Unless you have been living under a rock, I am sure you are all aware that this past weekend marked the release of Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast.
Otherwise known as my favorite movie of all time with a protagonist that I relate to on a seriously deep and scary level.
That said, I decided to explore the classic fairytale’s inception and how the story has changed over the years.
Early Beginnings – 1700s
The earliest version of the classic story (published in 1740) is said to be written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and was influenced by other tales including Cupid and Psyche, The Golden Ass and The Pig King – all which include a half-animal type creature wooing a young maiden. It was also said to be influenced by Petrus Gonsalvus (pictured the right), a man who was born in Spain with hypertrichosis.
In Villenueve’s original fairy tale, a father asks his three daughters what he can bring them from his travels, and his youngest, Beauty, asks for a seemingly simple request: a rose. But in a twist of fate while stealing a rose from a castle in the forest, her father is imprisoned, and Beauty selflessly trades herself for her father’s freedom.
Beauty mopes around the castle and falls in love with a prince in hidden paintings. So while the Beast attempts to convince her to marry him, she refuses, claiming love for the prince of her dreams.
Eventually, her homesickness grows too strong, and she is allowed to visit home. The Beast gives her a magical ring that will bring her back or he will die. But Beauty’s sisters are jealous of the riches she was given by the Beast and they trick her into staying home. When she wakes, she rushes back to the Beast, admits her love, and he transforms into the Prince she dreamed of.
The novel was over one-hundred pages long with several subplots, an extremely savage and stupid Beast, and issues surrounding women’s marital rights in the 18th century.
A simplified version was adapted by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was published in 1756 and holds the story we are most familiar with today. The biggest change was Beauty’s transition from true princess to simple merchant’s daughter. That Beauty was a working class girl able to tame an aristocratic beast reflects the vast social upheavals and decline of monarchy occurring in the decades before the French Revolution.
The Brothers Grimm – 1812
Being a classically French story, these German brothers wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. So they found their own version: The Singing, Springing Lark.
It starts much the same with a father asking his three daughters what he can bring them back from his travels. But this time, the youngest asks for a lark. The father again comes across a splendid castle and catches the bird, but a lion leaps forth to refuse him and demands his daughter as payment. Little does she know, he is an enchanted prince.
From there, the story changes pretty drastically, but I think it’s clear where the Brothers Grimm found their inspiration.
La Belle et la Bete – 1946
In the first half of the 20th century, the Nazis were the foremost in story retelling, but the “happily ever after” of the maiden and the beast were too much for their Aryan ideals. So they left Beauty and the Beast alone. Thanks goodness.
Four months after Hitler’s men surrendered, Jean Cocteau directed the first film version of the tale starring Josette Day as Belle (the first time this name is used) and Jean Marais as the Beast.
Cocteau’s film sticks rather closely to Beaumont’s original version but with three large additions: an enchanted candelabra, a magic glove that will transport her wherever she wishes, and Avenant – Belle’s primary suitor who is shot with an arrow by a status of the Roman goddess Diana.
The story is getting more and more interesting…
Enter Walt Disney – 1991
After a groundbreaking rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a lackluster version of Sleeping Beauty, Disney’s company began to flounder in the wake of its founder’s death.
Luckily Jeffrey Katzenberg, Howard Ashman, and Alan Menken brought it back to life with The Little Mermaid.
And Beauty and the Beast was soon to follow.
In this rendition, Ashman focused on simplicity – this was after all a movie for children – and the concept of redemption. “The Beast is the guy with the problem,” he said. “He’s got to redeem himself by the movie’s end.”
While always a strong presence in the story, the rose got new meaning: a symbolic representative at the Beast’s chance at redemption. But would Belle return his love in time?
As always, the Disney adaptation enhanced the actual magic of the story with talking furniture, an enchantress, Belle’s transition from docile to spunky, and the addition of love-to-hate character, Gaston.
A Best Picture nomination, hit Broadway musical and an Oscar for Best Original Song later, the movie became an insta-classic.
The Live-Action Remake – 2017
Because no one can get enough of these fairytales, Disney is slowly but surely remaking all of its old favorites.
And with the announcement of Emma Watson as Belle (who also played Hermione – combining my two favorite literary loves), everyone was on board.
The film succeeded in being a truly authentic revamp of the original, following along almost word-for-word and with changes only adding to the story. It even addresses and solves some of the animated version’s biggest plot holes like the fate of Belle’s mother, the wonky timeline of the Beast’s transformation, and how the hell she got him on that horse after the wolf attack.
It’s been almost three hundred years since the inception of the heartwarming tale, and it’s clear from this film’s success that it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
A new generation, a new re-telling… Beauty and the Beast is truly a tale as old as time.