Introduction – Perfection vs. True Love
After having written a very long but successful essay on Hey Arnold!, with the show's history, my personal connection to it, and the relationship between Arnold and Helga, I got to thinking of what else I could do. As I thought even more, I realized that Arnold's relationships with Helga and Lila reminded me very much of the plot Beauty and the Beast, even though a major difference is that Hey Arnold! features kids while Beauty and the Beast centers on adults.
In Beauty and the Beast, the film's heroine Belle seeks true love, and has a choice between the Beast, a horrific monster, and Gaston, her town's so-called hero. Any girl from her village would very likely choose Gaston over the Beast since Gaston much better, at least in his looks. While he may be handsome, Gaston's inner nature is definitely that of a narcissist and conceited villain, not someone of true love. The Beast may not be the best-looking individual, but there is more to him than just an ugly appearance. Inside, there is a lonely prince who also seeks true love and wants to be loved in return.
Arnold, the hero of the show, also seeks true love, and has a choice between the two most important girls in his life: Lila, his crush, and Helga, his bully nemesis. One girl will lead him to a long and happy life of love, while the other will lead him to a life of boredom and regret. Lila and Helga are pretty much polar opposites of each other, and this especially can be seen in the episode "Arnold Visits Arnie," where Arnold dreams that he visits his antithesis cousin Arnie and sees that Arnie's friends are the exact antitheses of his own friends, including Lila and Helga. Lila is pretty and nice while Helga is ugly and mean (on the outside, at least). Lila may look and act good on the outside, but that doesn't instantly mean that she is the perfect girl for Arnold. Helga may be an almost exact antithesis of Lila, but there is more to her than just a mean bully. She is in love with Arnold and wants only to be loved by him.
Beauty and the Beast is regarded as one of the greatest animated films ever made, and is taglined as "The most beautiful love story ever told." I would say that I agree on this because it teaches an important lesson and moral about love: it's not what's on the outside, but what's inside that is most important. It also shows that one should never be fooled by others based on appearances or judge them for that matter. Just because someone may be good-looking on the outside doesn't mean they are the perfect person. One should never be deceived by appearances, especially for people who are ugly on the outside, because true beauty is found within.
Arnold and Belle – The Protagonists
Arnold is the main character of Hey Arnold!, and while he is only nine years old, he has many good qualities for a boy his age, including high levels of patience, understanding, wisdom, and compassion. As a peacemaker who is always willing to help and give advice to people in need, he is known for his optimistic and confident behavior, always tries to see the best in people, and to do the right thing. He is seen by many, if not by all of his friends and peers, as the nicest boy in school, and the one girl who pines for him would probably go as far as saying he is cute despite his unusual appearance, which includes his football-shaped head and spikey blonde hair that sticks up in all directions. Arnold could be described as the boy every girl wants, but he has had little to no luck with girl throughout the series. He first had a crush on a sixth-grader named Ruth, who he really only liked because she was beautiful and he enjoyed admiring her from afar. But when he finally got the chance to talk to her, he discovered that she was very shallow and not very bright, and his crush quickly ended after that. While he also had more minor crushes, Lila was his most intense crush, lasting for two seasons. His bad luck with girls usually happens because he only likes them for their pretty looks, and doesn't take time to think about deeper and more important things. While he did appreciate aspects of Lila's personality, his unrequited crush on her is why he eventually stopped pursuing her.
Belle is a young woman who lives in the French countryside with her father, an inventor. She's a lovely free-thinker who likes to read and go on adventures using her own imagination. She is not shy and is not afraid to speak her mind or stand up to people, especially in tight situations, though she can be slightly hesitant when nervous. She is very compassionate and takes care of those in need. She can be stubborn, but in a good way as she always tries to protect people she truly loves. She's also very patient towards others. An avid dreamer and a lover of fantasy and adventure, Belle is very creative, bright, and clever. Her personality, especially her love for stories, excitement, and knowledge, are why the townspeople find her to be eccentric for a woman of her time. Belle also does not care about appearances, whether they refer to herself or anyone else. This is highly ironic of her, since she is seen as the most beautiful woman in her village, and even her name is French for "beautiful."
Even though they are different sexes in their stories, Arnold and Belle are very much alike. Besides being the lead characters in their respective stories, both are very imaginative and avid dreamers, are kind and patient towards others, and are sometimes seen as unusual, although Arnold has friends in his home city while Belle does not have friends in her village. (On the side, both characters have similar eye colors, though Arnold's eyes are green and Belle's appear to be more hazel.) While Belle is viewed as odd for her love of reading and adventure and for her smart and excitable nature, Arnold is seen as odd because of his high level of maturity for his age, his reputation as a Saint-like do-gooder, and his oblong-shaped head. A big difference between them is Arnold develops crushes for one of the easiest reasons: he thinks of how pretty and/or nice a girl is and doesn't think about what's more important, while Belle does not care about appearances of people, especially when she thinks about what to look for in a relationship with a man.
Lila and Gaston – The Undesired Person
Lila Sawyer becomes the object of Arnold's affections in "Arnold & Lila," after Helga writes a message on a wall saying Arnold loves Lila, even though she was erasing her own name. Arnold didn't initially have a crush on Lila, but realized that he did at the end of the episode, when he thinks back on everything they did together. When they hung out, Lila thought she liked him back, but later realized she only liked him as a friend. Until "Timberly Loves Arnold," Arnold spends two seasons with a crush on Lila and routinely fails to get her to like like him in return. Lila makes herself out to be the perfect girl and is liked by almost by every boy besides Arnold for the shallowest and easiest reasons: she's nice, pretty, kind, smart, sweet, and easy to be with. Arnold and Lila also have quite a lot in common, so he can't understand why she doesn't reciprocate his feelings. All she tells him is that "you're not that 'oh so special someone' I'm looking for." The major difference in Arnold and Lila's relationship is that Lila ignores the problems in her life and other bad factors in the world, seeing everything through rose-colored glasses and having illusions that all is perfect. But Arnold is more realistic in that sense, and as optimistic and confident as he is, he has no views that the world is perfect and always tries to overcome the obstacles and problems that head in his direction, no matter how tough they may be. Arnold and Lila are too similar and too different all at the same time, especially since they have differences that don't make them go hand-in-hand, which is why they would never work as a couple.
Gaston is a hunter who is the most-admired man in the village and everyone views him as their town hero. But it seems that Belle and no one else can see Gaston for who he truly is beyond that handsome and muscular exterior: a small and shallow-minded, rude, boorish, cross, selfish, conceited, barbaric, narcissist, sexist, chauvinistic, vain, and arrogant lunkhead. Gaston believes he is the best man in the town; therefore, he believes he must marry the best woman. Although he is desired by every woman in the village, he only has eyes on the very woman who shuns him: Belle. He wants to marry her simply because of her beautiful appearance, which makes her the best in his eyes. But he also wants to make Belle a trophy wife and marry her just so he can brag about it and for her to give him sons that he can mold to be just like him. He does not truly care for Belle in terms of her personality. He looks down on her intelligence, independence, and curiosity, believing that a woman should only live to honor her husband, cook and clean the house, and care for the children, not be able to read books, learn about the world, or be free-thinkers. Gaston obviously does not want to marry Belle for reasons beyond her beauty, and Belle is more realistic than the other women in her village because she can see his true nature past his handsome appearance, and knows that she and Gaston have nothing in common and will never work as a couple.
In "Arnold Visits Arnie," we meet Lulu, the girlfriend of Arnie, who is meant to be Lila's antithesis. While Arnold and Lulu's first meeting starts off well, it soon becomes clear that she is not as nice as she seems. She is a symbol of wickedness and acts very trampy for her age because she constantly harasses Arnold in ways that make him uncomfortable. Her acts include tickling his stomach, snuggling up to him, playing footsies with him, and trying to kiss him. These acts put him at an instant repulsion, showing that he would choose true love over a casual fling like any decent boy would. When he tells Lulu that he doesn't like what she's doing, she says, "But I can't help it, Arnold. I like you like you." The overall point is to show the viewers that Lila is not the girl for our hero, so his subconscious created someone who is her exact antithesis, and that is Lulu. As Lila and Arnold would not work out, Lulu helps to show that point, since she and Arnold would never work, either.
A similar setup is done at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast: while Belle and Gaston's meeting also starts off well, he makes sexist remarks, saying that "It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking." This makes Belle recoil from him and she goes home, leaving him disappointed. While she admits to her father that Gaston is handsome, she says he is also rude and conceited, and that he's not for her. The next day, Gaston organizes a surprise wedding outside Belle's house with the whole town attending, without her prior knowledge. He impulsively proposes to her and traps her against her door. When he tries to kiss her, she says she doesn't deserve him, then opens the door, causing him to fall into a mud puddle. This angers and humiliates him in front of the townspeople and he walks off, sulking. But he tells his sidekick, LeFou, that he hasn't given up and will make Belle his wife, no matter what. Belle becomes even more repulsed by Gaston after his absurd proposal, and she has already made up her mind that Gaston is not her true love; therefore, she will never change her mind about him or accept any more advances by him.
If one compared the setup of Hey Arnold! to Beauty and the Beast, one may ask how Lila can pair up with Gaston since she's a nice person and he's not. With Lila, what you see is what you get, but it isn't that way with Gaston. But an important point in how they match up is that they are very popular and well-liked by almost everyone around them (Lila at her school and Gaston in the village) and they have good-looking external appearances: Lila is pretty and Gaston is handsome, and this is the primary reason as to why people of their opposite sexes like them, and they don't seem to think about what they are like beyond their good looks. Arnold is only a kid, so it's not really his fault that he doesn't realize there has to be stronger reasons for liking a girl, and that his reasons for liking Lila romantically were very shallow. Arnold only knows subconsciously, from "Arnold Visits Arnie," that Lila is not the girl for him, but by "Timberly Loves Arnold," his crush on her finally ends and he knows consciously that she is not the girl for him. As for Belle, she never liked Gaston at all and did not feel attracted to him just because he was good-looking. She knows that Gaston is not the man for her because he does not appreciate her for who she is. Lila and Gaston can also match up with an aspect of their personalities: Lila is nice, sweet, and pretty, but she is also very bland and simple. She almost always shows the same emotions of happiness and eagerness, and when she does express other emotions, she does not display the emotions correctly because she always uses an element of niceness (such as how she expresses her disappointment in Arnold in "Timberly Loves Arnold"). Gaston is handsome, but he has the heart of a pig because of his self-centered behavior, and on some level, he also displays the same (negative) emotions, though on different levels and at different times. The irony of the situations is that Arnold, our hero, pursues Lila, although she does not like him romantically in return, and Gaston pursues Belle, our heroine, who does not want to marry Gaston, even though Gaston does not care for Belle romantically.
Helga and the Beast – True Love
Helga G. Pataki is a mean and nasty bully. Or is she? She is rough, tough, gruff, hot-headed, rude, impatient, easily angered, and insecure, not to mention she is considered ugly, or at least unattractive, especially by other girls. She acts hostile and aggressive to protect herself from being teased and emotionally hurt, and especially to hide the fact that she is love with Arnold, a secret she keeps from almost everyone she knows, including Arnold himself. She has a lot of insecurities and bitterness because she has a crummy home life in which her family rarely pays attention to her, especially her loud, blowhard father, who has almost no regard for her whatsoever. Despite her home situation, Helga is actually a very kind and caring person, and no one would ever expect for her to have a nicer side. Her romantic feelings for Arnold are the result of transference, meaning that she puts so much emotional energy into Arnold since her family hardly notices her, and she does so because he was really the first person in her life to notice her and show her any sort of kindness. But because she is mean to him and has a bad reputation as the school bully, Helga is convinced that Arnold will never see past her rough, tough exterior or even love her in return.
The Beast is really a young prince who is under a spell. He had everything he ever wanted, and as a result, he was selfish, spoiled, and unkind. One Christmas night, when he is a boy, the prince's kindness is put to the test when an old beggar woman comes to his castle seeking shelter and offers him a rose as a gift. He turns her away because of her hideous appearance, but she then reveals her true form: a beautiful and powerful enchantress. Seeing her beauty and realizing her power, the prince tries to apologize, but she turns him into a beast-like creature as punishment for his cold and heartless behavior. Ashamed and embarrassed by his monstrous appearance, the Beast hides away in his castle, often in the West Wing. It is there that he keeps an enchanted rose, which is the same rose that was offered by the enchantress in her disguise. If he could learn to love a woman and be loved by her in return before the last petal fell off of the rose, the spell would be broken and he would regain his human form. If he was not able to fall in love before this time, the transformation would be permanent. As the years passed, he grows insecure, angry, depressed, and loses all hope because he is convinced that no woman could ever love a hideous beast.
Most if not all of the things that describe Helga can be said about the Beast, especially their ugly exteriors and hot tempers. (Interestingly enough, Helga and the Beast both have blue eyes, not much different from the similarity of Arnold and Belle's eye colors.) They are also very insecure individuals who only want to be loved and want to love, not to mention they are overlooked and judged by others based on their outside behaviors and appearances, making people believe that those traits make them who they truly are. They make people believe that they represent the expression "what you see is what you get," but they really represent "there's more to it than meets the eye." Helga actually has a romantic, poetic, and passionate interior, which never comes out unless she is alone. Later in the dream in "Arnold Visits Arnie," Arnold meets Hilda, a kind, poetic, and romantic girl, who is meant to be Helga's antithesis in Arnold's mind, but she is really Helga when she's not in bully mode. Arnold falls in love with her on first sight. This shows that somewhere in his subconscious, Arnold knows that this is Helga's true self and that he sees her as someone who is worthy of his love and affection. He believes that Helga is a good person behind her rough exterior and does appreciate her for who she is (and part of this is shown in the end when he hugs her!). Arnold is very good-looking (despite the looks of his head and hair), but Helga loves him for reasons beyond that. He represents many of the good things in the world and she sees him as the best person she's ever known because of his good qualities. Plus, he never stops caring for her and helping her, even when she goes overboard with her aggressive nature. (And in spite of their complicated relationship, it seems that there was always something special between Arnold and Helga, just like in the film's one song "Something There," when Belle and the Beast realize their growing attraction to each other.) Helga cares more about Arnold than herself, which is especially evident during the times that she is seen helping Arnold, including when she gives up her own material gain. In Hey Arnold!: The Movie, when he discovers that she was secretly helping him save their neighborhood, he asks her why she did it, and she confesses that she did it because she loves him.
With the Beast, he initially acts like a spoiled child and very immature, even though he is at the age of a young adult. When he first meets Belle, he becomes attracted to her boldness and bravery when she offers to take her father's place as his prisoner, and is moved by her affection towards her father. She is frightened by his hideous appearance, but is not willing to quickly judge him because of that. The Beast believes that Belle could be the one to break the spell, but he tries too hard with his anger and stubborn nature to try and win her affections. Because of how he is treating her, Belle initially says, "I don't want to get to know him. I don't want to have anything to do with him." He views this through his magic mirror and is convinced now more than ever that the spell will never be broken, and that Belle will never see him as anything but a monster. But as time passes, the Beast forms a bond with Belle, and he is very grateful to her when she treats his wounds after he saves her from wolves. Overtime, with her help, he becomes more mature, behaving and dressing like a gentleman, and falling madly in love with Belle, but it is because he sees her for more than a beautiful face and appreciates her for who she is. Belle also gradually warms up to him because of how he's being nice to her and coming out of his shell. Eventually, she is no longer afraid of him and can see the heart of gold that is forming deep beneath his monstrous form. He also learns to take her feelings into account before his own, especially when he releases her so she can find her missing father. When one of his servants asks why he did that, he simply says, "Because…I love her."
Lila/Gaston vs. Helga/The Beast
While there are more similarities between Helga and the Beast than there are between Lila and Gaston, there is competition between these characters of their respective stories because they are pursued or are pursuing the protagonists. Gaston pursues Belle, but for the wrong reasons, while Beast also pursues Belle, and she initially shuns him, but then gradually warms up to him, seeing that he is not a monster and realizing that he has a heart of gold underneath his hideous facade. Since Arnold is the male character, he is the one who does the pursuing of girls/women. So in his world, he pursues Lila, but also for the wrong reasons, while Lila does not reciprocate his feelings. He does not pursue Helga at all, namely because she hides her true feelings from him, making him think she is not interested in him. Because she is insecure and believes Arnold could never love her back, especially at the point when Arnold is chasing after Lila, Helga does not even bother trying to chase after Arnold, except in "Helga's Masquerade," when she thinks that acting like Lila is the key to making Arnold like her. While it doesn't immediately win him over, she realizes she is halfway to making him hers when she overhears him tell Lila that he likes her (Helga) when she's nice.
Helga actually behaves a lot more like Gaston than the Beast when it comes to her relationships with Arnold and Lila because she is extremely jealous of Lila for having Arnold's affections, even though Lila has them when she doesn't want them. As a result, the two of them do not get along well from Helga's point of view. Helga becomes very jealous of any other girl she sees with Arnold and always does everything in her power to keep those girls away from Arnold, including in "Love and Cheese," when she followed Arnold and Lila to the Cheese Festival to cause mishaps, which only brought the two even closer. Likewise, Gaston becomes extremely jealous when he discovers that Belle has fallen for the Beast and not him, and grows even angrier when Belle defends the Beast against Gaston and calls him the true monster. He then decides to kill the Beast at all costs, not because he believes he is a monster, but because the Beast is his way of getting Belle. However, while Lila has Arnold's affections up to a certain point, she would never stand in Helga's way of getting Arnold. (Helga reveals her secret to Lila in "School Play," so she knows that Arnold is important to Helga.) At the point in the movie when Gaston and the Beast quarrel in the castle, Gaston says, "It's over, Beast! Belle is MINE!" This makes the Beast angry and he overpowers Gaston, then grabs him by the throat and prepares to kill him. However, when Gaston pathetically begs for his life and claims that he will do anything, the Beast is reminded of how Belle was willing to do anything for her father. Because of Belle, he realizes he no longer has the heart to kill anyone, and so he reluctantly spares Gaston and tells him to leave.
Conclusion – Happily Ever After
By the end of Beauty and the Beast, Belle comes back to the castle and climbs to the West Wing balcony where she finds the Beast after his struggle with Gaston. He climbs up to her and they hold hands, and while they embrace, Gaston suddenly appears from behind and stabs the Beast. But then he loses his balance and falls to his death, removing him from the picture for good. Thought Belle saves the Beast before he can fall, he dies from his injuries. Belle is heartbroken and confesses that she loves him just as the last petal falls from the rose. This causes the spell to break and the Beast is brought back to life in his human form, as do all of his servants, especially after him and Belle kiss. Like many other fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast ended happily because Belle was able to look past the Beast's exterior and into his heart of gold, where she found the man of her dreams.
In Hey Arnold!, Lila was finally out of the picture when Arnold's crush on her ended in "Timberly Loves Arnold," and series creator Craig Bartlett said he wanted this to happen in order to make more room for Arnold's relationship with Helga by the release of the films. Unfortunately, the show ended abruptly as it was supposed to conclude with the unproduced second film, The Jungle Movie. In it, Arnold would have finally reciprocated Helga's feelings and realized they were meant for each other. But Bartlett himself said that Arnold and Helga are meant for each other and would end up together in the long run. So while it was not seen, this series would have also had a happy fairy tale ending for our hero because he would have looked further beyond Helga's rough exterior and into her interior more carefully. And in doing so, he would have finally found the girl of his dreams.