Movies That Help Us Embrace Our Inner Beauty and the Beast
By: Biz Hyzy
In honor of the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, we’ve compiled a list of other movies that feature zoomorphic characters. Although some people critique these tales for being about bestiality, they are, at heart, fables, which means we’re supposed to interpret them metaphorically. In the past, these types of stories taught the Greeks about gods or alleviated childrens’ fears about arranged marriages. Today, they parallel our everyday journeys about repression, depression, and appearance—the fear that something can be so “wrong” with you (physically, mentally) that it makes you unlovable. These movies also show the inevitable disasters that will befall if you do try to subdue your “shameful” attributes. Only through the transformative power of acceptance—by community, by love, by self—can these characters perform at their best, be it in the shape of a man or a monster. Check out the list below for examples as to what happens when we do—or don’t—embrace both our inner beauties and beasts.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
A lesson in the perils of not loving someone as-is. Although many literal beasts populate this Harry Potter spin-off, the one we’re going to concentrate on is the less-animalistic Obscurial. When a magical child suppresses his/her abilities, a dark energy called an Obscurus eventually possesses his/her body; if unchecked, an Obscurus can wreak damage and eventually kill the host. Credence’s magic-phobic adoptive mother abuses him for his magical ancestry, thus unleashing an Obscurus that pummels New York City in 1926. If only she loved him for who he was—magical or not—he could’ve loved himself as well and never would’ve shifted into such a lethal form.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Bruce Banner AKA the Hulk attempts to control his greener side, but control, in this case, doesn’t denote restraint but the ability to learn how to adapt from human to Hulk to back again. As a hesitant romance with Black Widow evolves, she becomes the Hulk’s go-to for calming him into his scientist self. The phrase, “Hey there, big guy. The sun’s gettin’ real low,” followed by a gentle touch conditions him into taking a breather and thinking sensibly, which incites his humanity. Maybe their feelings never blossomed into the love that could’ve been, but it at least helped Bruce/Hulk regulate his transformations for a short while.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Obviously, this film is one out of a plethora of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adaptations, but I’m picking it because it’s movie we all secretly love, despite knowing it’s not actually that great. In this steampunk adventure based off a comic series of the same name, famous literary characters—such as Tom Sawyer, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, and Dorian Gray—team up to prevent an attack that could trigger a world war. Dr. Jekyll, who has been struggling to repress his more violent counterpart for years, willingly relinquishes Mr. Hyde because only he is strong enough to drain their sinking submarine and to fight the monster. (That monster animation…yikes. Let’s pretend that never existed.) Out of camaraderie, he welcomes his beastly side in order to save his newfound friends. In doing so, he discovers that being Hyde isn’t always destructive—that darkness can also be propitious.
(Also, did you know that Quartermain was Sean Connery’s last onscreen role? I have mixed feelings on this.)
In this offbeat, black comedy, single people have forty-five days to find a partner at a hotel. If not, they turn into an animal of their choice. In a bizarre exaggeration of the rules of modern dating, the hotel requires you to share a distinguishing trait with your partner (like a lisp), propagates the perks of being in love, and rewards residents who “hunt” single people. To summarize, David would rather stab himself in the eyes with a steak knife to date a blind woman than turn into a lobster. Take from that what you will. Logistically though, do mythological creatures count? Because I would totally choose a unicorn or a dragon.
Penelope doesn’t exactly fit the animal/monster mold like the others on this list, but she does have a pig nose and ears due to a family curse. To break the spell in this modern-day fairy tale, “one of her own kind” must learn to love her. Her family’s solution? Marry a blue blood! Posing as a noble, Johnny/Max does fall for Penelope, but since he believes his low status will harm her chances of losing the snout, he flees. Heartbreak and mishaps ensue. In the end, Penelope, fed up and frustrated, announces, “I like myself the way I am!” Voila—she suddenly has a human nose and ears! If only she—or one of her parents—had cherished her piggish appearance this whole time, they could’ve broken the curse years ago. Sensing that pattern about self-acceptance yet?
The Princess and the Frog
The first in the Disney revival era, The Princess and the Frog features Tiana as an independent, ambitious black woman in 1920s New Orleans who wants, more than anything, to open up her own luxurious restaurant. Prince Naveen, who Dr. Facilier cursed as a frog, mistakes her for a princess and asks her to kiss him. With the promise of getting enough money for her restaurant, Tiana acquiesces. Since she’s not an actual princess, however, the kiss backfires, turning her into a frog as well. Hopping through adventures and learning from one another, the pair eventually falls in love. When they marry—as frogs—Tiana technically becomes a princess and their subsequent kiss restores their humanity. They looked past their amphibious appearances and reminded us to love someone for who they are inside. Lucky for them that they both ended up as super attractive humans anyways!
Like its predecessor, Shrek 2 subverts the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale trope. In Shrek and Fiona’s case, their true personalities manifest themselves best when they are laidback, gluttonous, smelly ogres. Manipulated by the shrewd Fairy Godmother, however, Shrek falsely believes Fiona wishes to be pretty again. He drinks a potion that turns them both into humans, a change that will become permanent if they kiss before midnight. When faced with the decision, however, Fiona chooses to stay an ogre because that physicality best represents their version of “happily ever after.”
The Swan Princess
This movie…doesn’t exactly stand the test of time. Remember the part where Derek straight up says “What else is there?” when Odette asks if beauty is all that matters to him? Yes, they included that scene so little boys and girls would learn, like Derek, that beauty shouldn’t be the foundation of love, but I still think Odette could do better. Anyway, in this animated quasi-classic, which inspired a six-film franchise (the most recent one in 2016??), evil sorcerer Rothbart curses Odette with a spell that turns her into a swan during a day and then back into a human at night. Rothbart proposes to her so he can take over the kingdom. Odette refuses. In the end, she (as a human) dies in Derek’s arms, but when he lauds her kindness and courage—therefore making a “Vow of Everlasting Love”—he revives her. He could only understand the best parts of Odette after getting to know her as a fowl.
That’s great and all, but honestly, the best part of this movie is when Derek is practicing hunting. When the men dressed as animals see arrows coming for them, they shout, “Duck!” In reply, the guy dressed as a duck jumps up and says, “Yes?” Then, he gets hit in the face. “Quacks” me up every time!
Do you ever listen to a song that you loved a kid and go, Wow, remember how I thought that was so deep? Like Britney Spears’ “Lucky,” when she sings, If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night? It’s because you’re lonely, Lucky! Love matters more than fame, Lucky!
So deep, man. So deep.
Anyway, I always relive one of those moments when I watch Van Helsing. Towards the very end, Van Helsing gets bitten by a werewolf, thus becoming a werewolf himself. Although Dracula has a cure, Van Helsing needs to use his new Lycan powers to kill Dracula. Long story short, he bites Dracula, Dracula dies, and then warrior princess Anna runs in with the cure. She tussles with Van Helsing, who, as a werewolf, doesn’t recognize her and ends up killing her. But! But! Before she dies, Anna injects him with the cure! As Van Helsing slowly morphs into his human self, he realizes what he did and howls over her dead body.
As a kid, I thought this kind of death was the deepest, most wonderfully pathetic tragedy of all time. He needed to be a beast in order to defeat the bad guy, but that transformation is also what killed his love. Super deep, man. Super deep.
At its core, the 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast tells the tale of two outcasts who find solace in their companionship—one dismissed for being beautiful yet strange, the other spurred for being ugly and afraid. Beauty and the Beast-like stories encourage us to embrace every aspect of ourselves, to find the strength in our imperfections. In some cases, your inner beauty can only be appreciated when paired with an animalistic exterior. In others, denying your beastly side can lead to self-destruction. It’s story we tell time and time again, in varying adaptations, because we need the reminder to marry those dichotomies within ourselves.
Beauty and the Beast hits U.S. theaters on March 17.