HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 26, 2017 – 12:00am
I watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with my sister five days ago. Right after I watched it, I posted this reaction on social media: “Just saw Beauty and the Beast. EVERYTHING about it is superlatively wonderful. Magical in all aspects. Music is beyond beautiful.”
I watched it again two days later, again with my sister, but this time I brought my granddaughter who enjoyed it immensely. I am excited to watch it a third time.
As a child, I was introduced to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen who wrote these stories centuries ago. I read their fairy tales with great fascination. But, as expected, I pretty much outgrew them when I got older. They were for children and I had grown up and I started reading more adult literary stuff. But when I had my own kids, I bought children’s books and got them interested in these same stories.
It was later in my life when I discovered the writer Joseph Campbell that my interest in myths and tales came back in full force. Campbell, one of my favorite writers, says that these types of stories are found in many cultures, and he predicts that their popularity will remain with humankind for a long time because they speak of universal experience and truth.
“Myths are popular because they are true,” he writes, though not in the literal sense. They speak in symbols and must be appreciated as such. They are connotative rather than denotative, meaning they are not to be taken literally. Unlike its opposite, there is nothing magical about literal stories. Their meaning is static. They are dead ends. Campbell likes to say that “literalism kills.” On the other hand, the symbolic opens you up to greater mystery. And therein lies its power.
Take “Cinderella.” Campbell says that similar stories exist in China and many other countries. When you reduce the story to its essentials, it is about a young woman who is finding her place in the world. And where does she find it? In the arms of a man.
Hollywood made movies like Pretty Woman and My Fair Lady. Basically, these are stories about women who ultimately find meaning and validation in life when it is bestowed upon them by the opposite sex. Through the approval of men, they find their rightful place in society.
In this age of emerging equality among the sexes, it can be shocking to read something like this. The point is, male dominance has been the norm for centuries and such mythical narratives have been passed on through generations. But not anymore.
Lately, Hollywood has told stories to reflect the new emerging values. The movie Maleficent, a new interpretation of “Sleeping Beauty,” is one such story. Instead of waking up from a kiss by a prince, Sleeping Beauty awakens to true love’s kiss from a female mother figure!
A fairy tale I find fascinating is “The Frog Prince.” It starts off with a princess who loses a golden ball in a pond. She tries to retrieve it but she is unable to. Soon, a frog shows up and offers to give the ball back to her. But in exchange, she must take him home and she must eat with him at the same table, and sleep beside him. Without thinking, the princess says yes, gets her ball back and goes home to the castle.
At dinner with her father, the king, they hear a knocking on the door. The king asks his daughter, the princess, if she invited someone over. The princess hesitates to answer but finally admits that she did. The king insists that she must keep her word.
And that is where her misery begins. She cannot stand being with the hideous frog day and night. But her misery only ends when she kisses the frog and it turns into a prince.
Campbell says that the gem behind this story is the truth that life is indeed horrendous, like living day and night with a detestable frog. It only gets better when you accept how terrible life is. Only then can you begin to be happy and see life’s blessings. And that is what exactly happens to the princess when she kisses the frog.
The new Beauty and the Beast portrays Belle as a beautiful woman with brains — a reader, and a strong, brave character by no means anything like the typical helpless damsel Belle used to be. She has been refashioned as a new, more modern archetype. The modern attributes added to the character of Belle make the film resonate with contemporary viewers.
The lessons in the story about seeing, appreciating and loving a person beyond physical appearances and putting a higher value on internal virtues, have not changed. The challenge of finding “true love” will always be with us. This is why this tale is, as the song goes, indeed, “as old as time.”
Take time to watch Disney’s new version of this classic, and you’ll not only be dazzled by the music and visual effects, you’ll be moved by the truth of this love story.