It’s a tale as old as time, and it’s been breaking box office records again this week. With Beauty and the Beast recently hitting the big screen in its live-action format, it has reminded Disnerds everywhere that this iconic love story never gets old.
Take a look at how this amazing story has continued to shape and inspire us for the past 300 years, and how Disney cemented this story in its canon, allowing it to become one of the most iconic, and culturally ubiquitous stories of all time.
Beauty and the Beast’s Literary Beginnings
The tale of Beauty and the Beast made its first appearance onto the world stage through French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, who published the story in 1740. 16 years later, Villeneuve’s lengthy version was reworked and published as a children’s story. This version was later rewritten and published in 1889 into the story that is most familiar to us today. The original tale, and the later reworkings of it were partly influenced by earlier fairy tales such as Cupid and Psyche, The Golden Ass and The Pig King, although many commentators claim that the story has its roots in reality. Some experts have suggested that the story of Petrus Gomnsalvus inspired the story. According to historical record, Petrus was a Spanish-born man who suffered from hypertrichosis (abnormal hair growth), but eventually married into French royalty.
The reworkings of the story omitted many of the original elements of the tale, as do modern adaptations of the story. The most prominent omissions is the back story for both the Beast and Beauty. According to the original version, the Beast was a prince who lost his father as a child. When his mother had to wage war to defend their kingdom in the absence of their king, the Beast was left in the care of an evil fairy who transforms him into a beast when her seduction attempts on him are met with refusal. In the fairytale, Beauty is also revealed not to be the daughter of a merchant or an inventor but a descendant from a line of royalty. The simplification of the story made it into the relatable story that it is today, and set in motion a rich tradition of adaptations.
In Popular Culture
Since its first appearance, Beauty and the Beast has gone onto become a cultural giant, influencing and inspiring countless spin-offs, adaptations and revisions. Here are just a few of the places we can see Beauty and the Beast’s spell cast in pop-culture;
- Beast, (Novel), Donna Jo Napoli
- Beastly, (Film), 2011
- Once Upon a Time, (TV Series)
- Beauty, (Sci-Fi Retelling), Tanith Lee
- Beauty and the Werewolf, (Novel), Mercedes Lackey
- Fashion Beast, (Graphic Novel), 2012
- Beauty and the Beast, (Live-Action Film), 1987
- I’d Do Anything for Love, (Music Video), Meatloaf
- Sofia the First, (Animated TV Series)
- The Wild Heart, (Song), Stevie Nicks
- Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast, (Hidden Object Game), 2012
In a world full of adaptation, nobody offers a more creative interpretation and fresh approach than that of The Walt Disney Company.
In 1991, Beauty and the Beast, the 30th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series was released, during the ‘Renaissance’ of Disney animation. The film was based on the later reworking of the fairytale, and incorporated elements from the 1946 French film directed by Jean Cocteau. The film was a critical and box office success, grossing $425 million worldwide and receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews. The film won ‘Best Motion Picture’ at the Golden Globes and became the first animated film to be nominated for “Best Picture’ at the Academy Awards. Even before its release, the opening previews of the unfinished film received a standing ovation.
The success of Beauty and the Beast was followed by the Broadway musical, becoming the first Disney animated film to be adapted in this way. The substantial support for the film allowed the musical to premiere on Broadway at the Palace Theatre in April of 1994. To this day, the musical is the ninth-longest running musical in Broadway history.
Following the success of the Broadway musical, two direct-to-video follow ups took place in 1997, “The Enchanted Christmas,” and in 1998, “Belle’s Magical World.” The film also spurred a spin-off series called Sing Me a Story with Belle, and has been built into the storyline of TV series Once Upon a Time. Unlike the film, the beast does not have a beastly appearance, but rather is known as ‘the Dark One’, or Rumplestiltskin.
For Beauty and the Beast, there has been no real down-time. The film has continued to gain momentum, gathering box office revenue at its 3D Imax re-release in 2012, and gained new fans from up and coming generations when it was announced that a live-action version of the film would be released in 2017. The film, which was released earlier this month, is classed as a ‘dark fantasy musical’ and borrows many elements from the 1991 animated film, as well as integrating new lyrics and themes. Singer of the original title song, Celine Dion and singer Josh Groban both recorded songs for the soundtrack, with the remake of the original song given to Ariana Grande and John Legend. The film has received controversy online and in the media for its depiction of the character of LeFou as homosexual (the first gay Disney character), which has resulted in several places banning it, including a town in Alabama, Malaysia and Russia enforcing strict age rules for its screenings.
Beauty and the Beast had its world premiere in March and became an overnight success, grossing over $490 million at the global box office. It seems like 200 years after this imaginative tale was first penned, this love story is more popular and beloved than ever before.
While people love many elements of the story, the character of Belle continues to garner admiration for her role in the story, above any other character.
Establishing herself as a cultural icon, the character is known as the first feminist princess, and is praised for her intellectual nature, particularly for her love of reading and her willingness to stand up for what she wants. The unique nature of her character, and the way in which she breaks princess conventions, has even caused some commentators to suggest that her role is responsible for the evolution of all female characters in animated films that followed Beauty and the Beast. One commentator argued that Belle "updated the princess formula for an entirely new generation”, with another citing Belle as the character responsible for ending Disney's "history of ... docile heroines”.
A survey conducted by Disney after the film's release determined that Belle's love of books even inspired young woman to read. The decision to create Belle, out of the mould, has meant that Disney set a new standard for fully fleshed-out heroines with Belle, in turn paving the way for Katniss Everdeen, Rory Gilmore, Anna and Elsa and Hermione Granger.
Fast Facts about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
- Belle’s movements were based on ballerinas
- Walt Disney considered adapting Beauty and the Beast in the 1930s, but canned the project because of its complexity
- Cogsworth’s line “Flowers, chocolates...promises you don’t intend to keep”, was ad-libbed by David Ogden Stiers who voiced Cogsworth
- Jackie Chan voiced the spoken and singing role of Beast for the Chinese translation of the film
- The opening number was written as an operetta
- Belle is the only person in the village who wears blue, a deliberate move by animators to make her stand out
- Windows are a motif throughout the film
- Animator Glen Keane based the Beast on several animals, including a gorilla, buffalo, lion, boar, wolf and bear
- Many of the sculptures around the castle are early concepts of the Beast
- Chip was originally to have only one line of dialogue but was given more after he impressed the producers with his voice work
- The song “Human Again” which has become so iconic in the Broadway version was cut because it added 11 minutes to the film, and complicated the plot. It can be found as an extra on some DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film
- A hidden Mickey can be found at the top of the bookshelf in the library
- An early version of the film contained no music
- Belle is the oldest Disney Princess, created to be in her 20s rather than a teenager
- The character of Belle was inspired by Katharine Hepburn’s portrayal of Jo March in the 1933 film Little Women
- This same version also depicted Belle as having a sister named Clarice and a cat named Charley
- Animator Glen Keane has been quite vocal in interviews, about the fact that he would have preferred the story to have ended with the Beast staying in his beastly form. When his wish didn’t come to fruition, he penned a line for Belle to say to Prince Adam at the end of the film, “Do you think you could grow a beard?”
- When Gaston falls at the end, a skull flashes in the pupil of each eye for a single frame, implying that he is about to fall to his death
- The opening is narrated by Stiers who also voices Cogsworth
- Over 600 Disney animators and artists spent four years drawing and painting the animation, before any computer technology was used to create the final product
- Potts was originally named Mrs Chamomile
- The song “Be Our Guest” was originally supposed to be sung to the character of Maurice instead of Belle
- Julie Andrews was the first choice for the voice of Mrs. Potts
- Angela Lansbury felt that the song sung by Mrs. Potts did not suit her, but agreed to record one take of the track Beauty and the Beast as a favour to the director, on the off chance that he couldn’t find anyone else for the part. This take was what ended up in the final film
- The film was only the second to use Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System. It was this software that allowed the creation of the ballroom scene
- Concept art for the character of Chip show that he was originally going to be a music box
- Belle appears as an easter egg in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- The Beast also appears in Aladdin as one of the toy animals the Sultan is stacking
- Originally, a sequence was planned which showed how the enchantress transformed the young prince into the Beast, and the castle staff into objects
- A scene was also storyboarded that depicted the Beast dragging the carcass of an animal he killed, but the scene was dropped due to its dark, gruesome nature
- Originally, Jodie Benson (who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid) was asked to voice the character of Belle
- Bambi’s mother appears in the opening shot of the film, drinking from the stream in the lower right of the screen. This has led fans to believe that Beauty and the Beast and Bambi are set in the same universe and timeline
- Paige O’Hara who voiced the character of Belle, cried real tears while she recorded Beast’s death scene
- The Prince’s name is never mentioned in the film, but was confirmed in a CD-Rom game and the Broadway musical as ‘Adam’
- Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to gross more than $100 million at the box office
- The final dance between Belle and the Prince in the closing scene is reused animation from the final dance between Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty
- The film previewed at the New York Film Festival before it was finished. Despite having chunks of incomplete animation, it received a standing ovation
- The film was the only traditional hand-drawn film ever nominated for ‘Best Picture’
- Due to Howard Ashman’s failing health, most of the songs were written on a keyboard in a Marriott hotel room near Ashman’s home in New York. Ashman died eight months before the final film was released
- The sign post that Maurice comes across in the woods reads “Valencia”, “Anaheim” and “Burbank”
- Belle is only the second Disney Princess to not be of royal blood
- In 2002, the Library of Congress deemedBeauty and the Beast a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
- The iconic stained-glass theme was born out of the desire to move away from the traditional storybook opening
- The phrase on the stained-glass window in the opening scene reads “He conquers who conquers himself” in Latin
- The prologue was re-written 200 times before it was finalised for the final version