La Belle et la Bête versus Beauty and the Beast

                              The 1946 movie, La Belle et la bête, directed by Jean Cocteau, is the original plot and story of this classic fairy tale. There are major differences in the original version from the modern version that was released later in 1992.

                        The first and most obvious difference is that the newer title was not written in French. However, since the main characters’ names and the title were derived from the French language in the original film, they keep the original element. For example, Belle has no universal meaning in the English language. On the other hand, in French, “Belle” means “beauty.”

                        The 1946 version was darker, contained more black magic (evil), and was scarier. This version was very European and contained the traditional type of folklore magic. There are many examples that provide the fantasy element. One example was evident when smoke would come out of the beast (Jean Marais). There was a particular scene where the Beast showed up at Belle’s (Josette Day) door late at night. I speculate that the smoke coming from him was due to a previous conversation they had had in regards to a previous suitor of hers, Avenant (Jean Marais). Another example of this fantasy element was present when Belle’s sisters, Félicie (Mila Parély) and Adélaïde (Nane Germon), looked into the mirror and their reflections represented the selfish personalities within their hearts.

                     Once again, this same dark element was questionable at the end of the French version after the Beast had returned to a human state resembling her previous suitor. They spoke briefly and then, using his powers, he picked her up; and they both flew off into the sky without using any magical instruments. A viewer would like to think this is good magic, but a person does not know.  The Beast had hidden his true self from her earlier in the movie, so he could have again been pretending to be someone/something else other than what he truly could be.  Viewers never found out what he looked like, or how he had acted before he was turned into the beast.

                     This is in contrast to the Disney version when at the end of the movie the beast transforms back into his original self, and no longer has any magical powers at all. Everyone is thankful that the magic is gone, as the two lovers dance around in gratitude.   Viewers assume that they become married because, when they enter into the ballroom for the first time as two ordinary (but royal) people, all of their subjects bow down in reverence with smiles on their faces.

                     In the Disney version released in 1992, the entire film provided a sense of delight, playfulness, and the “classic” Disney magic. Belle did not have any sisters in this movie; it was just she and her dad. The Beast was more handsome than scary. When one sees this “beast,” although he is considered a “beast,” he still has a noble and superior air about him. Everything in the beast’s house was animated and very lively. All of the enchanted characters (pictures on the wall, tea pots, and literally every material item) were very kind to Belle and in her favor.

                     In this film, one of the first differences that I noticed was that the later version was in color. And not only were simple colors used, but also they were also very vibrant and had true contrast and brightness.  This is because at the time, they were experimenting with computer animation, which allowed the film makers to make more lifelike and humanlike animated cartoons for audiences.

                     In contrast to the Disney movie, the French version was simply in black and white. This actually fit the earlier film very well for the type of dark movie it was. Even if the makers at the time had been able to use color for this film, I think that would have been a bad idea because it would have completely changed the tone and effect that the movie would have allowed viewers to experience.

                     Another factor that makes a huge difference between the films is that the Disney version is a type of musical.  It is more appropriate and lively for family fun and entertainment. The songs were very upbeat and nice. The songs seemed to teach manners and good etiquette.

                       In contrast, if there had been vocal music in the original French version, it would have been more like an opera, with more serious arias, than a musical, with lighter, happier tunes. This is because the French people are well known for their operas, like the Italians. During that time period, there was a slow and progressing movement towards musicals.  However, if the film makers had added songs and more music to the film, it would have been very difficult in regards to the sound and production. Technology at the time was experimental. Much of today’s techniques and equipment had not been invented, or widely used. The tone of this movie would not have meshed well with cheerful tunes, like the ones in the Disney version.

                     Not only was the technology completely different between the film versions, but also Belle’s role was also completely different. In the Disney film, Belle was not only independent, but also a type of “free spirit.”  She craved freedom from the town and was very adventurous. Her father also supported her desires to venture out. Since she was free to do what she wanted, she had her own personal guard up. She had more of an ability to “stand her own ground,” and she was not so quick to believe everything she was told. She was considered a bookworm, who even made fun of “frilly” dresses.

                     The Belle in the French version was a slave. She was the pushed-around daughter. She was very naive in the worldly way. Viewers see that she is not able to stand her own ground. This is very evident at one point in the movie when she returns home, and her sisters immediately begin bossing her around despite her wearing finer clothing and jewelry. When this happened, Belle went back to her original self, as servant.

                     All points considered, both versions of this film are great examples of entertainment. They both have different elements to offer, but both are valuable in the world of film. These two films also provide a great illustration of the differences in films that were produced in the 1940’s compared to the later films in the 1990’s. Not only was technology different, but also society was looking for different satisfaction from films.

Sherri Anderson

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