The Ultimate Guide to the Beauty and the Beast story
Disney’s latest adaptation of the 1991 animated film ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been breaking box office records and capturing our hearts and imagination ever since it hit our screens earlier this month. Receiving rave reviews from fans and critics alike, and grossing almost $1 billion at box offices worldwide, the new Beauty and the Beast has set a world-record for the highest-grossing PG film ever!
If you have seen the new Disney film, you will know that the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie closely follows the 1991 animated classic, but with a few important changes. For example, Belle is portrayed as the inventor rather than Maurice, her father. This was a request from Emma Watson so that Belle would have a better back-story. This got us thinking about other differences between the two films and the original story, and we decided to create the Ultimate Guide to Beauty and the Beast! Here you’ll find information about the original story, which was written almost 300 years ago, as well as useful bits of trivia and bloggers’ reactions to the new adaptation. If you have already purchased Walt Disney World Resort tickets and you're lucky enough to be experiencing the magic of Disney first hand, make sure to read our guide before you go!
So, be our guest, and discover this tale as old as time with our ultimate guide!
Warning: this guide will contain spoilers!
The Original Story
We are all familiar with Disney’s version of the story, but what about the original? As you would expect, its origin is a French tale: La Belle et la Bête, written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later abridged and retold by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. The original story is an allegory, designed to prepare young women of the 18th Century for their arranged marriages.
The story is quite different to what you have grown up with, but there are clear elements you’ll recognise from other fairy tales too: a beautiful young woman, wicked sisters, and dreams that ‘one day a prince will come’.
Here’s our brief synopsis, or read the full version here.
Beauty lives with her brothers and sisters in a large mansion, they are cared for by their wealthy widowed father. All the children are beautiful, but Beauty is the most radiant and is envied by her siblings, especially her sisters who treat her poorly and more like a servant than a sister (sounds familiar, right?!).
In an accident at sea, their father loses all of his money, and the family move to a small provincial town and must work for their living. Some years later, their father returns to the city to try to regain his wealth and asks his children what they would like him to bring back. Most of the children ask for clothing and jewels but Beauty, being fair and nonmaterialistic, asks for a single rose, as none grow in their village.
However, their father is unable to regain the fortune and on his journey home becomes lost in the forest, taking shelter in the Beast’s castle. Upon leaving, he spots a beautiful rose garden and picks a single rose for his daughter. The Beast confronts their father, sentencing him to death for stealing. Beauty’s father begs for his life, explaining that the rose was for his lovely daughter. The Beast spares the man, but demands Beauty as his prisoner in return
Beauty agrees to go and live in the castle. The Beast is a gracious host and tells her that she is mistress of the castle and him her servant. For months, Beauty is very happy at the castle, being waited on by invisible servants and dining on lavish food.
Every night the Beast asks Beauty to marry him, each night she refuses. Beauty dreams of a handsome Prince who also proposes and begs her not to refuse him. Beauty refuses the Beast, believing she only loves him as a friend, not realising that he is the prince of her dreams. Instead, she believes the Beast has locked her prince away in one of the may enchanted rooms.
Eventually, Beauty grows homesick and longs to see her family. The Beast allows her to visits her village if she returns after one week. Beauty agrees and returns home with the enchanted mirror and a magic ring (which can transport her instantly back to the castle).
Her wicked sisters are envious when they hear of Beauty’s wonderful life at the castle, and, hearing that she must return to the Beast on a certain day, trick her into staying another day by putting onion in their eyes so it appears they are weeping.
Beauty agrees to stay but begins to feel guilty about breaking her promise. Using the magic mirror, she is horrified to discover that the Beast is lying half-dead from heartbreak at her departure, she uses the magic ring to return at once.
Weeping for him, Beauty tells the Beast she loves him and, as her tears touch him, he is transformed into the Prince from her dreams.
Overall, we can recognise our well-loved Disney story in this original telling. Due to unfortunate circumstances, a beautiful and selfless woman must live with a cursed beast in an enchanted castle. Only love can break the spell upon him, which it eventually does, and they live happily ever after!
There are some clear themes that have remained in every version of Beauty and the Beast:
The Theme of Roses
In the live-action Beauty and the Beast, Belle asks for Maurice to bring her a single rose from the city, and it is the picking of the rose which starts the series of events that make up the whole story. However, a difference is that an enchanted rose only features in the Disney adaptations.
This is a staple across all the adaptations, because what were they to do before smartphones?
A selfish monster transformed by love
Of course, as a firm Disney favourite and a ‘Tale as Old as Time’ the heart of both stories is the same, the beast is changed for the better through the selfless love of Belle.
Despite the heart of the story staying the same in every version of Beauty and the Beast, there are some big differences between the Disney version and the original story.
We spoke to Jade from Storyberries, a publisher that offers free classic and contemporary children’s stories and discussion guides to encourage children to explore real-life issues through the stories.
We asked Jade how the two stories differ and the messages both stories can offer:
“In my opinion, the original story was a little different to current Disney-style versions of the tale: it dealt a lot more about family relationships (jealousy, for example, between Beauty's sisters) and the notion of value - of a gift, or (I would even argue) the value of a person. Beauty is contrasted significantly with her sisters in the classic tale - they are greedy, grasping and jealous, and we see in her generosity and grace that she is a worthy person, even though, on the face of it, it was her request for a rose that seemingly caused the problem in the first place.
The Disney-style version of Beauty and the Beast instead has a strong message about what value we place on appearances, which is quite a modern message. It would be interesting to see whether the message is as relevant in four hundred years as the classic version has proven to be!”
Belle has a very different backstory in the original. From only child to sibling, and from wealthy mansion-dweller to poor provincial village girl.
We’re granted more of her story in the newest film through the Montmartre scene and the ‘Paris of my Childhood’ reprise, where we discover that Belle lived in Paris with her parents until the Plague killed her mother and Belle and her father were forced to flee from the disease.
In the original, the beast is a wild boar or sometimes portrayed as a bear or jaguar. Whereas our recognisable beast is not of any one species of animal, but a mixture of several animals. He has the head and horns of a buffalo, the arms and body of a bear, the eyebrows of a gorilla, the jaws, teeth, and mane of a lion, the tusks of a wild boar and the legs and tail of a wolf.
Belle as a prisoner
In both Disney adaptations, Belle is portrayed as a prisoner in the castle and told not to enter the West Wing, yet in the original story she is given free permission to wander freely as its master.
Editor in Chief of Fairy Talez, Bri Ahaern, highlighted the differences between Belle’s character in the original and the Disney versions:
I'd say the original tale of Beauty and the Beast depicts Belle as courageous and content with her lot, while the Disney versions have her as more adventurous, which gives us the enchanting tale we fell in love with. However, at its heart, all three versions of Beauty and the Beast show a woman who is kind and places others above her own - a quality often displayed by the Disney princess characters.
Make sure to check out FairyTalez for classic versions of well-loved fables and fairy stories, totally ad free!
The Disney Versions of Beauty and the Beast
There are few out there who haven’t seen Disney’s original version of this tale. It is regarded by many as the best of Disney’s animated classics and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1992. The film also won two Academy Awards that year for ‘Best Original Score’ and ‘Best Original Song’ for the title song ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
As with Disney’s much-loved 1991 classic, the 2017 adaptation is also set in 18th Century France, and beautifully brought to life through computer-generated imagery and clever artistry.
We chatted to Don Shanahan from the great movie blog Every Movie Has a Lesson, about the two Disney versions and whether comparisons can be drawn between the two:
“Writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have stretched the 84-minute animated original into an engrossing and full-bodied movie musical that spans 129 minutes of soaring spectacle. Those extra 45 minutes are well spent on adding length and depth to previously shallow story sections.
For example, the courtship between the future lovers is given more peaks and valleys than a snowball fight and a couple of shared dinners.
In addition, artful backstory depth is given to Belle’s parents and excellent narrative layers seek to include new transformed castle characters, new villager figures, and deftly weave personalized connections between them. One after another, these sharp and welcome changes work as intended.
The most impressive extension effort of the new “Beauty and the Beast” is its four brand new songs written by original lyricist Tim Rice. Lead by “Evermore,” a thundering and show-stopping ballad performed by Dan Stevens’ Beast in the film and by the incomparable Josh Groban in the end credits, the new musical elements expand the storytelling further and play seamlessly alongside Rice’s old favourites he wrote with the late Howard Ashman and an intact reprise of Alan Menken’s original musical score.
Overall, we think Don has it just right by recommending that we don’t compare the two Disney version too heavily, and just enjoy the fact that we now have two versions of our favourite Disney film!
"Let the two films be different, whether that's better or worse because they are different. View them separately and independently. Judge them separately and independently. Remakes are inevitable. They don’t make originals disappear and they don’t ruin any childhoods. In the end, every audience has their own taste and that’s the whole point. There is room for each person’s enjoyment and we all get to pick it."
Read Don’s full review of the 2017 Beauty and the Beast here.
Facts about beauty and the beast
Are you still hungry for more Beauty and the Beast knowledge? Take a look at these 10 amazing facts you may not have known about the Disney stories:
1. The Prince’s real name is Adam. This is never mentioned in the films but has been confirmed by Disney.
2. More than 8,700 candles were used as decoration on the set of the 2017 live-action Beauty and the Beast.
3. Angela Lansbury who voices the loveable teapot Mrs Potts recorded ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in just one take. She thought the demo version was too ‘rock and roll’ so recorded it her way as a trial, the producers loved her version and used it in the film. The song also went on to win the ‘Best Original Song’ Academy Award!
4. Ian McKellan, who voices Cogsworth in the 2017 live-action remake, turned down the same role in the 1991 version.
5. Due to time constraints, the animated dance sequence between Belle and the Beast is actually re-used footage from Sleeping Beauty!
6. Belle is considered a ‘Disney Princess’ despite not actually being a princess until the very end of the film when she marries the prince.
7. Bambi’s mother makes a cameo in the opening shots of the 1991 version.
8. Belle also appears very briefly in the Hunchback of Notre Dame!
9. Chip, the cute teacup, was originally supposed to be a music box.
10. Belle’s headstrong character is said to be based on Katharine Hepburn’s performance in Little Women, and her trademark blue dress is said to be based on Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.