On March 17th, 90’s babies like me (we’re talking about the ones who actually understand “Only 90’s Kids Will Understand This” Buzzfeed listicles) swarmed theaters to see Disney’s live-action remake of the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast. Like me, they probably ugly-cried through each nostalgic piano piece, breathtaking musical number (the new songs are high-quality, pinky promise!), and scene in which Emma Watson swiftly and dazzlingly smashes the patriarchy.
However, the continuous flow of tears that streamed down my face resulted from something a bit deeper than the 130 minutes of pure Disney magic offered in the film. I cried because I connected with Belle on a much more genuine level than the first time I watched it as a three year old.
Like Belle, I, too am a Motherless Daughter.
The live-action version of the film features several additions that, in my Beauty and the Beast devout fan opinion (when I was six, my Ken doll and I wore matching homemade Beast costumes for Halloween, so, like, get off our hunchbacks) amplify the plot while still pay homage to the timeless original. As previously stated, the soundtrack offers two new songs that fit seamlessly into the film. The servants of the Beast play a more pivotal role and transform into caretakers. The Beast is definitely hotter and more humorous than Prince Adam (no I am not an advocate for bestiality, I just find his baritone voice unavoidably magnetic. You also see Beast shirtless in a scene, and it’s clear he has an 8-pack. Woof). LeFou is supposedly a homosexual (seriously people, calm your tits).
The most striking contrast, however, is the extended plotline of Belle and Prince Adam’s parents. The viewer learns that Belle’s mother was terminally ill with the plague and begged Maurice to save their daughter and leave the infected town. Similarly, Prince Adam loses his mother at a young age; the holier-than-thou attitude develops from his father, and the house servants did nothing to intervene with his cruel upbringing.
I don’t want to spoil too much, because everyone deserves to see this film (preferably many, many times), but there is a scene that tugged at my grief-consumed heart and changed my perception of their relationship and the foundation built upon it.
An additional detail added to the plot is a magical book left behind by the Enchantress that cursed Prince Adam. The book features a map that will transport the reader to any place they imagine or request. When the Beast presents this to Belle, she asks the book to take them to Paris, the city she was born in. Once transported back in time she learns more of her mother and the sacrificial love she had for her. As Belle becomes aware of the true story of Maurice’s decision to leave his ailing wife behind, the Beast both observes Belle in a new light while also empathizing with her pain.
Any audience member can attest to the noticeable shift in their relationship after they “visit” Paris.
Now, perhaps I read too much into this scene. My fanfiction writing synapses were firing faster than my left-swipes on Tinder. Also, I observed this scene from the perspective of a devastated, grieving daughter so I might be a bit biased.
Still, I think most mourning human beings can agree with me when I say that the nature of Belle and The Beast’s relationship changed because for the first time, Belle saw a counterpart in her suffering. She finally had someone to empathize with her pain. She fell in love with a man who could, quite literally, return parts of her mother to her. And that is such a heavenly treasure.
Most of my coworkers are significantly older than me, and married. By transitive property they often pester me about my pathetic love life and want to know why I haven’t found my mans [y’all, the struggle is REAL in these streets (and by streets I mean dating apps, since I actively choose to not go out on weekends: if I see one more “just looking for my Tinderella” bio I will rip off an eyebrow)]. I’ll usually laugh and do a dramatic retelling of a Walgreens cashier who hit on me while I was purchasing EXTRA STRENGTH dandruff shampoo. Riveting stuff.
There was, however, a serious conversation with one of my work friends in which I confided to her, “I really do think that the next man I fall in love with will also be grieving, because only he can understand the condition of my heart right now.”
I understand that might be extremist and narrow-minded. But grief and I have a toxic relationship. Grief, for me, excludes empathy, since most of my friends haven’t lost a parent and their “I’m so sorrys” and “you’re so strongs” and “she would be proud of yous”, despite their best intentions, fall flat. Grief required me to completely rewrite what I perceived my future to be, since I always assumed my mother would be there for me.
Grief, in short, consumes.
Just before she passed away, I met a really good guy who would have been really good for me, but my heart honestly couldn’t balance my romantic love for him and my sick, twistedly faithful relationship with grieving. It is also important to note that he never experienced the loss of a parent, and, to use his own words, wanted to comfort me by “just holding [me].”
For some grieving individuals, physical touch heals. For me, I just wanted my mom.
For Belle, there is no need for her to explain why her heart is shaped the way it is. Prince Adam gets it. He understands why she frets over her father living in solitude, forced to take care of himself after years of having a life partner; this is a common emotion that most children feel when one of their parents loses their life partner. She doesn’t have to explain the constant ebb and flow of pain that permeates every ounce of her body every single day when living a life without a mom, because Prince Adam also aches.
A part of your soul dies when you lose a parent, but when someone also shoulders that burden, it affirms you in a way.
Throughout my life (and watching my sisters find their soulmates), my ultimate goal was to find a man my mother would approve of. My father is Randy Jackson: jovial, easy to get along with, and able to tell you how he feels without crushing you. My mother was the Simon Cowell: ruthless, defiant, and knew exactly what she wanted.
Now, without her, I long to find someone that will restore parts of her to me. The Beast does this by regaining some of her childhood narrative, but more importantly, loving her. As the original song “How Does a Moment Last Forever” notes, “How can a story last forever/It is love we must hold onto/never easy, but we try.” In the film it’s clear that Belle is shook from her Paris trip, but the reminder of her mother’s adoration for her answered so many questions about her own identity and ability to love the Beast in a sacrificial manner.
I’m somewhat optimistic I will find a man who, like the Beast, appreciates my bookish ways. I hope that he, unlike the Beast, will have a normal amount of body hair. Most importantly, I pray that he, like the Beast, will not mistake my grieving heart as brokenness, because love heals.
Any Disney fanatic will swear by it.