From the archives: Symbolism in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Contributed by E. A. L.

A friend of mine wrote this for her English class and when I read it I thought of your page. This is actually not the entire paper, but these are the parts that I thought would apply. By the way, she got an A.

Beauty and the Beast is a movie about a girl who frees an enchanted prince from entrapment in the form of a beast. In the beginning of the movie, the prince is transformed into a beast to punish him for being “spoiled, selfish, and unkind,” to punish him for judging people based on appearances, and to teach him to love someone other than himself. Belle, the girl, is only able to free him from the enchantment if she can learn to love him in spite of his being a beast. The theme of this movie is that people who do not judge others based on appearances are often rewarded. Two sub-themes of this movie are that 1) people who make sacrifices out of love are often rewarded and 2) sometimes people don’t realize that they love someone until it is almost too late.

Symbolic elements are used often in the settings of this movie. When Belle’s father first stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, it is a dark and stormy night with lightning stabbing across the sky and rain pouring down, which represents the terror Belle’s father feels upon finding the castle. The inside of the castle is dark and gloomy, which symbolizes mystery and the way the Beast broods over both his fate and the shame he feels about his appearance, which makes him hide in the dark. Because the inside of the castle is full of gargoyles and hideous grimacing statues, which are thought to drive away evil spirits, it symbolizes that the Beast is not really evil, because if he were, he could not live in a castle full of gargoyles. Since the Beast uses the west wing for his sulking rooms, he is facing the sunset, or the end of the day, which symbolizes his waning hope for redemption. The west wing is full of old rubbish and dust, which symbolizes feelings of desolation and neglect, as well as the frustration and rage the Beast feels at his situation. Windows symbolize enlightenment, and allow people to look outside. In this movie, the windows grow progressively larger until the fill entire walls as Belle and the Beast get to know each other. This symbolizes that they are becoming enlightened about the other’s character, and that they are looking outside themselves and learning about someone else. After Belle and the Beast dance together in the ballroom, they go outside, where the sky is full of stars, which symbolize the hope that the enchantment might be broken. Wishes are made on falling stars, so the single falling star represents the chance that the Beast’s wish might be granted and Belle will break the spell. As the movie moves from that scene to the point where the Beast releases Belle, the sky progressively fills with clouds, until all the stars, and symbolically, all the Beast’s hopes, are blotted out. A candle flame can also symbolize hope, and when Belle runs away from the castle for the first time, she slams a door and extinguishes Lumiere’s flame, which symbolizes extinguished hope, because without her there is no hope for the enchantment to end.

Books are a repeated symbol in this movie. For Belle, they symbolize a way of escape from a life she does not want, and they are her only source of adventure and romance. Each time there is a room full of books in this movie, there is also a globe, symbolizing the way books allow Belle to travel and have experiences she would never have otherwise. Books are also likened to and associated with water. When Lumiere and Cogsworth are attempting to lead Belle away from the west wing, they mention the library and speak metaphorically of “fountains of books, cascades of books,’ and other comparisons of books to water, or the source of life. For Belle, they are the only means by which she can escape from the little town and they provide her with the adventure and romance she feels she needs to live. In the opening town scene, Belle is reading a book by a fountain, once again connecting books with water, and a herd of sheep walk past, all going the same direction. These sheep could symbolize the townspeople, who are all the same and who are all going in the same direction. One of the sheep takes a bite out of a page of Belle’s book, which symbolizes the way the townspeople have no use or appreciation for books, which consequently represents the little use or liking Belle has for the townspeople. Additionally, books are associated with the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” which is the theme of this movie.

Mirrors and reflections are also a repeated symbol in this movie, and they symbolize the action of seeing oneself as others do, and again this shows the emphasis on appearance in this movie. For instance, Gaston is obsessed with himself and he is always looking in the mirror, but he fails, like all the other townspeople except Belle, to see what he really is. However, the Beast shatters a mirror in his rooms, which shows that he is aware of how others see him.

Gaston is always associated with mud, which is a contextual symbol showing Belle’s dislike for him and symbolizing what he really is inside. Characters as symbols are prevalent in this movie. For example, Lumiere is supposed to be a Frenchman, and he represents passion and romance. Cogsworth, the clock, is supposed to be an Englishman, and he symbolizes fuss and bother and caution. The cupids on the ceiling of the ballroom are an allusion to the god of budding love, which is the situation Belle and the Beast find themselves in. After the wolf fight, Belle washes the Beast’s wounds, which symbolizes and foreshadows that she will be the one to heal him from his despair. When Belle wears a yellow dress, the color symbolizes their growing love that is dazzling, inextinguishable, young, and strong. Later, when the Beast is transformed back into a prince, he glows with a golden light, again symbolizing the strength and inextinguishable love that they share.

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24 Responses to From the archives: Symbolism in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

  1. Lefty says:

    What? No mention of the rose?

    Love is a rose but you’d better not pick it.

    That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

    • Classified infoRMation says:

      perhaps the rose would be more like the unattainable goal we all strive for but almost none accomplish

      nice metaphors though

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  4. Devin says:

    you missed the magic mirror the beast has – him using it is a constant reminder of his appearance and the rose he is given is a symbol of love and beauty

  5. Ambar says:

    I think that using these symbols and taking things out of them like this is pointless.
    This movie wasn’t meant to tell you what to do or how to live. All films have negative aspects.
    This movie is an adaption of a fairy tale and therefore just another way of viewing the story. Using something that is merely for entertainment as some basis for how we aren’t learning what is considered appropriate is stupid because this wasn’t meant to teach us anything. It may have a moral or belief but it’s mostly to support the story. Besides, imagine how this movie would appeal if it followed the apparent guidelines you are giving it.

    • Wolf says:

      I beg to differ, given the overarching reason for a story’s existence at all. I agree that stories should be for entertainment, but by a historical context, stories are created to teach a lesson or an idea. In the original story, it was created as a cautionary tale of trespassing, but also of not judging a book by its cover.
      Stories are the most effective formula for human learning. We remember stories much more than we remember facts and figures, and thus to teach obedience and social norms, stories were created to teach.

  6. cheers says:

    You neglected to mention that Belle is not truly in love with the Beast, but that she is simply experiencing extreme Stockholm syndrome.

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  11. Cricket says:

    Most all movies have an underlying theme or moral. A writer is an artist with an imagination and they all have points for what they are writing. Dim-witted people will watch a movie and not take anything from it but people who are able to look beyond what is right in front of them will be able to see the message of the movie.

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    From the archives: Symbolism in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast | The Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzations

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