Study Guide

Beauty and the Beast Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Belle's ordinary world is so bland she gets an entire song about it (and the first one out of the gate to boot). "Every morning just the same / since the morning that we came / to this poor provincial town," she informs us, and her brief guided tour of the local nitwits confirms it. This is not the place for a bright, imaginative girl to discover new things. This is the place where creative souls go to die.

Time to put on your boogie shoes, Belle.

Call to Adventure

The traditional call to adventure means a threat to the community as a whole. Belle doesn't belong to this community—she's just the weird girl they talk about behind her back. They never really encounter a threat. At least, nothing that they didn't bring upon themselves by listening to Gaston's chowderhead propaganda. And yet, there's still a community in need of help that launches her into her adventure: a community of one. Her father, who stumbled into the Beast's lair and now finds himself prisoner, needs his little girl to come bail him out. The price may just be the best thing that's ever happened to her…

Another possible community is the one at the castle: the Beast and his enchanted underlings who are getting pretty darn tired of life as talking knickknacks. They're the adventure she's setting out to as well as the home she's hoping to save. Holy role reversal, Batman.

Refusal of the Call

Refuse? Belle? Clearly you did not see the sheep she had to hang out with in the opening number (and not just the four-footed ones). Show this girl a magical castle, and she can't get there fast enough. The only other concern for her is her father, and in this case, refusing the call would mean refusing to help him. So off she goes, jumping in with both feet and ready to sign up for a permanent playdate with the WolfLion of Doom up in that castle.

Meeting the Mentor

Belle doesn't strictly have a mentor, not in the Gandalf/Dumbledore kind of way. Her "mentors" are more like her friends: the enchanted doodads in the castle, who give her the 411 on what it's all about in the Beast's high-end pad. She gets plenty of good advice from them, some of which she ignores like a good Campbellian hero does. Together, they more or less fulfill the same duties that a mentor does. They just do it from their positions as buddies, and even servants, rather than teachers or elders.

Crossing the Threshold

Technically, crossing the threshold comes with Belle's arrival at the castle, when she leaves the known world behind and enters the land of adventure. The irony is that the castle will ultimately be more of a home to her than the village ever was, though that's not apparent to her when she first enters the castle and agrees to become the Beast's prisoner. For her, the land of adventure is exactly where she wants to be, and crossing the threshold is the first part of understanding that.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

The tests in Beauty and the Beast are emotional tests. Belle and the Beast have to learn to trust each other, then respect each other, then like each other before they can love each other. Their trials are supposed to convey that. While some of those trials involve danger—the battle with the wolves in the woods, for instance—they're the garnish rather than the main course. Enemies are incidental at this stage; Gaston is saving his nasty surprise for the very end. But, our two heroes have plenty of allies in the enchanted castle to help them out as best they can.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

The inmost cave, in this case, is the Beast's realization that he loves Belle and vice versa, which neither can get to until the other one is in trouble. The approach is the big dance number in the ballroom, where they waltz to the dulcet tunes of Mrs. Potts before the Beast finally lets her go. They're aware of the presence of their feelings but not yet what those feelings will do in the movie's finale.

Ordeal

The ordeal in Beauty and the Beast actually encompasses a number of other steps. It starts with the Beast letting Belle go, and his sad realization that truly loving her means sending her away from him forever (or, at least, so he thinks). It ends with the curse being broken and the Beast transforming back to his natural human form of a golden-haired underwear model.

In between, of course, we get the ordeal, which here takes both a physical and emotional form. In physical terms, it's Gaston's attack on the castle, intended to kill the Beast and leave Belle without anyone else to turn to. But, it's also emotional, as the Beast realizes that letting Belle go means he'll never see her again and yet does it anyway. Belle, for her part, returns the favor by riding to the Beast just after the attack on the castle and blaming herself for the way the whole finale goes down.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Here's where things get tricky, as they usually do. Belle's reward is being reunited with her father, the last member of her circle left out in the cold (quite literally). But, it's also being reunited with the Beast, which is what provides the final step to lifting the curse from him. So, technically speaking, neither of them gets the reward until after the danger is past, and since that won't happen for another couple of steps, the reward itself is less important than the emotional connection that it gives Belle and the Beast.

The Road Back

Funny that the road back leads Belle away from the village—which isn't her home anymore and probably never was—and back to the castle, the place most in need of her help. The clock's ticking on that magic road, and the local yahoos are getting a little assertive about breaking the furniture. The road "back" seems to have led Belle exactly where she needed to go.

Resurrection

Resurrection, in this case, is something quite literal since the Beast does, in fact, die just before Belle confesses her love. Luckily, she gets in those three magic words just before the rose dies, too…and with those words, the Beast springs back to life as Hunky McGoldenhair. Love is requited, death is turned back, and that gloomy old castle is about to get a frilly white makeover.

Return With the Elixir

When the gravy train comes, everybody rides, and as Belle's love breaks the curse over the Beast, everyone in the castle morphs back into their human selves. (Without aging, either, since Chip is still a boy of 8 after 10 years spent as a tea cup.) The castle turns into a giant meringue pie, and even the rain shuffles off grumbling in favor of brilliant sunshine. We'd say Belle's pretty much done her job…and the community she saved turned out to be the one she never thought of as home.

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