Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast on Film

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast (Film versions): When anyone mentions the tale “Beauty and the Beast,” I immediately think of the Disney film. And is it any wonder? Colorful and brimming over with catchy tunes and whimsical characters, it’s a delight for the eyes and ears.

There are other film adaptations, of course, Beastly being the most recent. Fifteen minutes into it, I walked out. The word for the film is inane. Poor acting and vacuous dialogue dominated. The main character didn’t match the title description at all; he just looked like he’d been taken unawares by a tattoo artist obsessed with plant roots and computer chip designs. The director obviously thought he didn’t look that bad, either: one scene showed the shirtless hero working out his abs. Anyway, after that scene and hearing the characters discuss for the third time whether it would rain tomorrow or not, I had had enough. I also watched another film adaptation when I was about seven that featured a man in a creepy hairy costume.

But I digress.

The first half hour of the Disney version introduces us to Belle, the beautiful and independent intellectual who yearns for excitement in her mundane life. She almost verges on whininess. It’s understandable: there’s no one there she can relate to, excepting maybe the book-shop owner. But when – thanks to her father’s lack of common sense in travel plans – she finds herself in a magical castle inhabited by cheerful furniture and a fearsome beast, Belle throws herself on the bed and mopes.

Belle, you’ve got adventure. So stop whining.

She does eventually take my advice and finds the Beast is a kindred spirit. And you can’t help but like a person (or creature, I should say) who owns a library the size of a football field or two.

A note on the beast’s character: he is emotionally vulnerable, parallel with the original story. When faced with the prospect of life without her, he loses all interest in it. Belle, on the other hand, balances her relationships. She cares most for her father, and we get the sense she could live without the Beast and still have a fulfilling life.

Throughout the tale, Lumière and Cogsworth, the film’s secondary characters, provide laughs and excellent entertainment, especially during the film’s highlight song, “Be Our Guest.” Just thinking about this scene makes me happy. The entire soundtrack is flawless, but this is my favorite. Next in line would be “Gaston.” He may be sexist, ignorant and arrogant, but does he have a voice! And a swell cleft in his chin.

The film has its dark side nearing the end, as most Disney films do: Gaston’s plot to force Belle to marry him, the march to Beast’s castle, and finally the fight between the two. But (overlooking the transformed Beast’s rather effeminate appearance) everything ends perfectly and the main characters live happily ever after.

This is, without a doubt, Disney’s best animated film.

Liz on Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s animated classic:

I think the phrase “animated classic” describe the movie quite well. It’s animated, and it’s…well…classic. The story, with its independent heroine and non-love-at-first-site romance, is unlike the other Disney animations. The musical score is fantastic (I still love to sing the songs), and the secondary characters Mrs. Potts, Chip, Cogsworth, and Lumiere are so entertaining themselves I don’t mind when the story takes us away from Belle and Beast.

As strange as it may sound, one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prologue. There’s something about the narrator’s voice and the music (which reminds me of Saint-Saens’s “The Aquarium”) that is enchanting. Sometimes, when I need a break, I’ll watch the prologue and the first song. Speaking of the first song, I want to read the book Belle is given. It sounds like a fun adventure/romance story.

I was cleaning out my closest at home a while back and found my Beauty and the Beast coloring book. One of the few pictures colored in it was that of Belle in the field of dandelions. Even as a kid I connected with Belle’s yearning for adventure and her desire to be understood.

As I was writing this post, I had to stop and ask myself why, when I watch the movie, I cheer for the Beast, instead of Gaston, to win Belle’s heart. After all, both the Beast and Gaston are arrogant and not always cordial to those around them. Perhaps, it’s because of the hint of the outcome in the title, or compassion for Beast’s suffering, or perhaps it’s that Beast is set up to change and Gaston is not. It’s interesting how we are directed to consider characters in a certain way.

Since Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies, I was very excited to buy it on DVD recently. Only, I wish they had not added in the “Human Again” scene to the new special edition; there was a reason it was left out of the original release—it’s not as good as the other scenes.

What do you love or dislike about the film versions of Beauty and the Beast?


Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast

First off, I feel I should let you know (I just discovered this a few years ago) that Disney did not invent the story behind their animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The movie is based on the classic French tale La Belle et La Bete. Granted, they changed it considerably, but they did not invent it any more than they invented Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, though they did an excellent job of presenting those stories visually. If you knew this, I apologize for being patronizing, but many people don’t know it, so I decided to mention it.

Since Jaz and I usually discuss the written story on one day and the movie versions on another, we’ll talk about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast later this week and the written stories today.

Beauty and the Beast: The story

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast:

When I was a little girl, I dreamed Belle married Gaston. I was Belle, of course, and as we both stepped into the wedding coach, I looked back and saw the Beast standing there, shoulders slumped and with the most sorrowful expression in his blue eyes. Remorse – or was it guilt? – flooded me for an instant. Then I laughed at him and settled into the coach.

Gaston’s character is only present in the Disney movie version, but what if she HAD married some other guy for his looks and rank? So many other fairy tale heroines did the same. No matter which version of Beauty and the Beast you read (and countless exist), one thing remains unchanged: Belle falls in love with the Beast – in spite of his repulsive exterior – over time as she learns more of his character. It’s what sets Belle apart; every other girl fell in love at first sight or kiss.

As for the father, I was never too fond of him. Growing up, I was taught never to pick someone else’s flowers without their express permission. And yet there he is, an older male, wandering into a stranger’s garden and picking the MOST BEAUTIFUL ROSE IN THERE. If I were the owner, I’d be angry too. And then to save his own skin (in some versions, anyway), he lets his daughter go live with a seemingly ferocious beast. Forever.

Of course, the Beast could have shown a little more kindness. But imagine what state you’d be in if you were transformed into a hideous creature and then cooped up in a spell-bound castle for decades. And then some stranger tramps into your garden and mangles your prized rose bushes. It’d be enough to turn anyone into a needy, demanding monster with anger management issues.

In spite of (or perhaps I should say because of) these character flaws, Belle ends up having it all: the handsome prince, her family, all the riches her selfless soul never desired, and – the best part – a garden full of roses she can pick whenever she wants.

So maybe it is a good idea to pick flowers from strangers’ gardens after all …

Note: If you’re looking for a handy website with different versions of the story, this is a good one: www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0425c.html

Liz on Beauty and the Beast:

I hate to reference Wikipedia, but they have a detailed article on Beauty and the Beast covering the different story versions, plays, and movies. It and the website Jaz mentioned are good places to start if you’re interested in learning more about the story. A translation of the most well-known version of the classic La Belle et La Bete  tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont is available here.  This story is essentially a fairy tale for governesses to tell their young female charges to encourage them to consider a man’s virtue and amiable temperament above his wit and physical attractiveness. It’s an entertaining story with a good lesson, but the main reason I like it is because of the longer adaptations it has spawned.

Beauty by Robin McKinely is an excellent retelling of the classic story. A merchant loses his fortune and moves with his three daughters to a small village in the mountains. He loses his way a business trip and finds himself at a castle inhabited by invisible servants who take care of his every need. He picks a rose for Belle as he leaves and is accosted by an angry Beast. Beast demands the man stay there forever or send his daughter to stay in exchange for stealing the rose. Belle insists on going and, of course, gradually and unwilling falls in love with Beast. As part of his curse, Beast must ask her to marry him every evening. With no Gaston character to cause trouble, Belle’s growing difficultly in refusing the evening proposals supplies a good bit of the romantic tension.

The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson: I just read this book and loved it! It is set in Medieval Europe. The daughter of a once wealthy merchant is forced, due to her family’s debts, to become a servant to Lord Ranulf, a temperamental man with a maimed arm, many scars—emotional and physical—and only one eye. He frightens Annabel as first, but she soon comes to admire him because he treats his servants fairly, he protects her from the lecherous man her brother tried to force her to marry, and he lets her read his Bible—a rare treasure in those days. The story’s not so much about Annabel overcoming her aversion to Lord Ranulf’s looks but about him overcoming his distrust of beautiful women and his fear that he could never be loved because of his scars.

Why do you think Beauty and the Beast is such a popular story? Is it because of the surprise happy ending? Or the fresh feel of a tale that’s not about a beautiful girl and a handsome guy? Or because—like Pride and Prejudice­—it’s about two people who had no intention of falling in love?