I’ve seen a lot of criticism for Beauty and the Beast–the fairytale, the Cocteau version, but especially Disney’s version–asserting that the transformation of the Beast into a human prince is a disappointment and that it undermines the moral of the story.
I’ve seen critics decry this ending as just a return to the safe status quo of socially acceptable romance. Why should Belle be happy, they argue, that her lover goes from an extraordinary creature to an ordinary, boring handsome guy?
But I honestly take umbrage with this argument, mostly because I feel like it phenomenally misses the point.
First of all, the transformation at the end isn’t Belle’s fairy-tale reward for loving a monster. At the story’s climax, all she wants is for her boyfriend not to die. Disney’s Belle pleads, “Please don’t leave me” before confessing her love. At no point does she ask or expect him to become human, let alone good-looking, again. (In fact, I would argue that ‘91 Belle wasn’t even aware that was a possibility. She might have suspected he was really human, but she didn’t know for sure.)
No, the transformation is the Beast’s reward. In the Beaumont/Villeneuve version, the prince was unjustly cursed by a cruel and predatory fairy, and therefore an innocent victim all along, so it would be pretty horrible to make him suffer the rest of his life. Disney’s Beast is punished for his selfishness and lack of empathy, and during the course of the film, learns to love someone selflessly.
Becoming human again, then, is a powerful metaphor for the transformative power of love and acceptance. Do I think they could have been happy together even if he’d never changed back? Absolutely. (Hell, I’m writing that AU myself.) But it’s not wrong of the prince to want to rejoin society again–or to at least have the option.
Now let’s also address the second part of this criticism: that in becoming human, the Beast becomes boring and no longer desirable. Again, I think this is fundamentally missing the point. Belle doesn’t fall for the Beast because she’s attracted to the “dangerous” or whatever nonsense these darkfic writers want to assert. If that were the case, that’s not profound, that’s really just as superficial as falling for someone because they’re conventionally attractive.
Even the Villeneuve/Beaumont version is about seeing past the superficial trappings of romance (charm, wit, sex appeal) and loving someone for their heart and soul. She doesn’t love him because he’s a beast, but because of the person he really is underneath.
Going back to Disney’s version, Belle starts to like him because of his kind and gentle nature, and even states this outright. That’s not going away just because his appearance has changed, so why should she be disappointed? Either way, he’s still the man she loves, and that’s what matters.