Tim Burton’s Beauty and the Beast

I wrote this partial post months ago, and never got around to finishing it. So we’re trying something new: an interactive blog where you get to write your own conclusion! Seriously, I was inspired by this topic when I first started writing, but it’s been too long now for me to remember what I was going to say to elaborate on the final statement. So take this for what it is, in it’s non-scholarly, unfinished state.

Edward Scissorhands posterIt’s been a long time since I’ve watched Edward Scissorhands, longer than my 15-year-old daughter has been alive, I’m sure. But I’ve been wanting to show it to her and my younger daughter for a while now—they’re fans of some of Tim Burton’s other work (Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland) and I thought they’d enjoy the not-too-dark humor and tragedy of Edward. Fortunately, it lived up to my expectations as an entertaining and thought-provoking film (not everything holds up well to the mirror of memory) and the girls enjoyed it much.

What surprised me was when I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is just like Beauty and the Beast, only reversed.” There’s probably no great revelation in this; I’m sure some cinema and/or folklore student in the past 20 years has written a thesis on the subject. But as a non-academic I can forgo the research and just blather on as if I’ve been inspired with original genius.

The character that brought the comparison to mind was actually Jim, the heroine’s boyfriend. Edward is the Beast, of course, and Winona Ryder’s character, Kim, is Beauty. Tim, played by Anthony Michael Hall (a roll that serves as a good bridge from the nerd of the Brat Pack roles), is Winona’s boyfriend. Just like Gaston in Disney’s Beauty in the Beast, he is driven by a sense of entitlement, enraged by everything the Beast represents, and threatened by the heroine’s attraction to the Beast. He even falls to his death from the castle parapets, just like Gaston does. You might even accuse Burton of copying the Disney film in this regard, if Edward Scissorhands movie hadn’t come out a year earlier.

So let’s talk about the reversal. In the original tale, Beauty goes to live with the Beast in his magical realm. In Edward Scissorshands, the Beast is brought out of the magical realm into the world of the everyday. If you listen to my daughters, there’s nothing “normal” about the suburban neighborhood that adopts Edouard, it’s clear that Burton created a setting in which “Normal” has been taken to excess. I think my daughters were right to be more creeped out by the rows of suburban dwellings, each one exactly the same as the next, than they were by the spooky mansion on the top of the hill. They’re just too young to fully appreciate the cultural satire Burton evokes.

Of course, it’s Beauty’s mother that brings Edward home, whereas Beauty’s father (in the original tale) is all to quick to sell off his daughter to save his own life, suggesting something about the nurturing feminine archetype.

But the real difference that happens in the reversal of the story is that Beauty fails to successfully transform the Beast, even though she does what she’s supposed to do by confessing her love.

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