals as it does to a Disney character who held a minor hostage for several weeks, the for-profit prison industry would be fucked! Even if we agreed (and we don’t) that animals who can talk aren’t off-limits sexually, there’s still the tiny matter of Belle’s brutal treatment at the hands of the Beast during her first few days in the castle. After separating Belle from her father, the Beast makes it clear that he has every intention of leaving her to die in that cold prison cell. The Beast then threatens to let her starve unless she eats dinner with him.
“People say a lot of things they don’t mean, darling!” says Mrs. Potts and, perhaps, you.
(Pro-tip: Make a habit of believing what people say.)
The Beast then appears to have every intention of physically harming Belle when he finds her wandering in the West Wing. His violent reaction scares her enough to flee into the cold. He then saves Belle from certain death, but his intentions for pursuing her in the first place are unclear. Does he care for her? Does he want to punish her further? Does it matter?
From this point forward, their relationship begins to blossom. We see the part of him that reads books, engages in snowball fights, dances. Belle’s kindness softens him. And by the end, she has turned him from an angry, violent beast into the handsome, compassionate prince worthy of her affections.
If love could save us from ourselves, our world would be full of unemployed therapists. This fact is both obvious and routinely ignored in fairy tales. Oftentimes, that’s okay. It’s okay for movies to end with a couple at their happiest moment without acknowledging that there’s a one in two chance of their marriage ending in flames. But Beauty and the Beast’s happy ending is more ominous than that. This is a man—a literal beast—who held her hostage for weeks, kept her from her family and friends, threatened her with starvation, and physically intimidated her.
The Beast doesn’t need a wife. He needs years and years of anger therapy and possibly some time in a high-security rehabilitation facility. He needs to locate the source of his rage and come to terms with his daddy issues. True love’s kiss isn’t going to save him. The myth that it will is what puts women like Belle in dangerous, sometimes fatal, situations.
So let’s remake a remake of Beauty and the Beast that’s appropriate for children. It should start with strange, whimsical Belle strolling through her provincial town, singing about her desire for adventure. Upon arriving to her destination, the town librarian hands her Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on Inequality” and advises her to ignore all the sexist bits. Belle finds herself quite taken with this new way of thinking, and for the first time in her life, begins to entertain the idea of a college education. When her father is kidnapped by the Beast, she goes to the castle to take his place, but her father refuses, telling her to seek out an education for herself. She agrees and moves to Paris, where she becomes the unlikely protégé of a young philosopher named Immanuel Kant. The Beast, starved for affection, comes to see Maurice as a father surrogate. Once Maurice has earned the trust of the Beast, he kills the creature in his sleep and flees the castle. He joins Belle in Paris where they both die of plague but it’s okay—they lived fulfilling lives.
Now that’s a movie I would be proud to show my daughter.
Becky Scott is a writer based in New York who loves The Bachelor and is great at giving humorous advice.