Have you ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? This is essentially the dilemma faced by Beauty and the Beast‘s protagonist, Belle (Paige O’Hara), in this film centered around the obsessive “affections” of two beings in her life. Belle is being crudely courted by the drunken, rude, illiterate Gaston (Richard White) and kept hostage until she “learns to love” manipulative, emotionally and verbally abusive water buffalo Beast (Robby Benson).
Before he was turned into an animal, the Beast was a heartless Prince who refused to let a witch disguised as an old beggar take shelter in his castle on a cold winter’s night. As punishment, she gave him an enchanted rose, declaring that he had until the last petal fell to give and receive love, or he would remain an overgrown bovine forever. Giving him the rose and a mirror which allows him to see events far away, she leaves. Not only is the Beast cursed, so are all of his servants, whose only crimes were choosing the wrong employer.
Belle lives in a small French town and thinks she’s better than the simple folks there because she reads all the time even though ole girl is the only person who’s unemployed, but whatevs. She’s bored, which jobless people usually are, and craves excitement. Her father, a sweet old bookseller named Maurice (Rex Everhart), makes inventions in his spare time. He’s her number one fan and the feeling is mutual.
When Maurice and his horse, Phillipe (Hal Smith), get lost and the horse abandons him, Maurice seeks refuge at the Beast’s castle. The deformed oxen, who has clearly not learned a goddamn thing since he was cursed, does Maurice even dirtier than he did the old witch. Instead of throwing the old man out, he takes him prisoner. When Belle discovers this, she proposes taking her father’s place and the petulant Beast agrees. Let’s review: They told this Minotaur to find love and he interpreted that as take folks hostage. Um…okay?
Gaston is handsome, but looks fade. What doesn’t fade is the Beast’s money, which Belle quickly realizes he has a lot of. I’m not even mad at her for sticking around and trying to make nice; it’s not like there are any winners in her pool of men. She’s stuck here, his servants are quite friendly and Beast has two libraries! But this girl actually slipped up and caught her some feelings, and I can’t abide by this glamourized Stockholm syndrome. Yes, Gaston is far from a catch and we get some really strong “No one rapes like Gaston” vibes, but Beast is hardly a winner. Even when he was human, he was a quintessential abusive asshole, whose narcissism rivaled Gaston’s.
Ultimately, years of suffering, seeing his servants suffer, and putting them through trauma himself wasn’t enough to change his ways, but a well-read girl on unemployment finally does the trick and gives this wayward cattle a change of heart. Belle professes her love, the two avoid that awkward interspecies intimacy, and they live dysfunctionally ever after.
I give Beauty and the Beast 4 stars, .25 of which are for Lumière (Jerry Orbach) alone.