Throughout my life, people have always been curious about my fascination with the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Yes, it is “A Tale as Old as Time” that dates back as far as Greek mythology, with multiple adaptations. But what really peaks my interest is the various media takes on the story. Whether they be set in the Fantasy realm or taken to modern day, the various films and TV shows based on the classic story all have their own quirks and unique qualities. Essentially, there’s a version of Beauty and the Beast for everyone.
So for the next upcoming weeks, I’m going to give you a break down of my favorite movie/TV adaptations. You’ll meet Beauties and Beasts of cartoon form, filmed in black and white, and even ones from other countries (outside of English-speaking ones at least). Now, to begin our adventure into the many takes on “The Tale As Old as Time,” let’s start with an oldie but a goodie to get you into the spirit. It even has some elements that eventually led to Disney’s take on the story! So without further ado, I present The George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere 1976 TV Movie.
Though not the most well-known version by a long shot, the 1976 adaptation of BatB is an interesting one for a couple of reasons. Firstly it starred a real-life couple as the leads, which gives Scott and Devere one of the rare instances of having genuine chemistry between Belle and Beast. This, along with the appearance of the Beast and his human form, all lay the ground work for further adaptations to come.
Following the classic Beaumont version of the fairy tale, we’re introduced to a Belle who doesn’t take no for an answer. She stands for what she believes in, and is opinionated through and through. She even demotes the writings of Aristotle, calling his views on women sexist and foolish. And yes, 1976’s Belle also loves books – which if all these things (plus her hair color) don’t remind you of a certain animated Belle, then you’re just plain silly.
I’ll be honest in that the 1976 version took some getting used to, mostly because of the unconventional aspects.
Most interpretations on screen of The Beast are variations on a lion or a bear – and are also played by a much younger actor. But Scott’s Beast is actually a king, with an appearance inspired by a pig or a wild bore. All of this is refreshing – mostly because these decisions come with their own set of challenges for the actor involved. This is also the first Beast on screen that doesn’t have humanoid or “claw” type hands, but rather has hoofs – making it almost impossible for Beast to attempt to be a “gentlemen” in the physical sense with his leading lady.
The differences also become apparent within the banter between the two leads. Both Belle and Beast are looking for the truth in their fantasy world. Mentions of unicorns or elves are followed with a question of their realism – which when you realize those creatures are a reflection of the character’s deepest fears or desires, then they are real…or at least in the context of the movie itself.
In fact, much of this Beauty and the Beast isn’t exactly focused on whether Belle realizes who the Beast truly is, but more that Beast helps Belle come to see the flaws within her pre-castle life. Many Beauty type characters in prior versions already know that their home life isn’t really what they want. Disney’s dreams of grand adventures, while Cocteau’s only wants the best for her undeserving siblings while in their poor state. But 1976’s Belle doesn’t really understand that her family isn’t exactly the most kind to her, and that she has yet to experience true, unabashed love. And even Beast, with all his flaws, finally shows her what real love (romantic or not) feels like.
Sure, like many Beauty and the Beast movies the themes are the same – of acceptance of flaws and learning to love someone beyond their surface. But to have a Belle change emotional aspects of herself was definitely a new, more mature addition to the tale. It makes sense why this would serve to influence much of what Disney did with their take on the story – including adding the “Temper” issues with Beast, the Enchanted Objects, and Belle’s fascination with stories. They’re all more unique touches to a story that otherwise (as Producer Don Hahn once said) “just two people having dinner night after night.” So it’s quite easy to see on the BatB timeline where things were headed from here on out.
But one thing that Disney nor any other version really had done was 1976’s ending. In most version’s of Beauty and the Beast, audiences are used to a young handsome prince being revealed. In some versions, the Prince is hinted at in dreams, while in others he just appears out of nowhere. But in 76’s take, the Beast mentions that he is a King, which when his human form is revealed to be a middle-aged man (Scott was 49 at the time). This can leave a weird taste in the mouth of most audiences.
Truthfully, I love how much this version really sticks to the roots of Beaumont’s story and era the story was written. In the 1700’s, young brides were often married off to much older and richer gents in arranged marriages. They would have little to no relationship, and often become frightened of their soon-to-be husbands. But Beauty and the Beast served as a way to explain that those fears could change the more you get to know said stranger, and even Belle (after having declared her love for Beast) still has that nervous anxiety when being re-introduced to her love, who is now the King. It isn’t a perfect romance, which both of them understand and are willing to accept.
Overall, 1976’s Beauty and the Beast might lack the glamor or “pixie-dust” of other onscreen versions – but it instead leaves audiences curious. It takes risks and gambles that ultimately pay off, while not ignoring the historical context of the tale the filmmakers are bringing to life. And they obviously pay off because of what future versions would take from it.
Did you enjoy this first installment of Tale As Old As Time Rewind? What versions are you looking forward to being covered? Next week, I’ll be covering one of the more popular modern takes on the story – the 1980’s TV Series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman! So don’t forget to grab your mismatched coats and fingerless gloves for that one.