Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Disappointed Beautys You Didn't Know About

Greta Garbo is famously reported, on seeing Jean Cocteau's film La Belle et La Bete as saying: "Give me back my Beast!"* (echoing many a woman's response to the transformation).

Well it turns out Cocteau MEANT for the audience to be disappointed!

Josette Day & Jean Marais
behind the scenes of
La Belle et La Bete (1946)
From an essay by Cocteau included in one of the DVD packages:

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naivete of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

As one commenter on a review wrote:
If this was Cocteau’s intent, his ending should be judged a success. I certainly felt Belle’s letdown.
I'm going to have to go watch it again (for the 52nd time) with this in mind...

Note: There's a really interesting article/review discussing the ending (how let down we are and why) HERE. Although it's all interesting (of course!) the ending is discussed in the second half.

In a related bit of news, a video interview was posted yesterday (August 19) by Stitch Kingdom, taken during D23's tribute to Glen Keane, (Disney veteran and the supervising animator for Disney's Beauty & the Beast) and some trivia emerged that will fascinate fairy tale folks.

While we know Disney referenced Cocteau's version quite a bit while in development, there's one thing the films had in common that likely the animators (and viewers) didn't know at the time (especially as Cocteau's essay referencing his intent with the ending, wasn't widely available then): it's just come to light that at least one key creative knew that viewers - and Belle - would most likely be disappointed with the transformation. There was even a plan to reference that.

When questioned on the popular rumor that The Beast's name was really Prince Adam, Mr. Keane, while not outright denying it, said this:
‘I never referred to him as anything but Beast,’ he answered. ‘To me he’s always been Beast. I always just believed that Belle called him Beast from the moment that he transformed… so whatever his name was before is not important because he was called Beast after that.’ Keane also went on to add, ‘matter of fact, when he changed into the prince, I knew everybody was going to be disappointed by that, because they fall in love with the beast.’ 

Keane also told us about his plans for keeping the memory of Beast alive even after the transformation. ‘We recorded a line when we were actually recording Robby Benson and Paige O’Hara as they were at that scene where they’re dancing,’ he told us. ‘I wanted there to be this moment where as she’s now dancing with her handsome prince, something’s missing, and she just says, “do you think you can grow a beard?” So we recorded that — we should’ve put it in there — I’m still hoping someday we still put it in there.’
Heh. Wouldn't that be awesome?

You can see the full interview from Stitch Kingdom HERE.

*By the way, critics agree this is likely true and not just an urban legend.


  1. I recommend reading the diary Cocteau kept as he was making "Beauty and the Beast" for further insight. One of my most cherished books: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beauty-and-the-beast-jean-cocteau/1101958097?ean=9780486227764

  2. Vivian Vande Velde wrote a Beauty & The Beast story in which Beauty does ask Beast to grow a beard! Also, Beast has great commentary on Beauty's presumptive name. :-) The story is in her collection, Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird.

    I always found this image of Belle's reaction to the transformation adorable.

  3. I think that in the language and imagery of fairy tales, rites of passage are often signaled by physical transformations -- sometimes as temporary disguises, other times as animal enchantments. In Beauty and the Beast -- though we tend to read it as rite of passage of Beauty -- she never really changes that much from the beginning to the end -- other than to recognize the worth of the Beast and leave her family for marriage. But the Beast -- his transformation is way more interesting. Beauty is the agent which returns him to a human self -- but a self that has matured considerably from the inconsiderate youth he had been. But I also think he becomes ambiguous -- comprised of both his human and animal nature which is what makes him interesting to Beauty. Beauty needs him to be both -- the man she can marry, the beast she can love. Sometimes I think it was the Prince's story all along. (ok I signed in to comment as Midori but the preview suggests I am anonymous...)