Here’s the first of my hopefully continuing series of “Disney without Magic,” a take on the classic Disney stories that shows what happens when you take out one crucial element: Magic. First off, Beauty and the Beast.
Everything starts out the same from Belle’s perspective. Belle still lives in that small, provincial town where she is seen as a bit of an oddball with her head in the clouds. Let the singing commence.
Gaston is still infatuated with Belle, and (wisely) she still won’t marry him because he’s positively primeval.
On the way to take his invention to the fair, Maurice still gets lost in the woods (of course), and is still found by the castle residents and taken in from the rain and the cold for some nice tea by the fire.
Only this time, Maurice is not greeted by a candlestick and a clock, but by a portly head of household and his skinny compatriot. (There’s no magic, remember? So there’s no curse. Everyone’s still human.) They argue about what to do about the visitor–Lumiere wants to be hospitable but Cogsworth is afraid of how the Master will react.
Now here comes the tricky part. How does the Prince, as he will heretofore be known, react to Maurice’s presence? He’s still an angry, selfish person. But he’s not a beast. The Beast throws Maurice into the dungeon, but only after the Beast catches Maurice staring at him, and he totally overreacts. That’s not going to happen here. So, we’ll go back to the original and see how an angry, selfish prince responds to intruders and panhandlers:
Yup. That’s right. The Prince turns Maurice away, shouting, “You’re not welcome here!” then throwing him out into the cold rain. Let’s cut back to Belle. She gets a (*ahem*) generous proposal from Gaston, which she wisely refuses.
After which she has a soulful reprise of her earlier song, proclaiming to the world that she wants adventure in the great, wide somewhere (so much more than she can tell in just one short song). That’s when Phillipe returns, riderless.
She goes out to find him, but since Maurice has already been kicked out of the castle by this point, she finds him somewhere in the woods. No wolf attacks (we’ll get one, I promise), and she takes him home. On the way, Maurice tells her about the castle and its reclusive occupant, to which Belle nods and smiles comfortingly, but makes nothing of. They return to their ordinary lives. Gaston still gets to sing about how great he is, followed by Maurice reporting to the townsfolk in the tavern about a mysterious castle in the woods, which no one seems to believe. “Crazy old Maurice,” they say. “He’s always good for a laugh.”
He starts thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) that he needs to compel Belle to marry him somehow, and he can do it with Maurice as leverage. He’ll lock Maurice up in the asylum until Belle agrees to marry him. Cut to creepy asylum guy.
Gaston explains, “I’ve got my heart set on marrying Belle, but she needs a little persuasion.” With a little money added to the mix, the asylum head takes on the job. They come for Maurice at night. It’s easy to rile up the crowd against Maurice. Sure, it’s not like he was raving about any snarling, monstrous beast (this time), but he does an awful lot of inventing, which involves a lot of explosions and (I’m sure) fires. He’s a menace to public safety at the very least.
Belle watches in horror as they take her father away. He tries to struggle, but he is old and fails at it, and his words fall upon deaf ears. Belle pleads with Gaston, who explains the situation. He might be able to do something about it if she marries him. “Never!” she cries.
[[[Can I just take a sidebar for a minute to say how devilishly brilliant Gaston was about this entire situation? Rewatch the movie, and you’ll notice that LeFou does all of the talking during Maurice’s capture and incarceration. Gaston is distancing himself from the situation. It’s not him who’s coming for Maurice; he’s just here to help his future wife out of a jam. Because he loves her. He doesn’t really do any talking until Belle fully gets involved, and he doesn’t really talk to the crowd at all until the mirror comes into play. Instead, Gaston hangs back on the sidelines, just loving this whole thing. Look at this face and try and tell me he’s still the brainless boob everyone takes him for:
Belle refuses Gaston’s help and decides to do things through proper channels. She talks to the head of the asylum, but of course he’s in Gaston’s pocket. She isn’t even allowed to see her father under Gaston’s orders. In the meantime, she needs to get a job to support herself, since being the daughter of a failed inventor meant they didn’t have a lot of money or savings to begin with. She gets a job helping out at the bookshop. It doesn’t pay much, since Belle was his best (and maybe only) customer, but it’s enough for her to get by for now.
Gaston can’t handle this. His girl, working for a living. Not only is she financially stable enough to avoid his advances, she is doing so much of that foolish thinking. A new plan had to be made. The bookshop owner doesn’t cave in at first. Not everyone is as fond of that boorish, brainless Gaston as the rest of the town. But even the staunchest of his opponents can’t hold firm with a hunting musket pointed in his face.
The bookman has no choice but to let Belle go, with a few parting books as a farewell gift. Finding another job is a lot harder the next time. Most of the townsfolk don’t want to work with Belle because she is so odd, her head in the clouds. The few who might have hired her have made it clear that Gaston has made the same threat all over town, that hiring Belle is a sure way to bring a swift and unexpected end to their business. The rest spend their time trying to convince her of what a good provider Gaston would be–an endless supply of meats for dinner and pelts for the winter–and that a beauty like her should never have to stoop to working a job. Belle finds that she has no choice but to marry Gaston.
However, Belle is smart, and she makes a condition upon their engagement: she wants her father released. Gaston is likewise not to be fooled by her ploy, and refuses until after the wedding. But they strike a deal: she can visit him (“And write to him,” she adds, wisely) until that time. No more shutting her out. Gaston agrees. Belle goes to see her father to tell him her situation and to tell him the good news that he will be released soon.
She is horrified to find that he has become ill during the intervening days and weeks, and pleads with Belle not to marry Gaston (“Belle, I’m old. I’ve lived my life”). He wants her to be happy, not to be forced into this marriage because of him. He reminds her about the castle he found, with such kind servants (and so many of them!). Someone as rich as that could afford to hire her on, and what’s more, they couldn’t be intimidated by Gaston. Belle is kind, intelligent and (probably more important with first impressions with a disagreeable prince) beautiful; they will probably have pity on her and give her a job. Belle decides to give it a shot, venturing with Phillipe into the forest to the mysterious castle.
She is greeted by Lumiere and Cogsworth, who are surprised by yet another visitor (a new record!). She tries to explain her situation to them, telling them how her father is being wrongfully held in an asylum by a man who is trying to force her to marry him, keeping her from being able to support herself with a job by threatening the entire town. They are moved by her plight, but exchange wary glances. The Master doesn’t like strangers (or anyone). However, as they’re talking, the Prince hears them and comes downstairs to investigate the disturbance.
He turns her away at once, just as he did her father. She begs him, trying to explain as she did to Lumiere and Cogsworth, but he won’t listen, even after Cogsworth and Lumiere step in to help. He refuses once more, then skulks away to the West Wing. Belle is crushed. It was her one hope and now it is dashed. Lumiere, however, has pity on Belle, and decides to let her work there anyway. “Won’t he be mad?” asks Belle. “Ze Master rarely comes out of eez room,” Lumiere explains. “Ee will not even notice you are eere.” Cogsworth, of course, has a fit. (“What if the Master finds out?”) Lumiere talks him down in the end.
This is probably the point in the movie where “Be Our Guest” would come in, some sort of big ensemble number to welcome Belle to the team. There wouldn’t be dancing plates, but there would still be a giant chandelier, can-can dancing maids and fountains of champagne.
[[Sidebar: We know that Mrs. Potts and Chip both turned into porcelain things, and there are obviously dancing plates and cups, but they don’t have any facial features. Are they just enchanted, or were they once servants, too? If they were once human, that’s an awful lot of servants for just one person (even more so than the servants we do meet). Also, if they were human like the rest, what happened to the real plates? I mean, there must have been a normal teapot at some point, so why are they using Mrs. Potts for tea service? “No, let’s totally use the former human beings instead of the cabinet of china. No one will notice the tea coming out of Mrs. Potts’ nose.”]]
Cut back to the village. Gaston is furious that Belle’s disappeared, and he realizes that he was fooled by her. She had asked to visit her father not simply to ensure his safety for the wedding, but to give a final farewell before she skipped town. He assigns LeFou to watch the asylum, waiting for any sign of Belle’s return for her father or her trying to contact him in any way.
Meanwhile, Belle works hard, making friends with the staff, drinking tea with Mrs. Potts, playing with Chip, and quite a bit of comic relief from the side characters Madame de la Grande Bouche. [[That’s the name given to the wardrobe in the stage version of Beauty and the Beast. It aptly translates to Missus of the Big Mouth. I’m using that name here because I can’t very well call her the Wardrobe since she’s still human.) Belle discovers the library and spends all her free time there. The staff warn her to stay out of the West Wing, because that’s where the Master stays and they don’t want her to be discovered. Belle obeys at first, but she is curious about the mysterious master. What made him like this? Why does no one come to visit? Why does he have such a grand castle and so many servants when he lives alone?
One night, when the Master is supposed to be at dinner, she sneaks into the West Wing to see this forbidden place. She finds a bedroom, unkempt and dark. None of the staff have apparently been allowed to clean it. It is a reflection of the beast within; he cares for nothing, not even his own things. Belle spies a portrait on the wall, one she recognizes at once.
True, he looks a bit younger, a bit better groomed, but it is indeed the master of this castle. On the bottom of the frame is an engraved brass sign that reads “Prince Adam.” (Note: according to Disney historical records, this was actually his name). Not only is this man rich, he is a prince! But why is he alone? Shouldn’t a prince be with the rest of the royal family? Where are all the guards, the royal suitors and courtiers?
That’s when the Prince finds her.
The Prince has a royal (pardon the pun) hissy fit. “Get out!” he bellows. “You’re a prince,” she states, still more shocked by this revelation than by his rage. “And you’re an intruder. I threw you out days ago. Why are you still here?” She tries to explain her situation but he keeps cutting her off, yelling at her. “You don’t think I’ve had beggars at my door before?”
“I wasn’t looking for a handout,” Belle snaps back. “I needed a job, and you threw me out without a second thought! What kind of prince is so selfish that–” At this, the prince nearly screams, “I’m not a prince!” before he tries to rip the painting from its frame in a towering rage with his bare fingers.
[[Sidebar: Notice the change in the frame. Yes, I did photoshop a bit in the first picture, but the frame in the untorn painting from the prologue is square and the torn one is rounded. So, maybe he felt bad about tearing it and reframed it? Yeah, I got nothing.]]
Belle is so terrified that she goes running. She blows by some of the servants on the stairs, who call after her. “Job or no job, I can’t stay here another minute!” Lumiere and Cogsworth try to mollify the situation and talk some sense into the Prince, but Belle leaves. (Enter the wolves. I promised you they were still coming).
This part progresses pretty much like the movie. The wolves attack Belle, the Prince tries and saves her. As a beast, he used his claws to fight them off; the Prince was only running after her to stop her (no doubt guilted into it by Lumiere), so he is almost certainly unarmed. This does not bode well for him. He gets injured, just as he should, and when he passes out, Belle saves him and takes him back to the castle.
“If you hold still, it wouldn’t hurt as much!”
“Well, if you hadn’t run away, then this wouldn’t have happened.”
“If you hadn’t frightened me, I wouldn’t have run away!”
He thinks about it for a moment. “Well, you shouldn’t have been in the West Wing.”
“Well, you should learn to control your temper.”
In the end, the Prince gives Belle a job, but most of the time he just stews in his room. He starts getting curious about her, venturing out of his room to see her, watching her in the library, etc. The prince realizes his new feelings and confesses it to Lumiere and Cogsworth, “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.” He gives her the library as a present. (Because that’s what princes do, right?)
Cue “Something There.”
Belle starts to realize that something new (and a bit alarming) is happening. Then she remembers why she is here–it’s for her father.
She misses him, and wants to know if he’s safe. There’s no magic mirror this time, and she is employed, not a prisoner in this version, so she doesn’t have to hide her presence here anymore. She decides to write to her father. After all, her deal with Gaston is still valid, right?
Meanwhile, the Prince invites her to a formal dinner, followed by dancing. (Neither of which he is any good at, owing to his years of solitude). [[Here’s where “Beauty and the Beast” would go. It’s still an appropriate song, considering that we’re using the “beast” as a metaphor for the Prince’s selfishness and temper, but maybe it gets tweaked a little from the original.]]
That night on the balcony, he confesses to Belle the truth about his past, explaining why he acts the way he does.
As a child, he thought that being a prince meant that he could do whatever he wanted and that he never had to do anything he didn’t want to. He skipped out on lessons, was rude to people (even allies and foreign diplomats), avoided all formal responsibilities, etc. When he was told he would have to marry a princess, an arranged marriage, he also refused (rather bluntly) and nearly caused a war over it. His parents, as punishment, banished him to this castle with the strict orders that he have no further contact with the life he knew until he decided to grow up and be less selfish. “You are no longer our son,” they said. At first, he was happy. He had everything he wanted or needed, and no one to tell him what to do. Over the years, the prince realized what he had truly lost, but he grew more and more angry knowing that to return to his old life, he would lose his freedom once more, and he began to believe there was no hope for him at all.
The Prince then asks Belle if she thinks he should go back to his parents, apologize and marry the princess, if only to appease his family. Maybe he could learn to be happy with her. (Really, he is asking this to see if Belle has any feelings for him in return. If she says yes, then he knows there is no hope for them. If no, then maybe…)
Instead, Belle tears up, thinking of her father. Maybe she was being selfish, too, that she should just marry Gaston. He obviously loves her, or at least is so enamored with her that he’s put this much effort into marrying her, so maybe he really would make her happy. Maybe she should marry him, if only to save her father. It’s what she was planning on doing in the first place. Now, she’s basically just hiding from her problems here, rather than facing them.
As she is about to tell the prince about her similar situation, there comes a knock at the door. It is Gaston (and a bunch of his goons on standby in case of trouble). He tracked her down by following the messenger that had been delivering Belle’s letters to Maurice. He sees Belle in her ballgown and the prince in his fine clothes and is furious. The prince demands to know who this stranger is and why he has come here. “I’ve come for Belle,” explains Gaston. “Belle is in my employ and under my protection,” the Prince counters. “She is not going anywhere unless I say so.” Gaston scoffs. “We’ll see…” He turns to Belle, turning on the charm.
“Belle…darling… You should come home. Your father’s been asking for you.” This gets Belle’s attention. “He’s gravely ill, and the doctor says he doesn’t have much time left.” At this, Belle realizes that this is a veiled threat. Her father may indeed be sick (he was when she left), but Gaston is really sending a message. Gaston is no doubt withholding Maurice’s medicine, possibly even food, to convince her to come home. Then Belle realizes: she didn’t have a way to help her father before, but now she does. With this new change that’s come over the Prince, he is sure to be willing to help release her father from the asylum, get him food, medicine, a warm place to stay, and she wouldn’t have to marry Gaston. All of that goes up in a cloud of smoke with just a few choice words. “Before I set out to find you, Belle, your father told me his final wish was to see his only daughter married.” With this, Gaston turns to the Prince with a triumphant smile.
“Or didn’t Belle tell you that she was already engaged…to me?” The Prince is crushed and he feels betrayed. “You’re engaged?” he asks Belle. “Adam, please… You need to understand–” He won’t have any excuses, his impatience and temper rising. “Tell me: Are–you–engaged?” Belle is frantic. She did promise Gaston, even though she had broken that promise to come work here. She is nothing if not truthful, and tries to say, “Yes, but–” The Prince turns his back to her. “Then go. Your employment is ended.” He leaves without looking back. As he goes, Belle pleads with him as Gaston takes her (forcefully) away.
Chip is the only one brave enough (or foolish enough) to try to stop him, but Gaston just knocks the boy to the ground. Meanwhile, the servants try to talk some sense into the prince. Of course, it is Lumiere who is the expert on matters of love and who sheds some light (get it?) on the subject. “Can’t you see she didn’t want to go?” The Prince is still heartbroken, but covers his feelings beneath his rage. “She is engaged.” Lumiere: “And zo were you.” This stings, but the Prince gets the point.
It is Mrs. Potts who finally explains Belle’s situation, the one she tried to tell him from the very beginning but he was so self-absorbed that he never listened or cared. She tells him that everything Belle did was for her father, to avoid marrying Gaston, that she had to run away and leave her father behind just to survive. All she needed was for him (the prince) to think of someone besides himself for once and all of this could have been avoided. The prince resolves to help Belle, to go after her and stop Gaston.
Cogsworth dons his military hat, announcing, “We need a plan.”
The Prince does not arrive in town until the next morning. The wedding is already in progress.
The Prince interrupts the wedding, demanding that Belle be released. Gaston just laughs and refuses. Instead, the Prince approaches the altar, making his proclamation to Belle alone, telling her that he paid off the head of the asylum the night before (he’ll do anything if you throw enough gold at him) to free Maurice. Even now, her father is now safe in the castle, being tended to by a doctor. “You don’t have to marry Gaston anymore, Belle,” the Prince continues. However, Belle doesn’t respond. She hasn’t even turned around to face him. He closes the distance between them, lifts the veil and finds LeFou in a wedding dress (standing on top of a stool, of course). He jumps out at the Prince, tackling him with a net. At this signal, a bunch of Gaston’s goons rise from their seats (on the groom’s side, naturally) and restrain the Prince, binding his arms and hands with ropes until he is utterly at their mercy.
“Belle will marry me,” Gaston announces. “You see, I had LeFou stationed at the asylum last night and he told me all about your little escape plan. I knew your next step would be something as foolhardy as interrupting my wedding, so I made a few additions to the guest list.” The Prince hangs his head in shame; he should have been less overconfident and been more prepared. Now, he has failed Belle. Gaston laughs coldly, seeing the despair on his rival’s face. “Were you in love with her? Did you honestly think she’d want you when she had someone like me?”
Gaston strides over to where the Prince is being held down to lord his victory over him. “I want to thank you in advance for the wedding gift. Belle will simply love the new castle. But, then again, you won’t be needing it anymore in your new home.” He kneels down beside him, whispering, “There’s a free cell in the asylum that just opened up last night.” With that, Gaston kicks a boot into the prince’s side, causing him to double over in pain. Gaston laughs maniacally.
The wedding begins. Belle is brought out, having been kept under lock and key in her own home until this point. She sees the Prince bound and restrained and she rushes toward him. “Adam!” Gaston stops her, restraining her. She is furious. First her father–now this? “Gaston, let him go!”
“I’ll let him go after we’re married,” Gaston promises, but the Prince knows this to be a lie. “Belle, don’t listen to him!” he shouts. The goons silence him at once, gagging him.
“Please, Gaston,” she begs, becoming tearful. “Please.”
“You actually have feelings for this pathetic excuse for a prince? The man who let you be taken away without even a fight? That’s no man; that’s a monster!” Belle is furious now. “He’s not the monster, Gaston. You are!” She breaks free of his grip. Gaston doesn’t try to get her back, but goes straight for the Prince, taking an axe from one of his goons and lifting it high over his head as if to swing it down upon the Prince’s neck.
Belle rushes forward. “No, please!” Gaston stops, a self-satisfied smirk forming as he realizes he has won at last. “I’ll marry you, Gaston, if you promise you’ll spare his life.” Gaston: “I knew you could be reasonable…”
Ping! The axe flies from Gaston’s hand. A horde of castle servants, led by Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts, has entered the wedding area, armed with a variety of slapdash weapons. A zany fight ensues like in the original movie, with butts getting scissored, people chased with cleavers, others getting hit in the head by teacups, etc. Remember this guy?
This time, he ends up wearing the wedding cake like a dress.
The gang manages to free the Prince, but during the fracas, Gaston gets a hold of Belle. “It’s over!” shouts Gaston, victorious. “Belle is mine!”
“How about an exchange?” the prince offers, holding up a struggling LeFou by the collar. “Belle for…this guy.” LeFou glares at him.
Gaston howls in laughter at this. “LeFou? He’s just a short, weaseling little brown-noser anyway. Any one of these oafs could easily take his place.” At this, LeFou is offended that Gaston would so easily discard him, as are Gaston’s few remaining goons.
The goons, infuriated by Gaston’s attitude toward them, begin to turn on him with LeFou leading the charge with an angry kick to Gaston’s shin. In the meantime, Belle escapes into the Prince’s waiting arms as the villagers come with pitchforks and clubs to join the fray. They come not to Gaston’s aid, however, but fight against him. These are the people he blackmailed and threatened all in the efforts to win Belle’s hand. The times are changing. Gaston’s no longer everyone’s favorite guy, and they’re no longer awed and inspired by him, but ready for payback.
Belle, the Prince and the castle folk all make a hasty exit. “Wait,” Belle says, suddenly. “What about my father?” “He’s safe,” assures the Prince, and he explains everything. Back at the castle, Belle is reunited with her father. The prince offers to finance all of his inventions and give them anything they need, even a new place to live. For the first time, he is actually more concerned with someone else’s happiness than his own. “And what if I want to live here?” asks Belle. The prince smiles. “Then you can stay here for as long as you’d like.”
“How about forever?” They kiss.
Cue ballroom scene and “Beauty and the Beast” reprise.
I’m a fan of ‘what-ifs’, so to this what-if story, I had to ask myself, “What now?” What happens to Belle and Prince Adam? I wrote a backstory for him to explain why this prince was all alone even before he would be cursed into a beast (something I’ve always wondered). There had to be a reason, and that would have to be that he was selfish. For a prince, that’s just not going to be tolerated. But, now that Belle and her prince are living happily ever after and the prince is no longer spoiled and selfish, would he ever see his family again? Would it be Belle who prodded her husband into making amends with his family? Would his change in attitude excuse his choice of his new wife? Would they welcome Belle into their family, or shun her for being so provincial? Would they be happy to see their son married and content, or still be fuming about his botched arranged marriage? Or would Belle and Adam start a new life together, content to live in their castle in the woods, or would they start a new adventure in the great, wide somewhere? I leave those questions to you.
Stay tuned for future installments of Disney without Magic!
After the credits (and the obligatory Disney logo), there’s a rousing chorus of “My What A Guy, LeFou” in honor of the man who freed the town from the now-hated Gaston.
I’m not sure what the villagers did to Gaston; no falling off a tower for him this time. Maybe they forced him out of town. Maybe LeFou punches Gaston for saying stupid things now, or made Gaston into his errand boy, or throws chairs on top of him for a change. One thing’s for sure, a Disney movie’s probably not going to show any fate that is too gruesome, though there is a lot more space for mounting heads on the wall of the hunting lodge… I’ll leave that up to your imaginations.
Update: Photoshopped pictures are a little more consistent between elements. It’s been bugging me for a while, but starting with low-res pics means crap results. Whatever.