The Enduring Romance of Beauty and the Beast
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I remember the first time I saw Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It was in the Berkeley Heights movie theater. Thursday nights were buy one, get one, but I went with my friends for a matinée. Funny, I can’t remember who I was with, but I distinctly remember that first moment when the curtain drew back (yes, it had a curtain across the screen) and the first image of the movie filled the frame.
I gasped. For real. I spent the first 90 seconds wavering back and forth between thinking it was real and believing it was a cartoon. The colors were so bright, the images so crisp, it was breathtaking, as in it literally took my breath away. Minutes later, the opening number “Belle” began and I was officially enraptured. The complexity of the song, the brilliance of the lyrics, the timing of the animation. This was revolutionary. It was pre-motion captured, when digital was only just becoming part of our vocabulary. There were no DVDs yet, CDs were only just becoming known, laser disks were still the premiere idea of home movies. The Little Mermaid had taken the world by storm barely a year earlier. But Beauty and the Beast was a wunderkind of animation never seen before. Its music was fresh and exciting. Its story took a well-known tale and infused it anew with adventure and romance.
And don’t even get me started on the ballroom scene.
A few days later, I took my sister to see it before I went back to college, and after she had to endure me going on and on about it. Within the first few minutes, she turned to me and whispered, “You were absolutely right.”
Last Friday, I saw the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, not another retelling of the story, but the same 1991 animated film remade with live people as opposed to cartoons. I’ve been anticipating this movie but at the same time, had little expectation as to what it might turn out to be. Like looking forward to seeing a favorite book brought to the screen, there was bound to be new interpretations to the story that would tick me off (I’m a purist, I confess), but as I was coming off a long convalescence from surgery, I went to a matinée solo simply to enjoy seeing an old friend given new life.
It was, in a word, perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Was it flawless? No. That’s an impossibility. But as Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the Disney logo was replaced by the Beast’s enchanted castle and the familiar words of the prologue filled the air now in a female’s voice, I knew this was going to be the rare film that met the demands of its source material. Perhaps even exceeded it.
I’m not going to go over the particulars of the new movie as it’s enough to say it’s a near perfect match to its animated doppelgänger. OK, scratch that idea. A few quick thoughts: the new movie does address a few loopholes the animated film skipped over that have plague fans for years–or maybe that’s just me. Things like, why does no one in the village see the honking huge palace in the forest? Why is it beautiful autumn in the village and winter around the castle? How come no one seems to remember there was ever a prince in residence nearby? How the hell does wee Belle manage to get huge Beast up on Philippe the horse after Beast collapses following the wolf attack? Answers are finally found. Also, where I often loathe new music added to an established libretto (Phantom of the Opera, I’m looking at you), the new songs added to this version of Beauty and the Beast fit in perfectly. Oh and Luke Evans nearly steals the show as pitch-perfect Gaston. Finally, visually, it is a masterpiece. I don’t even want to know how it was done, which part is motion capture and which part is actual people, or where the animation begins or which pieces are on a set and which are in a proper 18th-century palace. It’s a sumptuous feast on par with the magnitude of its counterpart for its time. You will not be disappointed.
But what struck me as I teared up over the ending (and yea, I did sniffle, and applaud while the credits rolled) was how this well-known and beloved story still had the power to move me. Women are weened on romantic fantasy and Disney has made a killing exploiting that deeply ingrained expectation. But archetype stories like Beauty and the Beast endure because they resonate with truth that is better than any fantasy.
In both films, the key is that Belle must fall in love with a “hideous” beast in order to break the curse. But the prince’s outward beast is merely the reflection of the inner asshole that was hiding beneath his human pretty face. As he learns not only to love, but to be lovable, the core good person who yet lives beneath both beastly versions comes back to life. This is another aspect this film has the time and means to address. Mrs. Potts informs Belle of how the prince was warped by his cruel father after his mother’s death when the prince was but a boy. Adding the somewhat rout psychological element adds layers to the prince’s repulsive behavior prior to his beastliness being made manifest, which also explains why the staff remains so loyal to one who appeared to be so horrible in both guises.
Beast also learns the sacrificial aspect to love, that truly loving someone means putting their needs first and that sometimes can cause great agony for the lover. In the new film, when Beast releases Belle to go to her father, he watches her flee through the maze, her gold dress a beacon, and sings the beautiful, new, heart-wrenching song “Evermore”.
Sidebar: Holy cats, can Dan Stevens sing. Strewth.
In “Evermore,” Beast sings about how Belle has changed his life and how he knows he’ll now be haunted by her for the rest of his days. But even as he despairs over this and the expectation that he’ll never see her again, especially since, in this film, there is a very real threat to his and the others existence, (outside of Gaston and the mob, that is), Beast knows he’s forever been changed by falling in love with her. Whatever the future brings him, he will not be the same person, man or beast, because of Belle.
Now I know she’ll never leave me
Even as she runs away
She will still torment me, calm me, hurt me
Move me, come what may
Now I know she’ll never leave me
Even as she fades from view
She will still inspire me, be a part of
Everything I do
Wasting in my lonely tower
Waiting by an open door
I’ll fool myself she’ll walk right in
And as the long, long nights begin
I’ll think of all that might have been
Waiting here for evermore!
– “Evermore” from Beauty and the Beast 2017 ©Disney
Poor Beastie. Fortunately, we know he’s not meant to waste away in his lonely tower without his Belle, but still! Sob.
In this live-action version of the story, as Belle and her prince dance through the final moments, she makes a cheeky request of him that makes it clear she actually prefers or at least misses his hairier visage, a request that makes the prince laugh because he knows exactly what she’s saying. She doesn’t love him more or less for now being human; she loves him period. But having fallen in love with his beastly component, she’s not adverse to his human self sporting a sartorial reminder. (And I think, for those of us who may know, there was a sly sexual component to her request as well.)
But it’s not only the Beast/Prince who is loved for himself. Belle too doesn’t fit in her environment. She’s thought to be odd and out-of-place because she reads and longs for a life far beyond that of a provincial village. In the original film, when Belle has her Sound of Music moment running up the hill while she sings “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand, to have someone understand. I want so much more than they’ve got planned…” my young heart swelled and I got chills. When Emma Watson did the same move and sang the same words in the live-action film, my battered, weary heart swelled and I got chills as I smiled and sang along.
So many of us were that girl, nose in a book, dreaming of more, maybe a prince or at least that one person who “got” us, who didn’t think we were weird because of who we are or what we like to do. Who wanted to be with us because of what others thought made us odd, not in spite of them. Who wanted us for us. Now, as women, some of us have been fortunate to have found that person. Some of us are still looking but remain hopeful. Meanwhile, we read and, in my case, write romances to keep that hope alive. Not because we’re entrenched in romantic fantasy, but because we know the truth that fantasy exploits: happily ever after isn’t just for fiction.
This is why Beauty and the Beast is such an enduring romance. And it’s why those of us who write romance continue to believe. Be it romantic suspense or epic fantasy or erotic romance or BDSM romance or Amish romance, whatever the genre or subgenre, whether we write about hot alpha heroes or handsome beta heroes or gorgeous women who’ve got it going on or ladies in search of their own kind of special who are the heroines of their own stories, at the core, we’re spinning relationships where the parties involved find the one who loves them for themselves, for who they are at the best and worst of times (thank you Victor Hugo), who love those moments when we’re all a unique beauty and more, when we show our inner beasts.
Women may be weened on romantic fantasy, but stories like Beauty and the Beast remind us that true love sees and loves all.
And that is no fantasy.
Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, WILD ON THE ROCKS, is now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.