For the uninitiated (and by that I mean those who have not seen it recently, and if you haven’t, y u no Disney+?), Beauty and the Beast is one of the classic Disney musicals (you know, when all the Disney musicians were princesses, rather than live action TV characters on the verge of a media scandal) about Belle, the beauty, who falls in love with Beast, the beast, and lives happily ever after with him after breaking a curse and befriending inanimate objects with faces.
What I think I love most about the narrative is the fairy tale opening — the classic “Once upon a time…” narration, and the classy and brief method of telling the backstory by way of images of stained glass. Immediately, we see the narrative has these contrasting theme of inner beauty vs. outer beauty. Not only with the narrative itself, as seen by the prince to beast and crone to enchantress transformations (which is really nice, as it saves the on-screen “magic” for the end), but even just by use of stained glass, which are bright and beautiful when viewed from the inside and lit by sunlight. The narrator also tells us of the Beast’s magic mirror as his only connection to the outside world — a straightforward indication of one’s appearance being one’s link to everyone else, as no one gets to see the inner prince/ss at first glance.
As the shift turns to Belle, and Disney gets their sing on, we see she is completely oblivious to the outside world, with her nose in a book, talking to animals, and avoiding others around her aside from being polite. She’s focused on fairy tales, too — allegorical stories about worldly adventures to indicate personal growth — and craves “something more” than what she feels she can find in a “poor provincial town”.
So, the story and the way it is told have a lot going of it. Disney does a wonderful job of telling the story visually, and they really have a knack for keeping to general themes of what they want to portray. Mirrors play minor but noted roles throughout the story, and there’s a lot of tension between ideals of inner and outer beauty, as well as personal and social life. But, the Belle/Beast (Beale? Belst?) dynamic is kind of… interesting.
When Belle does find her adventure in the “great wide somewhere”, she manages to the woods outside of town before she agrees to submit to being a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, in exchange for her father’s freedom (in the excellent Cupid and Psyche moment when Belle agrees to stay, despite being unable to see the Beast in the shadows).
From here, as Beast confers with his inanimate objects, we see Beast’s intention is to keep Belle as his mate, so he offers her a grand guest suite in his castle, but still has to make sure she knows he’s the boss by commanding her to stay out of portions of the castle, and that she must join him for dinner. He’s not at all nice, and makes her cry, but luckily Belle has the furniture to talk to, and who help convince her that it’s really not so bad being useful for her new kidnapper — “Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving / He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon / Ah, those good old days when we were useful.“
But the Beast is clever, too — he lures Belle in with her curiosity. She longs to know what he’s hiding in the castle’s west wing, and she stumbles into it, finding a glimpse of his “true” self in the slashed portrait and his magic caged rose/heart. But, these can only be glimpses, because Beast can’t have insubordinate prisoners, so he catches her there, yells at her, slashes at her with his claws, throws objects at her until Belle runs out of the castle because she’s so frightened. But the Beast can’t have that, either, so he makes her feel guilty by saving her from some wolves, lets her bring him back to the castle, growls at her for getting him hurt, then gives her the library. In her prison.
Belle sings, “There’s something sweet, and almost kind, / but he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined. / But now he’s dear, and so unsure, / I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.” Well. This is phenomenon here, where the kidnapper becomes strongly emotionally attached to the kidnapper tends to be called Stockholm Syndrome. There’s also quite a bit of domestic violence going on. Physically, Belle isn’t hurt, although considering he was throwing things at her and trying to gut her with his giant claws when he’s angry, but emotionally, there’s a lot of manipulation going on. The Beast is a predator — he keeps her in the castle with the expectation that she will fall in love with him, then yells at her, keeps her from seeing her home and her family, and then gives her extravagant gifts to distract her with the fact that she’s still a prisoner.
Eventually, Beast does give her the magic mirror, and with it Belle leaves the castle to return to the outside world and her home, while the Beast notes she can use the mirror to look at him. While the Beast takes note to mope about the castle, Belle accidentally stirs a mob into action by telling them about the Beast. After the townspeople are scared out of their wits upon entering the castle, and the town hero plummets to his death from the castle towers, Belle returns to the Beast and declares her love for him. The thing about domestic violence is, though, the victims have a tendency to keep coming back. The abuser apologizes, or gives gifts, convincing the victim the violence won’t happen again, and the victim gets so wrapped up in the abuser that they think, “Maybe this time things will be okay.”
And so, Belle succumbs to her fantasy. Her Beast dies, shoots light out of his toenails and comes back to life as a handsome prince, and the inanimate objects she was talking to are now people that look like furniture. The creepy woods and demonic statues are now lush forests and angels, and she gets a fairy tale ending with ballroom dancing and her father, who was being threatened with placement in a mental institution, joins her at the castle.