The Legacy of Beauty and the Beast

It's a tale as old as time. "Beauty and the Beast," the story that teaches us to find the beauty within, is next in this week's series of fairy tale princess breakdowns. The most famous version of this story is the one by Charles Perrault. Countless adaptations have been made, some more loosely inspired than others. Several of them, including this lovely 1984 feature by Don Bluth, never got to see the light of day. Not everyone can learn to love a beast.

The beast marks one of  very few flawed princes in fairy tale history. He was not a nameless savior like the prince in Snow White or Cinderella's tales. Instead, he was aggressive, dark, and self-pitying. Likewise, Beauty was not a passive heroine. She willingly gave herself up to the beast to save her father. Some people argue that her romance was a result of Stockholm Syndrome, but in all versions of the story, the beast gives her an opportunity to leave him, and she always returns to save his life in an act that can only be described as love. In spite of her name, Beauty is not defined by her appearance. She has no jealous stepmother, not does she need a makeover to transform herself into a princess. Instead, her character is introspective and sentimental. In many versions of the fairy tale, she has two sisters who obsess over fine gowns and jewels. Beauty stands out because she does not want these things. When her sisters request lavish presents from their father, Beauty asks him to bring her the first rose that brushes against him on his travels as proof of his safe return, which her sisters scoff at. Though the Disney version gives her no siblings, they emphasize her introspective nature by making her a bookworm and the only person in the village who wears the color blue.

Because Beauty is such an insightful character, her story is best understood when seen through her eyes. Robin McKinley did just that in 1978 with her novel, Beauty, which the famous princess novelist, Gail Carson Levine, later took inspiration from for her own work. The novel tells the entire story from Beauty's perspective and allows readers to fall in love with the beast just as she did. It also emphasizes Beauty's humility in that she does not see herself as beautiful. Years later, Donna Jo Napoli told the tale from the beast's perspective in her aptly titled Beast. Since Beauty is a bookworm herself, reading princess books is the best way to truly get into her head.

The concept of loving someone no matter what they look like on the outside is such a timeless theme that many adaptations used only the concept and not the context. One such version is the famous 1987 Beauty and the Beast series starring Ron Perlman, in which our insightful princess takes on the guise of a modern-day cop named Catherine, who discovers a hidden underground world when a "beast" named Vincent saves her life. The CW revived this version of the series in 2012, which concluded just last year. Other heavily conceptualized versions of the story include The Phantom of the Opera, which was written in 1909 and had a long successful run on Broadway in the late '80s, the Disney animated series Gargoyles, and the 2011 theatrical adaptation, Beastly.

In 2012, the ABC network produced a pilot of a live-action Beauty and the Beast series that closely matched the Victorian French setting of the original tale, but sadly, the series was pulled, much like Don Bluth's attempt at the story. The exact reason it didn't get picked up is unknown, but is very likely related to the CW's series premiering at the same time and the fact that ABC already had a Belle character in their live-action drama, Once Upon a Time. All that exists of this phantom Beauty and the Beast show is a gorgeous VFX reel by Stargate Studios. It's a shame it never got picked up because it looks far more visually stunning than the recent theatrical remake starring Emma Watson and her plainer than plain yellow ballgown.

Only a few years before the live-action Disney remake was released, there was a French production made of Beauty and the Beast, which was not very well-received by the general public. The 2014 movie is available on Netflix. It is heavily based on the Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont version of the fairy tale, giving Belle two sisters and three brothers and including the beginning passage of the tale in which Beauty's father loses his fortune to her siblings' great distress. This part is left out of most other adaptations due to being too expository. However, it does help emphasize Belle's humility by showing that she is the only one who is not hurt by her family's loss because she is only concerned with her father's health and that they can be together. The movie needs as much emphasize on Belle's humility as it can muster since all of the characters in it are portrayed as flat as can be. It also brings in a very weird backstory as to how the beast was cursed, in which he accidentally killed a former lover who transformed into a doe that she warned him not to hunt.

The story of "Beauty and the Beast" will always be a timeless classic because it brings something to the table that no other princess does. Though Beauty sacrifices herself for her father much like the little mermaid sacrifices herself for love, she is also deeply insightful and knows how to look beyond outward appearances to see the heart that is hidden beneath the surface. She shows us all that as long as we are good, we are deserving of love, no matter what we look like. That is why her tale will continue to be told until the end of time.


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