Sloane, my 7-year-old niece, doesn't like princesses anymore. She tells me that she's now a tomboy and would like to go see Logan, please.
Unfortunately for her, Logan is rated R (and, my sister would like the record to show, not something Sloane will get to watch for many years) and I've flown from London to Austin to take her to see that other film featuring a hirsute male lead: Beauty and the Beast. To console her, I point out that Belle isn't actually a princess.
"Yes, she is," Sloane fires back. (Though she claims to have at least "five reasons, maybe six" for not liking princesses, the only concrete explanation she could give me was that they're always kissing boys. Arguing that Moana doesn't kiss anybody got me nowhere.)
Exactly two years ago, we saw the Disney's live-action Cinderella adaptation together. The local Alamo Drafthouse cinema hosted a princess ball for the occasion. I bought Sloane a Cinderella costume and donned a tiara and wand as a knock-off fairy godmother. At the "ball," we rode in a horse and carriage, had our hair sprayed with shimmer, and pocketed souvenir glass slippers. It was fantastic.
This year, Alamo once again hosted a princess ball. I wore an acid-yellow animal-print House of Hackney dress (Beauty and the Beast, see?). Sloane declined (by which I mean, shouted "no way!" and made several gagging and thumbs-down motions) my offer to buy her a Belle dress. She and my sister struck a compromise: a black eyelet dress with a yellow hair bow. "I'm grumpier than the Beast," she pouted as she gave herself one last look in the mirror.
Countless little girls in yellow polyester Belle gowns (plus a few Elsas, one Anna, and a mini Beast) descended upon the theatre. You could waltz with a tattooed employee dressed as Belle (Sloane passed), sip fake tea with the Beast, make paper roses, hit up the invention table, and decorate a book cover. The girl next to Sloane drew a picture of Belle on her book cover. Sloane drew a dark creature.
"Is that the Beast?" I asked, walking over to examine her work.
We filed into the theatre with my sister and cousin. Another employee dressed as Belle invited everyone to come down and dance to the "Beauty and the Beast" theme. Sloane didn't budge. "Belle" also instructed us to cheer when our favourite characters appeared on screen, and to boo when our least favourite characters turned up. Guess which first grader booed for Belle and cheered for Gaston?
The movie began and we all got caught up in the story. As someone who had accessorised my outfit for the day with a Belle sticker and a Nasty Woman brooch, I was pretty underwhelmed by Belle's supposed feminist transformation. Basically, she wears brown boots now and her "career" amounts to teaching one little girl how to read before the outraged villagers scare her off. The woman household items still do all the cooking and cleaning while Cogsworth and Lumiére lounge around and chatter. Belle still blows her chance to escape the Beast's castle. Basically, it's the same old story.
The LeFou-is-gay story line seemed more visible. Much has been made of Josh Gad's character's dance with another male. The dance itself is pretty blink-and-you'll-miss-it, but LeFou's dance partner has another short scene earlier in the film that might raise a few conservative eyebrows. Spoiler: He's one of a trio of angry, brutish villagers who get dolled up in dresses and makeup by Madame Garderobe. Two of the men react to their makeover by screaming and running off; this one smiles and preens.
We were instructed to cheer when our favourite characters appeared on screen, and to boo when our least favourite characters turned up. Guess which first grader booed for Belle and cheered for Gaston?
Sloane didn't pick up on any of it; though, to be fair, she spent a good chunk of the film's final moments with her hands planted over her eyes. Curse those princesses and their yucky kissing scenes.
The scenes with LeFou left her unfazed. She still had a bone to pick with Emma Watson's Belle, though. My sister and I weren't feeling the Beast, but Sloane said he was her favourite character (along with Gaston, of course); she thought he was nice and not beastly at all. There's a scene in which Belle returns to the village and alerts everyone to the existence of the Beast via the magic mirror (this is in the animated version, too, so don't @ me about spoilers). To Sloane, this was a huge betrayal, and, I guess, the seventh reason she doesn't like "princesses."
She did make one concession: Belle begins the film by resolving to stay single because none of the men in her provincial village are her cup of tea (totally overlooking the brainy and handsome Black librarian, by the way). Sloane totally approved, and it ended up sparking a conversation at the dinner table about why some women get married and some choose to stay single.
I'm a Nasty Woman who grew up wanting to be a Disney princess. Sloane's a "tomboy" who's more interested in the villains. We each saw different flaws in the film, but at the end of the day, we both enjoyed it. She may not have waltzed, or left the theatre humming "Tale As Old As Time" to herself, but she dug it, in her own way. Who knows? There may be something there that wasn't there before.