If you’re anything at all like me, you will often find yourself watching a Disney film and shaking your head in disbelief at the sheer talent and creativity on display. Where, you’ll ask yourself, do they get all these amazing ideas?
Part of it is the source material, of course. By borrowing from humanity’s most beloved myths and legends, the company is assured a product that, for whatever reason, is a proven commodity that pushes the buttons of audiences, and often has been doing so for hundreds of years.
That’s incredibly smart, but it’s just a base on which they then unleash some of the most talented directors, artists and animators on the planet. The results speak for themselves. I still remember watching Aladdin (first Disney feature I saw in a cinema as a teenager after years of disdaining cartoons) and being completely blown away by it.
But at least in once case, I know where they got most of their ideas and aesthetic, and that one is Beauty and the Beast. Simply stated, the 1991 Disney edition is a remake of Jean Cocteau‘s 1946 masterpiece La Belle et la Bête.
This is a huge relief to me because the excessive talent of the people working on modern films was driving me to drink, so it’s a bit of a relief to know it isn’t all down to their own creativity. It’s nice to know that they are inspired by someone else every once in a while, and that they are humble enough not to mess with perfection… only to animate it!
There’s no need to summarize the plot of the 1946 film. It’s the Beauty and the Beast after all, but it has to be acknowledged that what Cocteau pulled off in immediate post-war France was extremely impressive. Dark, moody sets, an ever-present sense of utter magic and the feeling of being immersed in a fairy tale that looked just how a peasant in 1800 would have imagined it to look must not have been easy to achieve.
But most of all, it was interesting to see just how many of the elements were familiar to viewers of the 1991 animation. The creative teapots, candelabra and other living elements were included, albeit not as characters in their own rights. Despite being made nearly fifty years later, it is clear that the Disney film was more than just inspired by the earlier movie–they simply updated it.
They also chose to leave the beast as he was–they are remarkably similar in concept, considering the huge leeway allowed by animation versus having to apply makeup to an actor using what was available in Europe in 1946.
It was an inspired decision–the old film is still the definitive B&B, so messing too much with the formula would have been unwise in the extreme, and thanks to that, the animated version is now a classic in its own right.
There have been other takes on this legend, both on stage and on screens big and small. None have stood the test of time as well as these two (the awful TV series, especially), essentially because the most important elements–the visuals of the beast and his castle–are identical in every significant way.
And now, I’m even more impressed with the Mickey Mouse guys. Knowing when to leave well enough alone is just as difficult as knowing when to solve problems in the most creative way possible. But for my money, I’ll still take Cocteau’s version.
Not much strangeness surrounding the production of this one, so we’ll drop in a racing driver piece (at Classically Educated, we enjoy auto racing, mainly because of its social unacceptability): it seems like one of the actresses, Mila Parély was married to multiple Le Mans entrant Taso Mathieson. We approve.