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.


Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages


In 1946, Jean Cocteau filmed La Belle et la bête in France. Cocteau, 1889 to 1903, was a Renaissance man who worked in almost every genre of artistic expression: he was a poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, film writer, director, painter, and sculptor. Best known as a writer, he associated with many of the most creative people of his time. Particularly important for our discussion, he often adapted myths and legends in his work. His screenplay was based on the old Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale. His work can be identified by his use of surrealism, which tried to find a reality above the surface or within the surface of what the reader or film-goer is seeing. Cocteau and other surrealists tried to suspend the discipline of conscious or logical reason, aesthetics, or morality in order to allow for the expression of subconscious thought and feeling” (Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Third Edition.)

The terms “Fairy Tale” and “Folk Tale” are often confused. As defined in The Harper Handbook to Literature, Second Edition, a fairy tale is written or created, “a story of dire trials and rescue by witches, ogres, fairies, and other magical beings.” The Folk Story, on the other hand, was an oral folk story forming part of the folklore of a community, generally less serious than the stores called myths. In preliterate societies, virtually all narratives were either myths or folktales: oral histories of real wars, kings, heroes, great families, and the like accumulating large amounts of legendary material.”

Roger Ebert, the late film critic, said of Cocteau’s film of the fairy tale that “It is the most magical of all films. . . alive with trick shots and astonishing effects, giving us a Beast who is lonely like a man and is misunderstood as an animal.” The tone of the film, and the film is very surrealistic, is “established in haunting images, and bold Freudian images to suggest emotions in the subconscious of his characters.” The Beast’s castle is a strange, confusing place. When I watched some of the film recently, my impression of the castle is that of a dream (or a nightmare.) The heroine, Beauty, wanders through it haphazardly, sheer draperies blowing out, muscular arms without bodies holding lighting fixtures, the Beast appearing and disappearing, statues that are alive, and music, sometimes dissonant and moody, accompanying what is playing on the screen.

If you would like to read Ebert’s review of December 26, 1999, “Beauty and the Beast,” you will learn more about the surrealistic touches in the film, and then if you want to enter Cocteau’s dream world, you’ll be prepared. Ebert remarks that “Cocteau wanted to make a poem, wanted to appeal through images rather than words…” Although the story of Beauty and the Beast was old and familiar, “its surface seems to be masking deeper and more disturbing currents.” This is obviously one version of the story not meant for children.


Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages


Today we go a little farther into the story of the beautiful and dutiful young girl and the ugly Beast. Last time I included the second version of the tale which is longer and more detailed. One of my readers loved the story and found it be indeed charming. Another reader thought it somehow familiar and he had seen it before. Even so, he enjoyed reading it again.

Picking up on the appearance of Beauty and the Beast in books over the years, we discover the famous Andrew Lang who put together the Blue Fairy Book of 1889, in which he included Beauty and the Beast. The Jeanne Leprince de Beaumont and Lang versions were widely reprinted. Here is a link to Lang’s book in which you can listen to more than thirty tales including Beauty and the Beast. I think you’ll enjoy this link:

If you read the book version of last time or listen to this second link. you will find that these stories have an obvious moral in them. That is one important reason why they were composed. Our story presented an enchanted castle, a ferocious Beast who frightened both a kind father and his beloved daughter who would do anything to save her father, and magical happenings. What better way to learn what it was to be a good person than reading a story like this? The motif of a good girl who goes through a frightening experience and then falls in love with a Beast who turns out not to be a monster even though he looks that way, and then is redeemed for his sins and turned back into the handsome prince he was before, was certainly an enjoyable way of teaching children to look below the surface before judging people by the way they look. And there is much more in these tales which are meant to be instructive.

Next time, I’ll talk a little about literature as opposed to folklore and then we’ll go on to Beauty and Beast in films.

Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages

This morning I’m writing a literary post here that focuses on my appreciation of the very old fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast.” The lush new cinematic version has recently appeared and I’m sure theater-goers are rushing to see it. But I happened to know that the story can be traced back of Greek mythology and has made numerous appearances all over the world, including reprints of the original story in English (the best coming from the University of Pittsburgh), new versions of the story, and even an opera. In the next blog, I’ll be writing about some of those versions, and I hope my readers will be inspired to not only read the material contained in my links but also go to see the new Disney movie with a fuller appreciation of the tale.

Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve is credited with her original story published in 1740. It was included in book entitled La Jeune americaine, et les contes marins. The story is the length of a novel and written in the prevailing style of novels of that time. After she died, her story was rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756. Beaumont’s Magasin des enfants was intended to instruct young girls in moral lessons. Since she gave no credit to Villeneuve, it’s often assumed that Beaumont is the first author of the tale.

Let’s stop here for a treat for everyone who loves fairy tales. Click on this link and up will come the very famous English version from the University of Pittsburgh. Thank you UP for the tale and Wikipedia for the above information.

Please go to

Tomorrow I’ll continue with more about the tale and its later versions, including one of my favorites, the television series set in New York City featuring another Beast, this time named Vincent.