Disney vs. Fairy Tale: Representations of culture and stereotyping through language according to the main character in "Beauty and the Beast"
Term Paper 2012 12 Pages
Table of Contents
2 Comparison of movie and fairy tale
2.1 Presentation of the female main character
2.2 How do the other characters interact with Belle in the movie
2.3 How do the other characters interact with Bella in the fairy tale
3 French (and other frailties)
It is not that society first exists and is then reflected passively by language. Language itself is a social practice, and language actively reproduces and transforms society. […] Language can, perhaps in relatively modest domains, be actively changed by human agency. And these changes restructure social relations. (Stubbs 90)
This is not only true for all languages but for fairy tales as well. In the early 19th century, the Brothers Grimm primarily based their stories on their linguistic research. The basic aim was to establish a language for German society since the confederacy of 39 states struggled for a German identity after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Other writers, though they might not have followed the same aim as the Brothers Grimm, wrote famous fairy tales as well. Their intention might have been to educate or simply to entertain people, but simultaneously they changed society and over the years, stories were changed by society as well.
In 1937 when Walt Disney released his first movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a completely new era of language acquisition started. The former fairy tales were turned into movies and instead of old complicated language, easier and child friendly language was established. The former, sometimes brutal, fairy tales were changed to convey a different message, the core of the story often stayed the same but the plot around the central issue was changed. The same is true for Beauty and the Beast. By supporting his films with music and accents, Walt Disney invented a new kind of storytelling.
By answering the questions: How do Disney and the fairy tale present the female main character? Is it easier for children to understand the character traits of a person by only hearing about them or by simultaneously seeing the character act? Which cultural representations can be found in movie and fairy tale and what influence do they have on the language of the main character? Which kinds of stereotypes appear and how are they presented? Is the presentation of Bella in the fairy tale still current today or is it too old-fashioned? I will compare the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) of 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot, Dame de Villeneuve, with the same-titled movie by Walt Disney.
Working on these questions, I argue that the movie Beauty and the Beast by Walt Disney is more stereotyping and shows Belle as an emancipated woman through language while the fairy tale by Barbot only focuses on Bella as homemaker. I argue as well, that Disney’s interpretation has a more racist influence on children than the fairy tale.
2 Comparison of text and film passages
Both movie and tale start with the typical and “fossilized magical formulae indicating” (Puigderajols 35) beginning of a fairy tale. While the Barbot version uses the phrasing “once on a time, in a far-off country” (appendix 13), the movie uses “upon” instead of “on” and “far-away” ( appendix 13) instead of “far-off”. This little difference indicates the first changes of language from the period of 1740 to 1991. The starter of the story, the most important criterion for a fairy tale, was changed through culture and time.
Since both stories differ in their content, I will only focus on the presentation of the main character and how she is characterized by other characters. But for both interpretations the beginning of the story is important. The fairy tale places her in a bourgeois background, with a father who is a merchant. She has six brothers and five sisters whose names are not provided. It is noticeable, that her mother is never mentioned. The tale starts with further information about the family and tells that the father has been rich a long time. Then he loses all his fortune. The story states that his children “were in despair at the idea of leading such a different life” (appendix 13). This utterance sounds highfalutin by modern standards and is another representation of language in America around 1740 and a typical element for fairy tales as Puigderajols states: “The characteristically archaic language used in fairy stories […] [is] [a] marvellous linguistic instrument […] to transmit, in a simple but enchanting way the power of linguistic magic.” (35) This language exalts the people’s imagination and creates the proper atmosphere to deal with invented characters like fairies. In addition to the lost fortune, the daughters lose all people who they thought of being their friends. So the family can do nothing else than live in a cottage out of town.
The movie starts in a different way. The focus is here on magic and witchcraft. A handsome but selfish prince refuses to give an old beggar shelter from rain and cold. After refusing a second time, the beggar turns into a beautiful enchantress who turns him into a hideous beast because she found no love in his heart. He and his spellbound servants have to live in that appearance forever if he does not fall in love with a girl who loves him in return before his 21 birthday. He gets an enchanted rose as an hourglass to show him when his time is up.
These two stories differ because they depend on a special time and its culture as Jerome Bruner argues
“[…] [S]torymaking, I shall try to demonstrate, provides us with an exquisite instrument for taking into account (even for justifying) ‘real’ life’s ambiguities and multiple demands. For narrative also provides us with the means of going beyond the culturally ordinary – even in the law, where we invoke the offbeat by pleading ‘mitigating circumstances.’” (Brunner 46)