The Beautiful and the Beastly — Nostalgic Cinema

Rose Sammut

If you’re like me, you may’ve recently seen the remake of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ — or at least have heard or seen something about it somewhere. Also if you’re like me, you’re a university student stuck somewhere in between wanting to pack up all your shit never to spend another night at your parents’ house and pretend that you never turned twenty. Personally, to paint a pretty cocky picture of myself, the head in the sand philosophy actually hasn’t turned out too badly for me. But as I tick on and watch my teens take their first steps in the rear view mirror, I’m becoming more and more uncomfortably aware that it’s not a strategy that’s going to work forever.

So as I sat in the cinema and watched the good guys beat the bad guys and the heroine get everything she’d ever dreamed of, I felt totally transported. For a brief, beautiful minute, I forgot about every anxiety, every care, every need, and just let myself believe in magic again. But then all at once it was over. I found myself wishing I could turn around and go back in. But I couldn’t and instead I thought about why real life seemed so much more real afterwards. That’s the power of cinema but more than that, it’s the inescapable power of Disney. There’s something captivating about nostalgic films that manage to take you back and remind you what it’s like to be a kid again. Explaining why, Variety described people aged 26-35 to make up 21% of the audience demographic at the opening weekend of Beauty and the Beast – which made an explosive 170 million USD box office on it’s opening weekend alone.

Unsurprising when you consider (for those of us raised on Disney) the impact these films have on who we are, and who we aim to be. The characters we’re showcased with are relatable and aspirational. Belle is intelligent but ferocious, kind but determined, and she knows that she’s destined for something greater than being someone’s “little wife”. Belle teaches us that not fitting in isn’t exactly a bad thing. She is a character that taught a generation of little girls that it was ok to be smart, it was ok to say no, and that they should always stand up for themselves and the people they love.

This is how Disney has continued to build the towering, formidable empire that they are today, and maintain its hold on our hearts. Not only do we shape our worldviews on these films when we’re children, but we return to them in times of crisis when we’re older. We cling to these tiny little tangible pieces of the past, gorging ourselves on the bittersweet, almost-taste of childhood like we’re never going to taste it again – because we aren’t.

So who can blame anyone, really, for hoping to disappear for a minute into a world where the most evil people in our lives were the characters we saw on the screen? Nostalgic film is a taste of something solid at a time when we are neither here nor there in life and unsure about what we are, who we are and where we’re going. At times like this, we hope that things can still be as simple as good and evil and we indulge ourselves in nostalgic escapism. In the end, whether or not you think Disney is cashing in on our childhoods or commodifying it there is no way to deny that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing a damn good job of it.