A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time, and fell in love with Belle. It was easy back then, she was kind, smart, and she LIKED BOOKS. I cannot underscore how important the last point was to the fact that I fell in love with her. She liked books. A Disney Princess. I liked books. And it was okay to like them, because she did.
Then, Belle was introduced in Once Upon A Time. I was both excited and apprehensive. She was, after all, my fave. My expectations were high. Too high, maybe. Because this version of Belle, for all her good traits, was, quite frankly, a disappointment.
In a way, that’s on me, not on Belle.
Belle French has always been, first and foremost, a strong woman. A woman capable of tremendous sacrifice in the name of those she loves, but also a woman who will not be cowed, or ordered around. A smart woman, with an opinion, who always, always knew how to do the best thing for herself, and who was never afraid to fight for her own happiness.
My definition of strength: loving without losing yourself.
And yet, the more I saw of this version of what was once my favorite character, the more I was convinced that Belle had stayed in the animated version of my childhood. This Belle was blind. This Belle put love above self. This Belle was weak.
Time has given me a bit of perspective.
I still don’t love Belle, don’t get me wrong. She has a long way to go if she wants to reclaim the title of favorite. I think the writers have, in the interest of propping up Rumplestiltskin’s storyline, been unfair to Belle, the strong woman. For too long she has reacted, instead of acted. She’s done things for him, instead of for herself. But, in a way, even for that, I can find things to be thankful.
You don’t believe me? How about this?
I’m thankful for Emilie de Ravin, because she’s all the good parts of Belle, and none of the bad ones. She’s kind and beautiful and she really, really believes in the character she’s playing, which is the most important thing you can do, as an actor.
But, and as strange as it sounds for someone who’s been more critical of Belle than anything else, I’m also thankful for her. I’m thankful because in her, the Once Upon A Time writers have shown me how not to be.
But I’m also thankful to Belle for being kind, and always seeing the good in others. This is a rare and valuable lesson and we could all take a page out of her book. Sure, life sucks sometimes. People suck sometimes. We can expect good things and be disappointed, over and over again. But we can also, sometimes, expect good things and have our expectations met. And is it worth it …always expecting the worst? Is living life like everyone is going to disappoint you or hurt you the right way to live?
I’m thankful for her strength, even when it wavers. I know before I might have implied that Belle wasn’t strong, but that is not wholly so. She is strong, as that wonderful scene where she finally banished Rumple out of Storybrooke proves it. She just choses the path of kindness and love, again, and again, even when that choice is in her detriment. And in a way, that’s a kind of strength. It’s just not the most common one.
Should she change? I don’t know. I don’t think you can live your life expecting the best one hundred percent of the time, just as you can’t live your life expecting the worst. If you want to be happy, you have to find a balance. And that’s what Belle needs, that’s what, in a way, we’re all looking for.
But, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the fact that she’s not perfect. Heroines in movies and TV often are. Belle isn’t. She loves fiercely, and she trusts too much, and she forgives too easily, but that’s okay. She can learn. We all can.
Most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that, come hell or high water, Belle keeps trying. Even when quitting might be the sanest idea, even when everyone else has given up. She keeps trying to do right, by herself, and others. And no, she really doesn’t have it all together yet, but that’s okay. She’s not going to give up.
Once Upon A Time returns to ABC Sunday March 6th, at 8/7c.