So, Euro Disney is 20 years old and massively in debt. Well, I hate to say I told you so, but if only they’d asked me for my opinion back them. I knew it was a bad idea to build that theme park near Paris. Flashback to my GCSE French oral presentation, 1991: Pourquoi on ne devrait pas construire ce parc d’attractions près de Paris. See! 16 years old, no business training but I bloody well knew it!
Now, lest you get the wrong idea, my 5-minute “talk in the target language“ was not some massive anti-Disney rant. Au contraire, I bloody loved Disney, way more than I loved French (I did however do French at university – I didn’t want people to say I’d done a Mickey Mouse course <ka-boom!>). The thrust of my anti-Euro Disney argument was that well, the French sont très sympas and all, but they’re just too pretentious to “get“ Disney. I “got“ Disney, though.
I particularly “got” Beauty and the Beast, made during Disney’s late eighties / early nineties film revival following The Little Mermaid. I totally loved that film (I arrived at university owning just two CDs – Antmusic (The Best of Adam Ant) and the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. This was when The Stone Roses and Nirvana were cool. Kookily different or just plain twattish? You decide).* At the time, I thought the film was just brilliant. At the time (you can guess what’s coming next …).
Two weekends ago I got to watch Beauty and the Beast again, on dodgy VHS dug out for my sons. And my immediate responses were:
1. Ah, VHS, how quaint!
2. WHAT THE FUCK WAS I ON???
I know I was a bit, well, deluded at 17, but this was something else. What on earth did I see in that film? And then the creeping, dreadful realisation came to me … Essentially, I used to think that I WAS Belle. Was I the only one?
- She’s a pretend outsider Like every teenager, she thinks no one understands her (but for once it might be grand / to have someone understand / I want so much more than they’ve got planned …). While this doesn’t reach the angsty heights of LadyCurd’s fab poetry, it’s getting there. Particularly as she sings the above lines looking longingly over a wide, expansive valley that she can’t reach because she’s, like, stuck in the “little village” or something. Fortunately, like Simon and Garfunkel, she has her books and her poetry to protect her. Less fortunately, she’s always reading the same godawful fairy-tale shit (“far-off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, and a prince in disguise!” Alas, Betty Friedan it ain’t).
- She’s a cultural, geographical and intellectual snob Little town, it’s a quiet village / Every day like the one before / Little town full of little people / Waking up to say “Bonjour!” Clearly Belle is aware of the extent of the bonjour-saying in her town – after all, she’s the one who makes the above observation. However, she doesn’t always respond to the bonjours of the “little people” because, as they note (like they care), she’s always got “her nose stuck in a book” (it’s that shit fairy tale stuff again – see no. 1 above). In Belle’s mind, everyone in the “poor provincial town” is basically thick and small-minded and she can’t wait to get outta there. There’s so much more than this provincial life, she sings, fairy-tale book in hand. That was totally me twenty years ago, all set to leave the fuckers behind and head off to Oxbridge, fantasy literature in hand. I even went on to write a bloody PhD on Romantic writers and the fairy tale genre. Thankfully, I did at least stop believing that I lived in a fairy tale (I realise it is grossly unfair of me to hold this against Belle, a fairy tale heroine, but still, I’m going to).
- She’s, like, your archetypal post-feminist independent woman Because she’s not going to be Gaston’s “little wife”. She’s going to be the “little wife” of someone who imprisons her in a medieval castle instead (well, at least it’s kinda kinky). Of course, the thick, provincial women in Belle’s village don’t understand it because they all fancy Gaston. In particular, there is a trio of blonde, thin, big-titted women who swoon whenever he goes past. Obviously we hate them. They are ALL THE SAME and Belle is MUCH BETTER THAN THEM and it’s okay for us to judge them because they are shit apologies for womanhood, parodies of femininity, and they are prostituting themselves in a way that proper beautiful women don’t prostitute themselves (because the latter don’t shag on the first date, or at least until their meal ticket has undergone the beast-to-prince transformation). This is, in essence, how I saw the “slaggy” girls I was at school with, the ones who weren’t off to uni and who married young. Because I thought I was so much better, a proper independent woman who didn’t need no man (until I found myself surrounded by horny public schoolboys and drowning in desperate insecurity). In modern terms, Belle is Beyoncé and the blondes in her village are WAGS. Plus ça change, as real-live French people probably don’t say.
- She’s very thin, doesn’t eat and is obsessed with food. Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test! But don’t actually eat the food. Just watch it dance about a bit, and maybe dip your finger in and take the odd lick. It’s the anorexic seventeen-year-old’s dream. Look, I was going to eat dinner but it shimmied off back to the kitchen before I could stop it. And yeah, okay, she eats porridge later on during the “Something there that wasn’t there before” song montage. But hey, that’s just porridge.
- She’s sorta French but not really. As in, she’s no full-on cheese-eating surrender monkey, but she’s stereotypical francophile French. Says “bonjour” (when it suits her) and probably appears in A Year in Provence. That’s the kind of French I was into. None of your troubles in the banlieu. Just everything being all idyllic, but also a bit boring and bourgeois, leaving just enough space for one’s own superiority complex.
So far, so Belle-like. There is, however, one fundamental way in which I am not like our heroine. Now it’s no wonder that her name means “beauty”, her looks have got no parallel, sings the fat, baldy jealous woman (aka Samantha Brick’s best mate). There are, of course, three qualities available to young women in Belle’s village: beauty, vacuousness and geekiness (all the older women get is matronliness, and even then they’re outshone by a teapot in the form of Mrs Potts). Belle is geeky, vacuous and beautiful. The blonde trio are vacuous and beautiful. Me, I am (and was) geeky and vacuous, a combination not present in the film itself. So actually, I guess I’m not Belle after all.
Damn. The clue was in the name all along.
* To be fair, my college once arranged a film night where we watched Beauty and the Beast in the common room. So it wasn’t just me. Except I was the only one who didn’t get what was so funny about Mrs Potts singing the lines barely even friends / then somebody bends / unexpectedly. I mean, what IS that about?