Belle

I did not plan to start the character reviews with my least favourite Disney Princess, but the library didn’t have the DVDs for the other possible candidates of whom I had something to say right now. So without further ado to my opinions of Belle!

Who she is

As if everyone didn’t already know, Belle is the main character in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. She is the daughter of the local inventor, and they both are known to be rather odd. Belle feels that she can’t connect to anyone in her hometown, because she yearns for adventures while everyone else would rather continue living their peaceful lives the same way they’ve done before. Things change when Belle ends up being imprisoned by a horrible Beast whom she luckily turns back to a prince with her love, and they live happily ever after.

belleDance

Belle is a very popular Disney Princess, and she is often at the top of many people’s Favourite Disney Princesses list (or Disney characters, or Animated females). I can see where people are coming from with their appreciation towards her and I’d very much want to like her too, but the way the narrative treats her annoys me so much that in the end I can’t stand her. What drags her even lower is that her movie is otherwise so good that it’d easily make it to my Good or even Top Tier, but Belle manages to disturb the watching experience to the point that even Gaston and the Beast’s greatness can’t fix it. If I didn’t dislike Belle so much this film could be my favourite romantic story ever, but she single-handedly manages to ruin that chance.

Appearance

Belle lives up to the title “Beauty” reasonably well so the villagers don’t sound completely unreasonable when gushing about her supreme looks, but I can’t see how she’s supposedly incredibly more beautiful than the Bimbettes for example. It is difficult for me to rank fictive characters by appearance, but if I try, Belle is not near the top of my Prettiest Disney Princesses list (it is possible that my opinion of her character puts her at a disadvantage even in a beauty contest, but then again Aurora is my second least favourite but I can still say she has a very pretty face).  I definitely don’t find her unattractive, but until recently I haven’t been able to explain why I can’t say I find her particularly beautiful either.

Then not long ago I saw someone else call her ‘plain’ and explain what they meant by that: there’s just nothing interesting about her face. The other Disney females have unique features in their faces that you can either like or dislike, such as Jasmine or Tiana’s noses, Charlotte’s round face, Rapunzel’s huge eyes or Esmeralda’s angular jaw. The likes of Pocahontas, Merida and Megara have very distinct and memorable faces. But with Belle it looks like her design is trying to play it safe and giving her completely perfect features, and that is boring to me. I will much rather watch Merida’s somewhat odd face than Belle’s flawless and uninteresting face.

belleFaces

That extra hair strand bothers me greatly. My hair has strands that don’t stay where they should and I have to fix it all the time, and seeing her do the same in like every other scene reminds me how annoying that is. Though it does make the scene more interesting to look at than if she was just standing there.

The redesigns didn’t treat her well. Her face is still plain, but the expression makes me think of a completely different character. In the movie she manages to look like the everygirl who wears a pretty ballgown once, but with different hair and makeup and the bedroom eyes it’s not possible for me to connect the new look to the adventurous heroine any more. The redesign makes me think of a Hollywood celebrity instead.

belleRedesign

Clothing-wise she did ok. Someone like me who obsesses over characters’ wardrobe changes (mostly for dress up game purposes) she had a decent amount of different clothes considering the timespan of the movie wasn’t that long. The blue dress is one of my favourite Disney outfits, and it was great fun to turn it into a pokemon version. The green and pink ones are kind of boring and I’ve never paid much attention to them, but at least they exist in the first place and she doesn’t spend the whole movie in the blue dress. Plus the fur cape is kinda cool. Never been a fan of the yellow thing though, I don’t like yellow and it looks too much like a cake, and in some shots the top part looks like it’s about to fall off and reveal everything.

belleOutfits

What I don’t like about her

I really have only one major problem with Belle, but that one is big enough to ruin the whole character to me. And that is the way the film glorifies her as the most special snowflake ever. Already in the first scene she appears she is smart, polite, adventurous, feminist, progressive, caring towards her father, not dull or boring, and so on, and has no flaws that would be relevant enough in my eyes. Which I could still somehow stomach if you really want to have her be a role model or something, Rapunzel has very few flaws but I can still like her for example, but it doesn’t end at that; the film is very busy forcing down my throat that not only is she beautiful both on the outside and inside, but she is also so much better than the stupid and dull villagers who never do anything new and interesting.

Having the main character be “different” from others and having trouble fitting in is perfectly ok even if I’m not a fan of the trope, and I believe that is what the film is trying to say, but to me it just comes across as flaunting that everyone else is inferior to Belle, which kinda makes me not like her at all. When Belle says she can’t really connect with anyone that is deplorable, but at the same time I’m thinking “Why would she want to have anything to do with these morons anyway? She is so much better off without them.” The narrative is very biased and always sides with Belle. When the other villagers are the focus of a shot they’re being stupid, dull, laughable, ugly, gullible, mean, rude, and a bunch of other negative things. They all think Gaston is a great guy for Pete’s sake! The bimbettes seem to only exist to show that THIS IS WHAT THE OTHER WOMEN’s OPINION OF GASTON IS AND BELLE IS TOTALLY NOT AS STUPID AS THAT. And despite being so much superior to everyone else Belle still manages to behave politely with them, what a well-mannered lady she is! The only exception to get favourable treatment by the narrative is the bookseller, who coincidentally happens to be the only person who likes Belle.

villagers

What makes this really annoying to me that this would be so easy to fix by making her a dynamic character. For example, have her actually act in a snobbish manner at the beginning and with the whole Beast experience learn to look deeper, and by the end of the movie have a small scene where she acknowledges that even if the villagers don’t share her interests they still have their good points. That’d even go with the theme of the movie! Or alternatively simply don’t demonise the other villages; just show that they’re different but that there’s still nothing bad about wanting to live a peaceful and traditional life. Or something else, anything to get away from the “Did you already notice how much better Belle is than everyone else? In case you didn’t, have a fourth reminder!” thing.

And then there’s her father. THREE plot points revolve around Belle saving him. That’s quite a lot for one movie if you ask me, though in Belle’s defense she escapes total martyrdom by refusing to marry Gaston even if she could save her father doing that. But overall to me it feels like that the father is a silly-looking bumbling fool who can’t do anything himself just so that Belle would look even better being a loving daughter who puts him before her own needs and saves him all the time.

How her reading hobby is portrayed also bothers me. True, in the time period the film takes place a woman who reads may have been frowned upon, but just because it’s realistic doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make a good story. If you want to make a movie about women’s rights in the 1800 or whatever, okay. But if you only use the story element “people used to think that it’s not right for a woman to read” so that you can show how feminist and progressive and special your character is… eww. I could (and probably will someday) write a lot about how I want more good female characters, but to me this comes across as tacked-on Gurl Power<3<3 so you can pat yourself on the back for having a feminist character in your film. It’s not rare for Disney to push modern Western values to places where they didn’t exist and preach in a condescending way how HORRIBLE and WRONG any other values are (Mulan 2 should be the easiest example), which I find pretty gross.

gastonBook

In Mulan for example, the matchmaker woman is a total douche and we’re not supposed to like her, but I can still see where she’s coming from with her low opinion on Mulan (Mulan uses a cheatsheet and pours tea on the table for starters). With Belle we don’t get anything like that, there’s only a choir of strawmen telling how weird she is. And since to a modern viewer there’s nothing weird about a woman who reads and there is no other reason given for Belle’s “weirdness”, to me it ends up looking like someone’s unique snowflake Mary Sue fanfic. “Sue had elite dancing skills, angelic singing voice and a pet dragon-dog, but boy did she live in a culture that hates dancing, singing and dragon-dogs, and everyone was super mean to her and her life was so horrible!

The following are pretty much nitpicking and would not make me dislike a character by themselves, but when stacked with my #1 issue with her they make her even less likable to me.

Most of the rest of my complaints are about her dream. First of all, I find this vague unspecified “grass is greener on the other side, I want more” Disney standard dream just awfully boring and the likes of Tiana and Rapunzel who have a specific plan are way more appealing to me. Though in Belle’s defense, at least she was one of the first of these and not yet another addition to a growing trend.

Then, if she wants this “more” so much, why does she not do anything about it? Now it kind of comes across that she just whines how much her life sucks but she doesn’t feel like helping herself. Okay, it could be a wholly different story if Belle just packed her stuff and went to have an adventure and I don’t blame Disney for wanting to tell this story instead of something else, but if you make a massive musical number where the character sings how she wants something MORE THAN SHE CAN TEEEEEELLLLLLLL I except to hear a reason why she doesn’t do anything to accomplish this amazing dream. I can think of a bunch of explanations, such as she feels she has to support her father and stay with him, she’s too poor, it’s too dangerous, it is very inappropriate for a woman to go traveling etc, but when the fact that she WANTS MORE is such a big thing in the movie I’d expect to see the reason in the movie instead of having to come up with some fanfiction to fill the holes myself.

iWantItMoreThanICanTellllll

Also, for such a feminist starting point the film ends in a pretty conservative way. In the beginning we have this strong-willed young woman who rather than becoming someone’s “little wife” wants adventures actually get her adventure in the form of an enchanted castle and a terrifying beast, but once the love story kicks in we see little of these daring adventures and the film ends with her just dancing in a pretty ballgown with her new boyfriend. So the moral of the story is “Women may want to be adventurous, but when they find their man they’ll forget about such silly whims”? Well, that’s quite a stretch, but when you start the film with a woman who wants more than just marriage it’s a bit depressing when it ends with her simply being in a relationship and the adventure angle is completely forgotten. Since the movie is a love story I don’t blame Disney for ending the film with a reprise of the ballroom scene, it makes a very strong ending, but could there not have been a promise that later they’ll go on political visits to nearby kingdoms or something before the final dance scene?

What I do like about her

What does Belle do right then? Well, for starters, she actually deserves to be the main character of the story. Which should kind of be expected from any main character by default, but since there are main characters who manage to suck even in this department, credit when credit is due. Out of Belle’s predecessors Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora are very passive and whatever they want or do has little effect on the plot. Ariel on the other hand drives the plot, but in the end she doesn’t do much to clean the mess she’s created or learn anything and everything just turns out the way she wants, and to me The Little Mermaid looks more like Triton’s story told from Ariel’s point of view than Ariel’s story. But Belle manages to advance the plot, stay relevant for the whole movie and save the day at the end.

Belle also manages to be a strong female character, points for that. I think it’s annoying how sometimes it feels that in order to be considered a strong female character one has to be physically strong and nobody who doesn’t kill at least as many Huns as Mulan is weak. Such as when I see posts criticising the old princesses the defence is “they have to be this way because that is realistic for a woman of that time period, you just want all characters be violent warriors!” or the like, as if being physically strong was the only way to affect the plot. Belle is not a warrior and never does anything that requires physical strength, but the story she’s in allows her to make a difference in other ways, such as trading places with her imprisoned father or changing the Beast with love and compassion (which was like the whole point of the story).

belleBeast

I don’t find the most common criticism against Belle, the Stockholm Syndrome accusation, valid. To her credit, she doesn’t start being friendly with the Beast until he stops being a complete, well, monster. I hear the sequels do portray her trying to understand the Beast’s temper tantrums and singing how he just needs someone to understand and care or something like that, but that shouldn’t be the original movie’s problem.

Special mention for not having an annoying animal companion. The horse is an animal but luckily not annoying, and the enchanted objects in the Beast’s palace acting as her sidekicks actually have a purpose in the story, so they’re not there just to fill space and be “funny”.

Palace pets

I don’t think these monstrosities have anything to with the character and the chances that I’d run into one are practically zero, but I think they’re awful and I want to complain about them. So you can treat this as an unnecessary extra to the character review.

Palace Pets are one of Disney’s new ways to get the cash from little girls’ parents. So far they appear at least in an iPhone app (or something like that) and toys. The Palace Pets of course have nothing to do with what animal sidekicks the princesses have in their movies, because surely ponies are easier to market than rats or lizards.

First off, I think all the pets look awful, what the hell is with covering the animals with jewelry? Why would cats and ponies wear tiaras? What is the paw print thing on their legs, a piercing? Why are they so horribly coloured? And why do they look like their owners? That is just creepy. It’d make more sense if they were the princesses transformed into animals or something. The answer to my questions is obviously that this apparently sells for the target audience, but I still don’t have to like it!

Belle gets two pets, a dog named Teacup and a pony named Petit. I think they both look awful even for Palace Pets standards, Belle really got the short end of the stick with the Palace Pets thing. The dog has the bedroom eyes that bothered me even with Belle’s human design, and on a dog they seriously creep me out. Or make it look like a lazy and haughty jerk if that’s any better.

The pony on the other hand… I can’t even connect it with Belle. I can’t see any Belle in the pony’s face, and the pink looks totally awful and totally out of place. Why do you have to vomit pink on everything that is marketed at little girls?! And what is that thing on its back in the first place? A loin? Why does the pony need to wear a dress anyway? Apparently Disney wanted its share of the MLP craze profit with four princesses getting a pony for their Palace Pet, that’s more than any other animal in the Palace Pets franchise.

bellePetsWith ranting about toys for little girls, I think it is a good time to conclude the tl;dr character review.

 Gallery

Some great fanart for those who managed to read the whole review (or just scrolled down I guess).

Pictures link to the artist’s page.

belleArt1belleArt2belleArt3belleArt4belleArt5belleArt6belleArt7belleArt8belleArt9belleArt10belleArt11

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Belle”

  1. Beauty and the Beast | Hapuriainen's Animation Blog Says:

    […] « Belle […]

  2. KristiS Says:

    Have you noticed that the dog’s tail is a different color to its over-grown fur on its head?

  3. Jenny Says:

    It´s funny that the book Belle is reading (again and again) is telling a love story with a prince. I wonder if this was intentional, but it seems quite cynical that the intellectual female role modell seems to be obsessed to read penny dreadfull about royal lovers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: