At first glance, or as a six year old, one might see Beauty and the Beast as a progressive love story, trying to teach the audience to ignore the superficial, and look for something deeper in a person to find love. This is a positive message if done properly, but in its attempt to relay this message the movie actually enforces heteronormative and misogynistic ideas.
As the movie opens, Belle is portrayed to be a smart, beautiful, and most importantly single woman. She is sought after by Gaston, a handsome, muscular, hero-type, who you’d think could get any girl in the village he wanted. In response to his attempts at courtship, Belle ignores Gaston, and actively doesn’t like him. The movie successfully breaks the stereotype of a single woman being desperate for any man, especially for one as good looking and masculine as Gaston, through her apathy for him. Although at this point the movie is on the track of its supposed “progressiveness,” it undermines itself in the end. Initially, Belle is depicted as a smart and seemingly ambitious girl who loves reading, has expressed a desire to leave the small village she is from, and wants to learn more about the world. Yet she drops all of her previous ambitions to marry The Beast, who she has known for about a week. It flattens Belle from a smart woman with aspirations and interests, to a stereotypical, family-driven woman in the distant past in which the movie takes place.
The ending of the movie reinforces the idea that a woman’s job is to become a wife and mother, and to center her life around these things, especially because of the potential Belle seems to have in the beginning of the movie that doesn’t relate to her beauty or womanhood at all. She could do anything she wants with her life, but instead she meets someone and marries him after barely knowing him, and furthermore, after being held captive by him. In general, the movie paints her as somewhat helpless, a victim to to the forces around her: Gaston, The Beast, the town mob, and nature. She is portrayed as the stereotypical helpless girl through her actions and reactions, which undermines the faux-progressive picture that is painted of her in the beginning of the story.
The movie as a whole is fun and light-hearted to watch as long as you don’t look for any deeper meaning. If you do, you will only find the reinforcement of heteronormative standards and a flattened, misogynistic view on women. Definitely not what we want imprinted upon young children’s brains.