My Dissertation | Beauty and the Beast

Sunday, 21 August 2016

I decided to write about the five Princesses that are in my chapter on "The Princesses of the Disney Renaissance" in the order they were released. It made it a lot easier for me when I was doing my research, as the books I found also wrote about them in chronological order. I really enjoyed writing about Belle, I think she is such a unique princess.

How has the representation of the female gender in the Disney Princess movies progressed during the Disney Renaissance in relation to Snow White?

Similar to the character of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Belle in Beauty and the Beast demonstrates characteristics that have can be viewed to not conform to conventional feminine gender ideologies. Belle is an intelligent introvert who loves to read and this is reinforced through the use of a close-up, as she holds the book she is carrying up to her chest with a cheerful look on her face as she excitedly and eagerly informs the town folk all about what she has just read, while exclaiming “I just finished the most wonderful story.” (Beauty and the Beast, 1991) Belle is depicted as a strong, independent young woman, “who escapes the norm as a woman who enjoys reading, speaking her mind and acting bravely.” (Garabedian, 2014, p.23) She rises against the ideal of the stereotypical female as she is not shown doing household chores but instead spends her time reading and frequenting the local bookstore in her town.  A long shot has been used to portray Belle among the books when she visits the bookstore. The brighter colours that have been used for the books could denote the contrast between the world in which she lives, as blue and reds have been used for the books, whereas browns and yellows have been used for the buildings that surround her as well as the villager’s outfits. By using contrasting colours on the books it may perhaps portray her enthusiasm and adoration towards reading, as Belle can also be seen wearing a blue dress and various medium shots have been used to display the princess’s outfit. She is the only one in her village wearing the colour blue, therefore it could be argued that this symbolises her portrayal of being different and unique in comparison to the people that surround her. She certainly stands out amongst them in a crowd and so do the blue books amongst the rest of the bookshelf, emphasising “her struggle for independence.” (Stover, 2013, p.5) This represents Disney progression in the way in which they have portrayed their female characters as Belle does not conform to the traditional gender roles of the female gender, instead she embraces her intellect instead of her beauty. This begins to reinforce Mulvey’s revised theory of the male gaze, the female gaze, as Belle is a character that the “female spectator can thus identify with.” (Smelik, 2008, p.495)

However, because of Belle’s intellectual interests and passion to read she is marginalised by the town’s people and considered “strange and not fitting in because she is more inclined towards intellectual pursuits.” (Davis, 2006, p.191) This portrays Disney’s lack of progression in the way they have represented their female characters, as the song Belle (Ashman, 1991) focuses on how Belle’s “beauty is celebrated...but her intellect ridiculed.” (Towbin, Haddock, Zimmerman, Lund and Tanner, 2004, p.30) The use of diegetic sound establishes how a woman’s appearance is more valued than her thirst for knowledge, as buoyant and cheerful music plays alongside the lyrics “now it’s no wonder that her name means beauty, her looks have got no parallel...I’m afraid she’s rather odd.” (Ashman, 1991) Also, the handsome antagonist Gaston is also only interested in marrying Belle because she is the most beautiful girl in town. Beauty and the Beast contains similarities to The Little Mermaid and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the way it illustrates how woman have been represented in a way that portrays physical appearance as being the most dominant trait a female should have. “The role of a woman in a film almost always revolves around her physical attraction” (Smith, 1999, p.14) and once more beauty is portrayed as the only way of gaining love and affection from others. Although “Belle’s beauty distances her from the people,” (Hynes, 2010, p.211) she makes no effort to regard her dissimilarities. This could represent the changing perspectives of the female gender in society, as they are not conforming to the stereotypes that have been placed on women.

The Walt Disney Studios began to progress in the way they portrayed their female protagonists, as they presented their “post-feminist princess with desires.” (Stover, 2013, p.4) This is achieved by providing Belle, similarly to Ariel, with the need to seek adventure outside of her provincial town as she desires a life that is of her own choice. A long shot has been used to establish the vastness of Belle’s surroundings, as the camera pans the landscape to “suggest she wants to see the wider world.” (Murphy, 1995, p.133) Belle has also been positioned in the centre of the frame as she spins around taking in the immensity of the landscape around her, while bright colours have been used to depict the beauty of the world which she is so desperate to observe. Belle feels “stifled in her life” (Davis, 2006, p.192) and is eager to live the life which she wants for herself, not what other people have destined for her. This represents the female gender in a way that demonstrates their ambition is no longer to wait around for their true love to come and find them. They are willing to venture out and formulate their own dreams and goals, which are not constantly led by the yearning to find love but instead to seek something outside of the life to which they have become accustomed. 

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  1. Wow, can I have your whole dissertation to read please? Haha. I really enjoyed reading this, and to write a dissertation revolving around Disney is just AWESOME and I'm jealous haha. I hope you'll be posting more :)

    Emma @ Emma's Bookery

    1. Of course you can! Just tweet me your email address and I can email it to you if you would like? I'm so glad you enjoyed it, thank you so much! xx

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