Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages


After Jean Cocteau’s strange and beautiful surrealistic film of Beauty and the Beast, the fairy tale never lost its attraction, and became one tale in a series called Shirley Temple’s Storybook. Hosted by the former child star, the stories were perfect fare for children. On January 12, 1958, a straightforward version of Beauty and the Beast was broadcast, crediting the following for the story: Andrew Lang and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont for the tale and Joseph Schrank for its adaptation. I saw this version and was impressed only by the Beast, portrayed by Charlton Heston. This consummate actor could do almost anything with his actor’s highly developed voice, and made the Beast’s voice low, masterful, and powerful. The Beast “growled out” his words.

In films, Walt Disney made an animated version of the story in 1991. Like everyone else who saw it, I was enchanted by the delight of the experience. Inanimate things like teapots were now animated, and the dialogue voiced by some of the best actors in the business. When the curse was lifted from the Beast’s castle, the animated objects went back to their original voiceless form. The music and dancing was, of course, beautiful.

Getting the Beast’s head right is important each time the story is acted or animated. What should he look like? The Beast in Cocteau’s movie has a near-indescribable head. Animal yes. Human? It’s all in the eyes of the audience in the theater. Glen Keane, the supervising animator on the Disney animated Beast film, “created his own hybrid beast by combining the mane of a lion, the beard and head structure of a buffalo, the tusks and the nose bridge of a wild boar, the heavily muscled brow of a gorilla, the legs and tail of a wolf, and the big and bulky body of a bear. He also has blue eyes, the one attribute that does not change whether he is a beast or a human.(IMDb).” The head of the 2017 Beast is different and quite fantastic. “His horns curve back and point slightly outward. His tail is that of a lion. The new Beast’s face is more human-like while the original’s was more animalistic and could have his jaw come out to form a wolf-like snout.(IMDb).

In both the animated version and the present version of the fairy tale, Belle is presented as a bright, pert girl who struggles her way through her experience and wins in the end. She has a mind of her own. The woman’s role in the story has been updated reflecting changes in western culture as to the role of women. Further, both the Beast and Belle are literate. They are both readers.

Finally, IMDb tells us that “Originally, the [2017] film was going to be more faithful to the original French fairy tale, which features a darker and more sinister theme; however, when Alan Menken and Howard Ashman joined the production, this idea was dropped.”

The next appearance of Beauty and the Beast came in 1987, and this time, it was indeed a “darker and more sinister” version of the ancient story. Part 5 of this discussion of Beauty and the Beast will be devoted to the CBS series of the fairy tale.


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