Giannetti states that “the filmmaker uses actors as a medium for communicating ideas and emotions” and although Disney is animated, they still use their characters and story line to communicate messages to their audience (Giannetti 5). In Beauty and the Beast, there are many implied messages that can impact the children that are watching the movie. The director mainly focuses on the message that true beauty lies within but unfortunately, the effectiveness of this message is degraded by the message that a person’s outer appearance mirrors their inner appearance.
The most obvious message in Beauty and the Beast is that true beauty lies within and you shouldn’t judge someone by their outer appearance. The tone of the movie is set in the opening scenes when the old beggar woman warns the young prince to not be deceived by looks because true beauty lies within. In the film, Belle falls in love with the Beast, even though he is not visually appealing to the eye. When she first meets him, he both looks and acts the part, treating people horribly and frightening them. However, over time, Belle begins to fall in love with the person hidden behind the beast facade. This is an important message to the children watching the film as they learn that someone’s appearance doesn’t dictate whom they are inside. As she begins to love the Beast, he begins to realize that he is worth loving despite the way he looks and is actually capable of loving Belle in return. This message is also portrayed as Belle refuses to marry Gaston, a male character who is both attractive and extremely selfish. This taught kids that you shouldn’t marry someone based off of their looks, it is important that they have a good personality too.
Although Beauty and the Beast does teach children that you shouldn’t judge someone based on their looks, it also portrays a negative message regarding the relationship between looks and personality. There are two transformations of characters that support this negative message and we will discuss both of them briefly. The first transformation (and most obvious) is of the beast. In the beginning of the film, the young prince is “spoiled, selfish, and unkind” and as a punishment, he is transformed into a beast (Beauty and the Beast). Throughout the movie, the Beast is just that: beastly. He is beastly looking, treats people horribly, and is frightening. He is under the curse until he learns to truly love another and gain their love in return. If he isn’t able to transform from a selfish beast to a kind man, he will remain ugly and deformed for the rest of his life. Disney makes it apparent throughout the film that the idea of loving someone who looked like the beast isn’t appealing. They use different methods to present this idea to audience, playing on their emotions. The opening scenes of the movie ask the audience “who could ever learn to love a beast?” and at one point during the movie Gaston looks at Belle in utter disgust while he states, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you have feelings for this monster” (Beauty and The Beast). Young children watching the film begin to associate being ugly and beastly looking with someone who is unlovable, cruel, and frightening. At the end of the movie, Belle falls in love with the Beast, breaking the curse. The moment she announces her love for him, he transforms back into a handsome young prince. Belle loved the Beast for who he was but Disney had to interfere because it only makes sense the beautiful princess ends up with a handsome prince rather than the “beast” she fell in love with right? This transformation implies that outer beauty reflects inner beauty and that a kind, lovable person is more physically attractive. The second character that undergoes a physical transformation is Gaston. Throughout the film, he is highlighted as the “attractive” male character but at the end while he is trying to kill the Beast, his appearance becomes disheveled. He becomes more unattractive as he true selfish and cruel personality becomes more apparent.
The two most apparent messages in Beauty and the Beast are direct contradictions of each other. They play on the emotion of the audience for the entire film, convincing them that even beastly looking people are lovable. However, at the end, the film contradicts this by transforming the Beast into a handsome man as soon as he becomes “lovable”. This is illogical and can cause confusion and frustration from the audience. The audience asks “wait, I though that it didn’t matter what you look like, someone as beautiful as Belle could still marry and live happily ever after with a Beast right?” Disney tells us you’re wrong. This contradiction takes away from the credibility of the film because people feel lied to. Unfortunately, most the time, this contradiction is lost on young children who, like me, don’t realize the negative message that Disney portrayed so effectively until they are older. The credibility of the positive messages Beauty and the Beast is trying trying to send to children at home is also lost because the negative overshadows it.
Understanding Movies is spot on when it states “cinema can be a powerful source of moral persuasion” (Giannetti 4). Young children are like sponges and soak up almost everything they are exposed to, including the messages in Disney movies that they watch on repeat. Unfortunately for Beauty and the Beast, the negative messages they sent outweighed the positive. Although the movie is created on the idea that true beauty lies within, the negative message that outer appearance reflects inner appearance is much more effective. It’s ironic and illogical that a movie based on inner beauty transforms their main character from an ugly beast to an attractive man as soon as he becomes a better person, worthy of the love of a beautiful woman like Belle. Because of this, I give Beauty and the Beast 2 out of 5.