We all know the story of Beauty and the Beast — while not quite as old as time, it's a tale that has earned its spot among the classics for children and adults alike, partly thanks to the animated adaptation by Disney in 1991. One of the oldest known versions dates back to the second century, but it's Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's version in 1740 and the shortened take by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont a few years later that served as the main inspiration for the movies.
Over the centuries, there's been a total of 12 movies putting their own unique spin on the story, starting with Pathé's production from 1899, and we've got a new Disney live-action version coming next year, starring Emma Watson as Belle. Naturally, the number of adaptations makes you wonder how each of them could still be fresh and compelling, but this French version — directed by Christophe Gans, with Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel — will surprise you.
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The Movie Goes Back To The Roots Of The Tale
Ahead of the September release in the US, you can already watch an exclusive clip of Belle in which she stays on a modest farm with her family after her father loses his fortune. In a few minutes, we can already tell how we all relate to Belle, who doesn't want anything to do with the vanity of her sisters.
The reason so many filmmakers have brought the story of Beauty and the Beast to the big screen is mainly its timeless appeal; the idea that beauty should be found within applies to any context or character, while the antagonism between the bitter, powerful Beast and the clever yet naive Belle is the ideal narrative dynamic.
Not wanting to remake an existing cinematic version, director Gans has explained how he made sure to go back to the roots of the tale, and the very first French novel. Away from the talking teapot, he found that Beauty and the Beast had strong ties to mythology, with creatures such as the Beast reminiscent of the monsters featured in Greek literature:
"I’ve always seen the monster as an intermediary step between mortal and God. In that sense, they are indeed mythological creature like cyclopses, Titans, or the whole pantheon of classic mythology. I tried to make the Beast a magnificent and yet pathetic creature."
Beauty And The Beast Perfectly Fits Into The Fantasy Genre
That's also where the story diverges from the majority of adaptations. Instead of having refused an old woman the access to his castle, only to discover she's a sorceress, Cassel's Beast is an obsessive hunter who made it his goal to kill a golden deer, despite the pleading of his wife. It turns out she wasn't just an animal lover, she was a nymph who appeared as the deer, and a daughter of the god of the forest.
There's no talking furniture in this Beauty and the Beast, but the enchanted world worthy of the best fantasy movies suits the mysterious aura surrounding Beast, and the surreal reasons behind his demise. It's a style that not only makes the movie more visually appealing, it also contributes to its darker undertones — in some ways, it might remind you of Snow White and the Huntsman, where Disney's cute little dwarves were replaced with black magic and monsters of the forest.
Beauty and the Beast is opening in select markets on September 23rd.
What's your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?