There are seven things you need to know about the fairytale entitled ‘Beauty and The Beast’:
- It is Disney’s 30th animated classic from the canon.
After the controversy of The Rescuers Down Under being pulled from the screens early (including its marketing), Disney needed a hit. Although there have normally been significant gaps between Disney releasing fairytale films (13 years, 9 years, and a whopping 30 years), the release gap between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast is a mere two years!
2. It is the third animated film in the Disney Renaissance period.
This era spans from 1989 to 1999 during which Walt Disney Feature Animation (renamed Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006) experienced a creative resurgence in producing successful animated films based on well-known stories, which restored public and critical interest in The Walt Disney Company as a whole.
During this era, the studio produced and released ten animated films: The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999).
3. Beauty and the Beast originates from the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and later abridged, rewritten, and published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in the 18th century.
According to research, variants of the tale have been around for at least 4000 years. Like The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney attempted to adapt Beauty and the Beast during the Golden Age and again during the Restoration (Romantic) era. We imagine that there was a struggle to adapt this ‘beast’ because when it comes down to it, most of the fairytale consists of the unlikely pair having dinner together, the beast proposes, the beauty says no, rinse and repeat, until the end – hardly the most scintillating plot for a film. There was also fear of having to compete with the French 1946 Jean Cocteau version – perceived by many as the definitive adaptation of the fairy-tale.
4. Beauty and the Beast is actually ancient tales interwoven altogether and have traveled across cultures and languages. Along the way, the tellers put their own little twists on the tale.
It was influenced by some earlier stories, such as Cupid and Psyche, written by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensi in The Golden Ass in the 2nd century AD, and The Pig King, an Italian fairytale published by Giovanni Francesco Straparola in The Facetious Nights of Straparola.
Cupid and Psyche, written in the 2nd century, is not only the oldest known version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, but it is considered one of the oldest recorded example of the fairy tale.
Psyche is the youngest of three princesses. She is so beautiful the Venus, the goddess of beauty, becomes jealous. Psyche is unable to find a husband, and it is prophesied that she must go to a mountain to wed a monster. When Psyche arrives at the mountain, she finds food and drink that magically appear in a deserted palace, but she is otherwise alone. Her husband comes to her only at night, and only in cover of darkness.
Psyche eventually becomes lonely, and her husband agrees to allow her sisters to come and visit her. The sisters tell Psyche to light a lamp in the night, so that she can steal a glimpse of her husband. Psyche, overcome with curiosity, does what her sisters have advised. The light of the lamp reveals none other than Cupid, the son of Venus. A drop of oil from the lamp falls onto Cupid, and he wakes, furious.
Cupid leaps out the window and flies away, and Psyche sets out to search for him. She undergoes many trials at the hand of the bitter Venus, even venturing all the way to the Underworld, but eventually Cupid forgives her and the lovers are reunited. The gods then transform Psyche into an immortal, so that the two will never again be parted.
5. There are tons of stories that preceded the “Disney” plot.
The youngest daughter asks for a flower, when the father tries to get it he is in some way forced to agree to give his daughter to the beast. After several pleasant days with the beast, the daughter thinks he is dead, and her love/reaction transforms him into his true princely state.
Depending on which version you read, there are variations in:
- what the daughters ask for/whether they ask for anything
- whether the daughter volunteers/goes willingly or if the beast must come take her
- whether the daughter just finds the beast dead/dying and declares her love, whether she has to prove it through some disturbing action (e.g., chopping off his head) — or if just getting the daughter to agree to marriage (without the extra drama) is enough to break the curse.
Additional plot elements you’ll see/not see:
- The “rash promise” — the father doesn’t agree to give his daughter, but promises to give the beast the first thing that greets him (assuming it’ll be his dog)
- The broken promise — sometimes the daughter just finds the beast dead/dying for no particular reason, but sometimes it is after she returns home (for a visit/to help her dying father) and is delayed in returning at the agreed upon time
- The jealous sisters — who see the rich lifestyle and try to delay the daughter from returning, or who see the transformed handsome prince and kill/try to harm the daughter (and are punished, of course)
6. There is a Russian Version called: The Enchanted Tsarevich
The Enchanted Tsarévich is said to be Sergey Aksakov’s version. See below for the different animated versions:
The most interesting part is how the plot narrative has to shift to make a good story, once we’ve changed the point of view. It becomes a story about how the beast gets himself into/and out of trouble on his own merits.
- We get some fun backstory about how the “beast” got to be in this condition. And, since he’s the hero here, it’s not a silly “some chick cursed me, there was nothing I could do” tale — but it’s a deal with a devil that is a deliberate, carefully calculated gamble.
- The conflict in the story is centered around the beast working to stay courageous and stay generous/good-hearted, despite outward appearances.Which makes you realize that (despite being a handsome princes) most other beast-variants kind of come across as demanding, manipulative jerks, if you look closely.
- The love story, rather than necessary for breaking the curse, is an incidental prize that the beast wins after proving himself.
7. And finally, there’s also an Italian Version entitled Zelinda and The Monster
Zelinda and the Monster stands apart from the other stories in its ending. Although Zelinda agrees to marry the monster, who transforms into a prince, the ending of this tale is not fully “happily ever after.” This story never reveals whether her father’s health is restored. In a related vein, this story is the only one in which the young woman is coerced into marriage, through the father’s illness. In both Beauty and the Beast and The Enchanted Tsarevich, the young woman recognizes her love of the monster, and eagerly agrees to marriage. Zelinda, on the other hand, agrees only when her father’s life is in peril.
Older versions obviously does not include a third party aggressor (Gaston).
And there were no massive libraries like this.
But it’s all good because Disney’s Beast, in his human form, is really gorgeous.
There are lots of stories, novels, film adaptations all inspired by versions of the Beauty and the Beast.
A live-action film, as we speak now, is on its way in March 2017 (two years after Cinderella), starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Josh Gad as Lefou.
While many of the ancient fairy and folk tales fall out of fashion, Beauty and the Beast, with its many universal themes, not to mention poetic beauty, has become a perennial classic, and is likely to stay that way for years to come.
Enjoy your week!