As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, the Beauty and the Beast lead me down a winding path.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. color. 129 mins. Bill Condon, Walt Disney Pictures. In theaters Mar. 2017. Available on DVD & DVD/Blu-ray in Jul. Rated: PG. FANTASY
The story of Beauty and the Beast, first published by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, is a fraught one, oft used as an example of repulsive messaging toward women and argued over by scholars. This live-action remake of Disney’s Oscar-winning 1991 animated fairy tale is not going to address any of that much beyond an added line about happiness and freedom. Instead, it invites viewers to sit back and settle in for a stunningly imagined and lavishly realized romance, from the clever manifestations of the cursed castle staff to the exquisite costumes. The well-known journey of the questing Belle (Emma Watson) and the transmogrified Beast (Dan Stevens) moves quickly along, leaping from cabbage patch to ballroom, and is enlivened by witty asides and favorite songs, plus a few new additions, all accompanied by soaring orchestration. Watson plays Belle with a needed bit of Harry Potter’s Hermione on the side, while Stevens takes on the role of the Beast with a nod to the best aspects of Downton Abbey‘s Matthew Crawley. Those hoping for a gorgeous and romantic version of the classic story certainly get it, along with rococo levels of detail, a few laughs, and plenty of music. Those seeking something new, or more, will have to turn elsewhere, likely while still humming the songs.
Much of the pleasure of adaptations is the chance to experience various takes on favorite works. It is likely the reader/viewer/listener will want more and next suggestions: more to keep encountering the story anew and next to move from one creation to other, similar experiences.
Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series. color. 2654 mins. Various, dist. by Paramount. 2014. DVD UPC 032429201454. $29.50. TV/DRAMA
This late 1980s cult hit from CBS features Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman as star-crossed lovers who are separated by the judgments of the modern world. The show’s Beast is Vincent, a mostly gentle lion-like creature who lives beneath New York City in an elaborate, raggedy medieval world. Belle is Catherine, a corporate lawyer who is attacked one night and left for dead. As Vincent nurses her back to health, the two fall in love, connected even more deeply by a telekinetic bond. The program lasted only three seasons, but it gained a bevy of fans, long before Disney’s take was imagined. Novelist George R.R. Martin, one of the show’s staff writers, penned scripts for all three seasons, largely creating the visuals for the vast and fantastical underground.
Beauty and the Beast. color & b/w. 93 mins. In French w/English subtitles. Jean Cocteau, dist. by Criterion, www.criterion.com. 2003. DVD UPC NA. Blu-ray UPC NA. $39.95. FANTASY
Cocteau’s dreamy and suggestive 1946 version of the classic fairy tale is considered a masterpiece of French filmmaking. Those raised on Disney will marvel at its surreal and gothic nature as well as its Cinderella overlay (Belle has greedy and vain sisters who leave her to do all the housework). Exchanging her life for her father’s, Belle (Josette Day) agrees to live in the enchanted castle with the Beast (Jean Marais), who asks her each evening to become his wife. From there the story takes some very odd turns. Belle wanders the castle, which evokes high gothic style, her way lit by disembodied arms holding candelabras. Carved statuary blow smoke out of their noses and follow their mistress with their eyes. The Beast often appears to be smoldering, with plumes of smoke coming from his hands and shoulders. There is scant dialog, particularly between Belle and the Beast, and most of the movement is emoted rather than spoken, which elevates the atmosphere of this expressive and opulent extravaganza that spins out a story in loops unknown to Disney.
de Villeneuve, Gabrielle-Suzanna Barbot. The Beauty and the Beast. Harper Design. 2017. 208p. illus. by MinaLima. maps. ISBN 9780062456212. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062456229. FAIRY TALES
The love story of a young, beautiful girl imprisoned in an enchanted castle by a man-turned-beast has its roots in classical mythology and early fairy tales—including Cupid and Psyche and East of the Sun and West of the Moon. De Villeneuve originally wrote a full novelistic version of the tale, although it has since been sharply edited and altered by subsequent compilers. Here, MinaLima studio artists present her work, augmenting the text with fold-out maps and other 3–D embellishments and images. The story itself has an old-fashioned feel, as befitting its 1700s publication, and might surprise readers more familiar with the Disney storybook rendition. For shorter offerings with lush illustrations, turn to editions pitched to younger audiences, such as those by Max Eilenberg (text) and Angela Barrett (illus.) or Marianna Mayer (text) and Mercer Mayer (illus.).
Ward. J.R. Lover Eternal. (Bk. 2). ISBN 9780451218049; ebk. ISBN 9781101128541.
Ward. J.R. Lover Awakened. (Bk. 3). ISBN 9780451219367; ebk. ISBN 9781101128534.
ea. vol: Berkley. (Black Dagger Brotherhood). 2006. 464p. pap. $7.99. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
Beauty and the Beast has been reworked into a number of genres beyond fantasy, including sf, horror, and romance (within fantasy, see Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses and Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast), each turning its themes to their own purpose. Romance readers have encountered the narrative repeatedly in books such as Eloisa James’s When Beauty Tamed the Beast. Ward, who writes paranormal romance, relishes the basic framework so much that she uses it in two back-to-back novels in the “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series. In Lover Eternal, the cursed character Rhage transforms into a beast whenever he lets anger overtake him. Mary, a human whom he brings into the vampire’s world, calms him and learns to love both his mortal and beastly nature. In Lover Awakened, Bella, a highborn vampire, falls in love with Zsadist, the most fearsome of the brotherhood, a man physically and mentally scarred by past abuse who must overcome his self-loathing to find love.
Grease. color. 111 mins. Randal Kleiser, dist. by Paramount Pictures. 1978, 2013. Blu-ray UPC 883929302246. $8.60. MUSICAL/ROMANCE
For a colorful extravaganza full of detail and song, turn to this 1978 feature that has stood the test of time, offering memorable musical acts, set pieces, and splendid visuals. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John star as the teenage love interests Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, who find themselves at cross-purposes and whose relationship is hampered by social pressure. Like the Disney movie, it is a romanticized version of girl meets boy, enriched by a 1950s aesthetic, jokes, and abundant sing-alongs. As both characters transform, Sandy leads the way. Viewers who prefer more of the same, with a stronger fairy-tale connection, should also consider one of the many versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Mulan & Mulan II. color. 88 mins. Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft, dist. by Walt Disney Pictures. 1998. Blu-ray UPC 786936852899. $14.99. Rated: G. ANIMATION
After watching the new Disney film, it’s inevitable that viewers will want to turn to other Disney creations. If the placid Snow White and Sleeping Beauty represent one period of the company’s evolution, then jump in and start swimming through Mulan, Frozen, Brave, and Moana, films that offer a whole new take on the idea of “princess.” The characters of these latter picks are more in line with Belle, who in the opening scene is singing about reading a book and avoiding marriage. Mulan might be the closest next suggestion for fans. Based on a Chinese poem about a female fighter who served her country for more than a decade, this animated feature adds a lot of story, plenty of music, and illuminating visuals. In it, a young girl joins the army to save her father and in so doing rescues China, aided by a dragon, a cricket, and good friends. Like Beauty and the Beast, it centers on a brave and smart female lead, has memorable songs, and is cinematically arresting. It is also funny at times (thanks in large part to work by Eddie Murphy, who voices the dragon).
Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. Morrow. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780062564344. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061793073. FANTASY
Readers looking for more fairy tales of love, betrayal, and revelation have plenty of resources, perhaps most especially The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, translated from German by Jack Zipes. For those searching for something more innovative, suggest Gaiman’s charming modern invention of a storybook tale set in the early dawning of the Victorian era—when Charles Dickens was working on Oliver Twist—in a kind of time-out-of-time Faerie world beyond the English village of Wall. When Tristran Thorn crosses into that world in search of a fallen star, he embarks on a quest of great adventure, revelations, and true love. Along the way there are encounters with witches of great power and murderous intent, a deadly fight for a crown, and magical contracts about to expire. Full of spry humor and giddy delight that readers are sure to share.
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Del Rey: Ballantine. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780804179058. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780804179041. FANTASY
This multi-award-winning novel took the fantasy world by storm and makes a fine next read for those who wish to delve deeper into stories of magic and how it changes lives. It begins with a bit of Beauty and the Beast overlay yet turns more fully into a story of power, love, and courage. Built upon a framework of folklore and fantasy tropes, this richly developed narrative kicks off with the reassurance that the magician, known as the Dragon, does not eat the girls he takes from the village he’s responsible for protecting from the dangerous and ever-encroaching Wood. Rather, he keeps them for ten years of service before letting them go. Unexpectedly, Agnieszka ends up as the next chosen one, and it turns out that she’s a witch destined to become someone far more important than a servant. In expertly constructed and brilliantly paced prose, Novik describes how Agnieszka learns her craft and charges forth, doing her very best to face down and understand the evil that threatens her world.
- Philip Glass has created an opera/film score in homage to Cocteau’s movie, removing the film soundtrack and layering on his own orchestration.
- Stevie Nicks also wrote a song as tribute to the story.