Sunday I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in Russian. While the play was lovely, included fascinatingly elaborate props, sets, and costumes, and was understandable because I knew the story, I still have mixed feelings about seeing a Disney production in Moscow. While I am daily hit over the head with the idea that the a globalized world basically means American culture has saturated everything (McDonalds, Starbucks, Pepsi, Coca-Cola), and am also occasionally comforted by this idea, sometimes I’m a little unsettled by it. I still haven’t put my finger on exactly why.
With Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the only thing that was Russian about it was the language, the actors, and the location (in Moscow). Other than that this play could have been performed anywhere! It stayed almost too true to the Disney original. The songs were the same, only in Russian, the story was exactly the same, and the “Happily ever after” ending was about as unRussian as it gets. Not to say that Russian fairytales never end with happily ever after, because I have read many that do, but the path to happily ever after is never as simple as Disney has made it. Additionally, the audience was never exposed to Gaston’s comeupins, so his only consequence for being a jerk is that he doesn’t get the girl. The only moral we are given is something like be true to yourself, be beautiful and overwhelmingly kind and you will be happy.
From what I can deduce from the Russian fairytales I have read, the moral is never that simple. Most Russian fairytales are about being strong, proving yourself, and maybe somehow making it to a happy ending … if there is a beast involved, he already has the girl and someone ends up killing the beast and taking her from him – I haven’t found a story that makes you sympathize with the beast. I have yet to figure out what these types of morals say about Russian culture. American fairytales emphasize the importance of beauty (in the end … the ugly duckling did become a swan) and the idea that good will win. They emphasize the idea that we should be happy with our lot in life or do something to make it better. Russian fairytales are hardly ever this basic or straightforward. Perhaps, the meanings have been lost in translation, but sometimes the lazy man, who just lets life happen and gets lucky wins (“At the Pike’s Behest”).
In Russian fairytales hard work is not always rewarded, and self-reliance may be rewarded, but no matter who you are in a Russian fairytale, you will face trials and things might not turn out wonderfully. You never know if the lady you help is a wise woman or a witch, if the firebird you steal will help or hinder you, if you should ask for help or refuse it. One choice will make you miserable and the other will make you happy. In this way, Russian fairytales seem pretty fatalistic – you have no idea what will come across your path or what the right action is, but your best bet is to refrain from envy of others.