Unless you are living under a rock, you’d know that the new Beauty and the Beast film has just been released. When it was announced that Hollywood would be producing a live-action Beauty and the Beast, my inner five-year-old princess couldn’t be happier. Considering this remake has been such a buzzing topic over the past few months, I thought it was time to delve into the history behind this magical story.
The earliest trace of the tale was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, who was part of the literary movement called the French ‘salons’ which occurred in the late 1600s / beginning 1700s. She explored themes of romantic love as well as issues of women’s marital rights in the mid-18th century, since women had no say in who they were to marry, and incidentally had to ‘learn to love’ their betrothed. The ‘Beauty’ in Madame Barbot de Villeneuve’s tale has to learn to love what appears to be a ‘beast’, but after some time, she realises that there is more than meets the eye; that is, the cursed prince.
The Brothers Grimm have their own interesting and twisted version of such a plot entitled ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, first published in 1812. There are similarities as well as notable differences between this plot and that of Madame Barbot de Villeneuve. Similarities include the theme of love between a beast and a young girl, the cursed prince, keeping a promise, and acceptance despite appearance. Oh, and the beautiful dress ‘as radiant as the sun’, to quote the Grimms directly. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the iconic symbol of the rose as the magical object, anywhere in the Grimms’ fairytale. However, there is the magical egg which allows the girl to break the spell. The Brothers’ beast is depicted as a lion, Beauty has two sisters, and they also include a dragon. It is interesting to note that the couple is wed fairly early on into the story. What they do include in this fairytale is the reunited wife (Beauty) and husband (Beast) after a long journey. And we all know how it ends: they lived happily ever after.
It is also interesting to shed light on the ‘learning to love’ aspect of the tale. It influenced writers from different periods such as Samuel Richardson in his 18th century piece Pamela, as well as Jane Austen’s archetypal novel Pride and Prejudice in which “the proud Mr Darcy must reveal his true goodness in order to win the witty, bookish Elizabeth Bennett.” (The Guardian). They both have to let their guard down in order to embrace their feelings for one another, just like in Beauty and the Beast.
Discussing such an iconic story, one cannot dismiss adaptations of the fairytale into film. The first film to be produced is that directed by Jean Cocteau in 1946 (later turned into an opera), which encompasses the romance that we all know that the story possesses. However, *spoiler alert*, the beast dies. This is definitely not the case in the ground-breaking Disney animation, produced in 1991. Disney’s production went on to win several awards from ‘Best Picture’ to ‘Best Song’ throughout 1992.
Last but definitely not least, the live action film released on Saturday 17th March 2017 is definitely no less magical than our childhood experience of the animation. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and more, this film seeks to depict our much-loved characters in different ways. Belle is represented in an empowering light, standing her ground, knowing what she wants. As said by Emma Watson herself in an interview, the writers and producers wanted to depict Belle as the practical and inventive one in the story (as opposed to the original Disney animation in which Maurice, Belle’s father, is the inventive character). Belle even teaches in the live-action, sharing her love for books with others.
Also, there is Disney’s first feature of a homosexual character – that being Le Fou (played by Josh Gad). Le Fou wants to be like Gaston, yet wants to kiss him too. It is simply him realising that he has these feelings for Gaston. Howard Ashman, who was a lyricist for the original animation film was gay and was diagnosed with AIDS. He unfortunately passed away before the animation hit the theatres. Bill Cordon, director of the live action movie said that the curse bestowed on the beast was a metaphor for the ‘curse’ of AIDS that Ashman was living with. Cordon also says that Le Fou will have an exclusively gay moment in the movie.
This film is “about the human condition, and what it is to be alive, to see love, and to see deeper than the superficial.” – Emma Watson. It also seeks to encompass the certain “humanity to the beast” – Emma Watson, that tends to be forgotten at times. Beauty and the Beast (3D) is out now in all local cinemas.
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