Posted Saturday night, November 12, 2016.
Never mind that they’re princesses. Since the beginning of their cartoon Renaissance, almost all of Disney’s heroines have been nerd girls. They are intellectuals and they don’t want to meet Prince Charming and get married, although some of them eventually do. What they want is to know.
Ariel is an anthropologist of sorts. She wants to be where the people are so she can ask them her questions and get some answers. Pocahontas is a naturalist. She knows that every rock, and tree, and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name because she’s made a study of them. Mulan is a sociologist, a psychologist, and an existential philosopher questioning the ways society constructs individuals’ identities and imposes meaning and purpose on their lives when they would be happier discovering both for themselves. Jane is a zoologist, an ornithologist, and botanist. If you want to know, she can show you. And then there’s Belle, the nerdiest of them all.
She’s a bookworm, of course. But she’s not a bookworm because she’s dreamy or an escapist. It’s because she’s curious and imaginative. Her intelligence is dynamic and so her reading takes her out of herself and out into the world. It has given her insight and a sympathetic nature, as well as a strong moral compass. And it’s made her kind. It makes her good.
We saw the trailer for the live-action Beauty and the Beast that’s coming out next spring. It doesn’t let on much. But it’s effective. Had an effect on me, at any rate. When the first chords of “Tale As Old As Time” played, I choked up. I can’t tell what approach they’ve taken to re-telling the story. But I hope they’ve remembered what the story is about. Which is not true love conquering all or how appearances can be deceiving or how we have to learn not be monsters to ourselves or other people. Those are the Beast’s stories. But this is Belle’s story. And it’s the story of her goodness.