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Beastly

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They call it the “Happiest Place on Earth” and they wouldn’t lie would they? The entertainment industrial complex monolith Disneyland I mean. Recently my wife and I went to Disneyland as part of a little getaway. It had been a decade since we had been there and an even longer period from the last time we were there without children

I have to confess, we reveled in the suspension of our disbelief — not of believing that mice can talk, princesses always live happily ever after, or that you can rub a lamp and have three dreams at your command — we suspended the disbelief that they could charge admission prices that rival the Gross Domestic Product of Ecuador and that it was all worth it.

To a point it was. In the past, when we were guiding little ones and not so little ones around the Magic Kingdom, you would have to be a pretty cold-hearted cynic not to be touched by seeing your child’s eyes light up at the sight of Mickey Mouse or wrapping their arms around a Disney Princess in full regalia.

As more “seasoned” park goers this time out, my wife and I could live vicariously through the experiences of younger parents as their children went through the same, seemingly timeless ritual. So go ahead and call me a little corny or even old fashioned, but I loved that part of being at Disneyland. … The other tradition — standing in a phalanx that moves at a snail’s pace winding its way through a never ending series of 90 degree turns like an army of lemmings was not so warmly remembered.

Disney knows how to put on a show.

And if the box office of its new live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” is any indication, it also knows how to keep re-inventing the wheel. Hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that any movie can generate $170 million in box office receipts in a single weekend the way the new “Beauty and the Beast” did — and that is only the domestic gross. When calculating the worldwide receipts that number will most assuredly double.

A lot of people are unhappy with this new version though and thanks to the internet and social media, I can understand why. But progressive and maybe even subversive agendas of sexual politics aside, this won’t be the first Disney “classic” that takes liberties with the source material. Some of these variances work quite well. … I mean do we really want to see Jiminy Cricket buy the farm by getting squashed by a hammer thrown at him by Pinocchio — which is what happens in the source material of that “children’s” story.

I revisited the original “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale written in 1740 and although it has elements that just don’t translate well to our modern age, there were timeless themes that were discarded that make the mega hit — both in its animated and live-action form — a little less profound. There was no crusading retro-feminist in the original or a cartoonish egotistical muscle headed sexist villain either. The villainy in the original comes in the form of envy and pride and selfishness embodied by Beauty’s two vain and cruel sisters. Their father was rich but has lost his wealth. This is devastating to the sisters, but seemingly unimportant to Beauty, and they hate her for it.

Interestingly, the Disney version is truer to the story than most of the fairy tales in their animated canon and many key elements remain unharmed — Father is captured by the beast, there is a bargain for his release which requires Beauty to stay at the castle, etc. And of course there is a love story. Like one of those evolutionary trees that trace the origin of one species or another, the two love stories in the two versions diverge from the same branch.

In the 18th century original there is no need for a crazed knife-wielding heterosexual killer to do in the Beast. Instead, the first Beast dies of a broken heart. It is Beauty’s selfless and pure love — not a magic rose petal — that revives him and breaks the curse. Not to get too deep over a story where the lead character looks like the mascot from the University of Colorado, but the original theme does sound a little like four Gospels I know. 

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