A Retrospective of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Tales
This October, the CW network will premiere Beauty and the Beast, a fantasy / romance / police procedural series that is a remake of the show that ran from 1987 to 1990 on CBS. It stars Kristen Kreuk as Catherine Chandler, the beauty, and Jay Ryan as Vincent Kellar, the “beast.” I put “beast” in quotes because, from promotional materials, the only thing that appears to be beastly about him is that he has a scar and sometimes yellow eyes. Perhaps the beast part is only on the inside, in which case the show looks an awful lot like another Twilight riff.
In the centuries since the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale first was told, there have been countless versions of the story. All of them involve, in some way or another, a young, beautiful woman who encounters a man transfigured into some horrific form. She must learn to love him for what’s on the inside, and in doing so, returns him to his original, handsome self. In observation of yet another re-imagining, let’s look back on a few of the more notable ones.
The Original Story
Some fairy tales originate as folklore, with no definitively known “first” telling, and different variations seen across multiple cultures. We know where Beauty and the Beast came from, though. The story was published in 1740 by French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve as a critique of marriage practices. It’s a feminist parable, featuring a beast who is inhuman both inside and out and must be tamed by the beauty. It also features many different subplots that further explore its themes. The much simpler, better-known version is an abridged adaptation by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont, from 1756. Mme. Leprince de Beaumont pared off the subplots and made the beast a good, respectable person on the inside, shifting the message of the story to be about not judging people based on appearances.
La Belle et la Bete (1946)
Revered French director Jean Cocteau directed this film adaptation of the story, released in 1946. Featuring groundbreaking makeup and special effects work, the film fully embraces the “just-so” nature of fairy tale plots. A man is sentenced to death for plucking a rose, and that’s that. A moving statue fires arrows that turn men into beasts, and people roll with it. The film evokes a heavily mystical atmosphere that is totally in its favor. It’s dreamlike and painterly in style, and lovely to behold.
Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990)
The basis of the new CW show. A dark urban fantasy, the series takes place in a New York with a “World Above” and “World Below.” The bridge between these two worlds is the relationship between Catherine (Linda Hamilton) a lawyer from Above, and Vincent (Ron Perlman), a beast from Below. Each episode would feature the two working together to solve crimes. Due to falling ratings and Hamilton’s desire to leave the show, it took a strange turn in its third season, and had Catherine killed off. This proved to be a fatal blow, and the show ended not long after. Like many genre shows, it has a fanbase that persists to this day. Notably, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin wrote many episodes of Beauty and the Beast.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Part of the “Disney Renaissance” of the 90s that saw the studio’s formerly flailing feature animation division briefly return to its former glory. The first animated film to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. A revered children’s film. Somewhat overrated, in my book. I find it odd how the film has both a “don’t judge based on appearances” message, yet also gives the Beast a genuinely beastly personality. It’s thematically confused, to say the least. But it has nice animation, catchy songs, and an interesting gimmick in expanding the cast of characters by filling the Beast’s castle with magical talking household objects. Before, the Beast was a solitary figure, and the romance with the Beauty a lonely one.
There have been scores of literary reinterpretations of the original fairy tale over the years, as different authors try to spin the basic premise of the book to relate new ideas, or simply try to bang out a cheap buck by adapting something in the public domain. Beastly is notable only for getting a movie adaptation made of it that was clearly cashing in on the Twilight craze. The book and film transplant the tale into a modern-day high school, with popular student Alex Kingston (Alex Pettyfer) getting cursed for being a jerk… into looking pretty much the same, except for being hairless, pale, and covered in tattoos. This is apparently so awful that he must shut himself up in his penthouse, and courts Lindy (Vanessa Hudgeons), hoping for the love that will rejuvenate his good looks. It was critically lambasted financially disappointing.