down (Fig 5). This scene shows us how Belle is a stronger female character as she’s able to powerfully deny the Gaston and she doesn’t let anyone take control of her life. She wants to decide upon her own future. During that time women commonly let men take control over their lives but Belle doesn’t let them take control.
Fig 6. Belle doing the laundry with an innovative method Fig. 7. Citizens dropping laundry on the floor
Furthermore, we see that she doesn’t want to conform to the norms of women, as she finds other ways to do her domestic tasks such as laundry without doing all the labor work. She sets up an innovative mechanism attached to a donkey so that she can do what she likes while the washing machine is running. As she has to do less manual work she is given more opportunity to read. That way she also has time to teach little kids how to read whilst the machine is up and running (Fig.6). Many of the town citizens are amazed at her abilities but most of them are also very confused at what she’s doing. The men disrupt her mechanism and drop all her freshly washed laundry on the floor (Fig.7) (00:14:00 – 00:15:20). They don’t appreciate her work because she is female and the village itself thinks small minded. The villagers also consider her to be “dazed and distracted”, “strange”, “peculiar” and “funny” as the things she does are not what typical girls do (00:05:03 – 00:10:02). She doesn’t seem to care what they think, doesn’t let them bring her down and carries on her day. Whereas in other fairy tales like Cinderella, her stepsisters mess up the cleaning jobs that she does, which brings Cinderella down and she ends up crying.
Fig. 8. Reenacts the typical women in her town. Fig. 9. Belle out in the fields, where she feels free the most
Unlike a lot of the traditional princess who play passive characters, Belle is completely opposite in the 2017 film as she drives the story. This characteristic is present in the previous versions but was enhanced by giving this role to Emma Watson. This was reassured by Gloria Steinem before the film was released “It was fascinating that her activism could be so well mirrored by the film” (Prakash). Belle doesn’t want to conform to her duties as she imitates a typical housewife with rage to try and shows that women can be more than that (Fig.8). She then runs out into the grass where she feels a lot happier since that’s where she has freedom (Fig.9). She’s active as she goes away from the town to get herself away from the traditional environment where people are telling her what she can and can’t do (00:17:12 – 00:18:09). Princesses like Cinderella or Rapunzel are passive and don’t do anything to get themselves out of their misery, they just patiently wait for a prince. They tend to remain in the same place for the entire story.
Belle is a strong character who is “absolutely a Disney princess, but she’s not a passive character—she’s in charge of her own destiny,” which is what Emma Watson told Vanity Fair (Ross). Nevertheless she is stuck in the town. One day when Belle realizes her father is in trouble she immediately sets off on his horse to find him. She doesn’t know where the horse will take her but she’s not afraid of the world beyond her town. This is what she wanted and is now given the opportunity to do so. Eventually her path leads her to the Beast’s castle. There she searches for her father and finds him locked up. She discovers that it was a beast holding him captive and deviously decides to take her fathers place knowing that the beast will have control over her. She doesn’t listen to what she’s told by her father. This shows how she wants to be in charge of her own future, by choosing to be stuck in the castle and by choosing to find her father not knowing where her path will lead her (00:25:30 – 00:29:58). We also see how Belle fearlessly approaches new situations. She is also braver than her father in this situation because when her father entered the castle in search for some water and food, the magical objects scared him and he decided to leave (00:21:05 – 00:24:15). Whereas when Belle enters the castle she decides to stay despite the strangeness.
Belle is able to stand up for herself and save others who need it. This is clear when the beast accuses the father of wanting to steal his rose and therefore wants to lock him up. She steps in admits that it was her idea to ask for the rose. This also shows bravery, as the beast is more powerful and was also very angry about. So she knows what to expect but she decided to take the risk anyway. So she ends up being locked up in the Beast’s Castle. Belle is a heroine because she saves her father’s life. Fairy tales usually have male heroes of the story, who save women but in this story the gender roles have changed.
Whilst Belle is locked up she decides to find a way out of the Castle and creates a rope out of fabrics to get down the tower (00:45:03). Although she doesn’t end up escaping, the thought of that creating that shows her intelligence and that she is an active character. In the Castle she is able to develop feelings towards the beast over time and also changes him to a better man. By showing curiosity towards different areas in the castle such as the library and west wing the two lovers end up learning that they actually have a lot of similarities (reading, family backgrounds) despite their differences in class and appearances.
Belle is actually given a voice of her opinion in the film, which traditional princess and woman don’t usually have. This is achieved effectively through Emma Watson. Therefore Belle comes across very talkative in the film. While the Beast and Beauty have dinner the Beast thinks that she’s just a domestic women, insulting her. Belle doesn’t let him bring her down and tells him she is more than that.
In other fairy tales, princesses are very passive. They are put under a sleeping curse or locked up in a tower and wait until the prince comes and saves them. As they are physically incapable due to being afraid. Belle isn’t afraid of anything, takes risks benefiting her and others. She does more than just sit around. She is very kind-hearted and chooses to help the cursed castle. This shows us how she cares about others and helps break the Beast’s curse. This is another heroine act of hers because without her falling in love with the beast, the castle would have remained forever forgotten.
Limitations of the Film
Although Belle trespasses many societal expectations and stereotypes she ends up falling back into societal expectation by the end of the tale once she finds a man that she always dreamed off. She breaks the beast’s curse and they fall in love making her a princess by royalty, as he was actually a prince. During the ball dance Belle wears the classic yellow dress.
Fig.9 The famous ball dance between Belle and the Beast
Emma Watson actually helped design the famous yellow dress making it less restrictive and didn’t include a corset (Fig.9). This was to done because she wanted to give Belle more of an identity, more freedom and make it more appropriate this day and age (Bateman). Also the corset didn’t fit into the story, as Belle herself never wanted to dress like all the other girls in her town. The corset is used in the costume for many of the traditional princess, which accentuates the figure making women simply just an object and this was not the goal in the 2017 film. The dress was worn with her boots instead of dainty shoes which allowed for more movement along with the lighter dress.
When Belle first entered the castle she said she wasn’t a princes (00:33:03) and she didn’t like being forced into a princess outfit. But as her feelings started to develop, when she was asked to go to the ball it didn’t matter to her what she wore, she was happy with any dress but more importantly she was happy just to be with the beast.
As soon as she starts to feel closer feelings to the beast she slowly forgets about the other activities she’s interested in like reading or horse riding. This shows us that even when woman want to decide upon their own destiny it often leads back to wanting a future with a man. Belle stumbled upon the beast because her father was captured in his castle for stealing a rose. She choose to remain with the beast instead of his place and over time as she starts to develop feelings she admits that ” he’s not prince charming but there is something in him that I didn’t see” (1:10:56).
Overall, it is evident that Belle subverts the gender roles and norms of traditional princesses in many ways making her a true heroine. She has learned to become very independent as she was only raised by her father who traveled away a lot. She doesn’t conform to the norms in the provisional town of women such as washing, marriage, raising a family. She enjoys reading instead and other activities that teach her about the world. It is clear that Belle is able to achieve happiness without a man, but ends up falling in love by the end of story, ending the fairytale with a happily ever after just like any other tale.
Despite this, the princess Belle in the 2017 film is a better role model for younger children as she empowers women to stand up for themselves and be more independent. This is mainly achieved through Emma Watson mirroring her feminist activism through Belle’s personality. The story also teaches girls to not be deceived by appearances and that it is who you are on the inside that is important rather than how you look. Just how Belle chose to fall for a man that looked ugly rather than handsome. The tale shows that true love is inevitable and therefore Belle’s tale remains as old as time.