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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Beauty and the Beast based off Wizard of Oz characters

Normally, this blog is only about rides, shows, attractions, and theme parks in Orlando, and NOT about Disney movies. But I'm making an exception today.

I made a discovery this week: the characters in Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) come pretty much directly from the characters in Wizard of Oz (1939).

Consider:


  • Belle wears a Dorothy-inspired outfit at the start of the movie, with similar colors. She shares the same hair and eye color as Dorothy (though not quite the hairstyle; one pigtail instead of two). And she's even carrying a similar basket.
Image copyright Disney, downloaded from http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/disney-princess/forum/post/36385/134/disney-princess-picture-hunt-game

Image copyright MGM; downloaded from http://mix949.com/judy-garlands-dress-from-wizard-of-oz-up-for-auction/


  • The Beast is given a haircut before his ballroom dancing date with Belle, and made to look feminized. But the specific nature of those mane-curls, plus the ribbon on top, REALLY makes him look like the Cowardly Lion. This is one connection I have seen written about on the Internet before, so this part at least has been somewhat widely noticed.
Image copyright Disney; downloaded from http://findingmickey.squarespace.com/disney-animated-features/beauty-and-the-beast/8338487
Image copyright MGM; downloaded from http://www.imdb.com/media/rm846889984/ch0004330

  • The comparison with the Cowardly Lion makes more sense the longer you think about it. The Beast lacks the courage to tell Belle that he's in love with her, and even admits he's afraid at one point. 
  • If you think about it, Dorothy's other companions do line up with Belle's other companions, though a bit less directly. Cogsworth is very much associated with mechanical qualities in the movie (he's always dropping sprockets and springs), so he's a natural fit for the Tin Woodsman, who is also mechanical. They don't look alike necessarily, but they fulfill similar functions. The Woodsman lacks a heart, remember, and what do we hear Lumiere tell Cogsworth when Maurice first appears? "Have a heart!" Given the other connections, this really does not seem like a coincidence!
  • It's especially not a coincidence when you realize Lumiere can be lined up with Dorothy's last companion, the Scarecrow. They don't particularly look like each other either, but it kind of makes sense that Lumiere lacks a brain. After all, he thinks he with a different body part (let's just say he follows instincts rather than rational considerations). But there's a visual connection after all: both characters are associated with fire.

Image copyright MGM; downloaded from http://familyhalloweenmovies.blogspot.com/2010/10/movie-21-wizard-of-oz-1939.html

It's a little less clear where to take the comparisons for the remaining characters. Is there a Toto equivalent? Certainly Beauty and the Beast has an enchanted dog in the castle (he appears as a foot stool). Or it could be the teacup Chip, who hangs out with our Dorothy (Belle) at key points in the movie and is clearly on her side.

Is there a wizard? Possibly this is Gaston. Both the wizard and Gaston are associated with self-importance, and the wizard is something of a villain figure, at least initially. But the comparison isn't perfect, for Gaston is way more villainous than the wizard, who turns out to be quite benign and even friendly by the end.

The Wizard of Oz was ultimately a movie about looking inward to your psyche and conquering your fears. Both of those statements can also be applied to Beauty and the Beast, where we are encouraged to look to the inside (beyond the surface "beauty") and to get over our fears of "the other" (both the Beast and Belle are positioned as outside society, and the rampaging mob sings about wanting to destroy otherness it doesn't understand). These thematic connections are probably why the movie creators provided the parallels in the first place; they could get the audience to make subconscious connections to the older movie, and channel their emotions toward similar drama and similar outcomes.

Wizard of Oz is also about there being no place like home, and this part doesn't have a direct connection to Beauty and the Beast. Unless you make the argument that the Beast's castle is not just his home, it's also Belle's (new) home. Since the movie sets up so many parallels to Wizard of Oz, that implies the ending with Belle moving in is akin to Dorothy Gale coming home. So for Belle, too, there is no place like her (new) home.

Of course, it remains to tie together this Wizard of Oz connection with the OTHER meaning of the "Beauty and the Beast" story, which goes back to the text versions of the fairy tale and long before Disney: namely, that the moral and message to young girls was to get over their fears of the wedding night (when the new husband will be a "beast") and they will learn to love their husbands in time. But maybe I'll leave that one for you to discuss here in the comments!

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Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.