Metaphorically watching Beauty and the Beast


There has been much talk lately of Howard having written Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for AIDS.  This is just plain not true.  Howard wasn’t writing an allegory for his illness.  Kill the Beast was about a moment in a movie, not about seeing himself or anyone else outside the film's world as an outcast.  You may see a metaphor for AIDS in Beauty and the Beast, that is the viewer's preogative.  But don't ascribe it to the author.

Howard did not define himself as a person with AIDS.  He did not obsess about being a person with AIDS.  In fact, working on Beauty while he was sick was the thing that took him out of his illness and its indignities and into his favored world of creativity and play.  Howard was an artist and a craftsman.  He loved a well-formed story line, a well-phrased lyric, a well-developed character.  It went against his nature to use a movie as a personal statement.

Howard was greatly influential in the Disney film.  He wrote all the lyrics for the songs, he guided much of the story development, he decided that the Beast’s servants should be people under a spell, he fretted and stormed and wheedled and creatively carved out all sorts of moments in that movie.  He had much to be proud of.  However, Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast.  She gives Howard a great deal of credit for mentoring her, but credit where due, she wrote the screenplay.

Now, it is the right of all consumers of art (that’s us) to put whatever spin we want into any film, painting or song.  And I’m not for a moment denying that Howard’s illness may have informed a large part of his world view.  But he didn’t see this movie, or any of his other creations as a metaphor for an illness.

In fact, the one song Howard wrote about AIDS was straightforward, no metaphor needed.  It’s called Sheridan Square and I hope you’ll give it a listen.

Other than that, enjoy Beauty and the Beast in all its incarnations.  I haven’t seen the live action film yet (I will next week) but I am really looking forward to it.  Read into the animated film/theater piece/live action film anything you’d like.  But do it, please, with the full knowledge that the metaphors you might see belong to you and no one else.

Because sometimes, as the poets never said, a rose is just a rose.