115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hard Bodies and Hungry Beasts in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and Beauty and the Beast

Elizabeth Reimer, Thompson Rivers University

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and Beauty and the Beast explore contemporary interpretations of masculinity and food. Ostensibly enlightened and barbarous male appetites are depicted through contrasts drawn between rival male characters’ approaches to food and between male and female consumption. Hegemonic masculine appetites evoke horror and comedy and frame romance as a process of transformative domestication.

Proposal: 

In “Eating Like a ‘Man’: Food and the Performance and Regulation of Masculinities,” Meredith Nash and Michelle Phillipov note the dearth of “nuanced answer[s] to a seemingly simple question: What does it mean to eat like a ‘man’?” (205). Indeed, it is crucial to add men’s experiences of eating to the vast body of research on women’s relationships to food, since issues about “[w]ho cooks, who eats, what types of foods are eaten . . . are closely linked to the institutions and social structures through which gendered meaning, power and identities are constructed and negotiated” (Nash and Phillipov 205) for both men and women. This paper will investigate the ways Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog explore contemporary attitudes towards food and power in scenes illustrating barbarous and enlightened male appetites.

In Beauty and the Beast, the toxic masculinity of Gaston’s appetites is contrasted to the Beast’s transforming masculine identity. Gaston is lauded by his sidekick, Lefou, and his community for being a beast- and a lady-killer: “the greatest hunter in the whole world.” His pride in his own brutish prowess forms a clear contrast to the Beast’s growing desire for a respectful, non-violent relationship with Belle. The seat of hospitality, the dining room of his French castle, is one stage where Beast learns to negotiate his bestial urges; noticing Beast’s embarrassment in his bestial feeding position, Belle invites him to imitate her by lifting his porridge bowl to his lips, a compromise Beast readily accepts. The nature of his conversion is made clearer in the new live-action Disney film, where we get two versions of this scene. In the first, Beast’s raises his face from a large tureen covered in a dripping red liquid that clearly resembles blood. In the second scene this suggestion of his bestiality is dissipated by his and Belle’s gentle slurping of a tomato soup that resolves the tension of the earlier bloodiness; Beast’s ingestion of vegetables here forms a clear contrast to Gaston’s epic carnivorousness. Certain aspects of this scene are repeated in a romantic, domestic moment in Naveen and Tiana’s relationship in The Princess and the Frog. While making bayou gumbo, Tiana teaches Prince Naveen pro-social approaches and attitudes to romance by insisting he help prepare food rather than expect to be waited on hand and foot. This scene attempts to correct Naveen’s oafish hedonism as well as Tiana’s extreme self-denial of her own appetites for food and pleasure. Naveen’s assumptions of privilege are also contrasted to the trials of another working-class character, Lawrence, Naveen’s embittered retainer. Whereas Tiana emerges triumphant, Lawrence becomes the butt of various jokes as he, through the dark magic of Shadow Man, apes Naveen and proposes to Lottie. We are invited to laugh as Lawrence’s large rear end and primal monkey face burst through the skin of Naveen’s fit, athletic torso. In a reversal of gender expectations, Lawrence’s pathetically fails while Tiana, in many ways, manages to adopt the conventionally masculine “hard body” that Susan Bordo locates in the working class movie heroes and heroines who “master[] the body . . . as a clear symbol of successful upward aspiration” (196). As in Beauty and the Beast, gendered food consumption is portrayed through the horror, comedy, and romance that these films suggest resides in the power and powerlessness of masculine appetites.