What is Beauty and the Beast?

The story of “Beauty and the Beast” has been adapted into a variety of genres and is a common allusion. “Beauty and the Beast” is the name of a song written David Bowie for his 1977 album Heroes, as well as a long poem, a ballet, a play, a pantomime, an opera, two television shows—one in the United States and the other in Australia—and two video games. Beauty and the Beast on Ice is an ice skating version of the film. It is best known for a fairy tale first published in French in the eighteenth century, as well as a number of films based on the fairy tale, including one Jean Cocteau and another Disney, as well as a Broadway musical based on the Disney film.

The Folktale

The core of the “Beauty and the Beast” story is very similar to the Cupid and Psyche story, which is similarly developed in multiple genres and variants, including a novel C. S. Lewis called Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, which was published in the twentieth century. The majority of “Beauty and the Beast” adaptations have a basic plot that goes like this:

A formerly wealthy merchant with three daughters offers to bring gifts to his daughters as he prepares to meet the last of his trading ships. The two elders ask for status symbols such as clothes and jewels, while the youngest — Belle or Beauty — only wants a rose. When he becomes lost, the cargo of this ship is used to pay his debts, so he is returning home empty-handed. After spotting a castle, he enters to find a meal laid out for him, but no one else.

The merchant gratefully eats, and on his way out, he passes a rose garden, where he picks a rose for Beauty. He is immediately confronted the Beast, the castle’s owner, who chastises him for stealing the rose, especially after accepting his hospitality, for which the punishment is permanent imprisonment. The merchant begs for his freedom, which the Beast grants if one of the merchant’s daughters agrees to stand in for him. Beauty, predictably, offers to give up her own freedom in exchange for her father’s.

Beauty does not find the Beast repulsive, but she refuses his repeated requests for her hand in marriage. When she becomes too homesick to bear, the Beast allows her to visit her family on the condition that she returns within a certain amount of time. Beauty’s sisters persuade her to break her promise to the Beast at home, and when she finally returns to the castle, she finds the Beast dying of a broken heart in the garden. Beauty realizes she loves the Beast, and when she tells him, he returns to his former glory as a handsome prince. He explains that he was turned into a Beast for behaving in a bestial manner, and that the curse could only be broken finding someone who loved him despite his appearance.

Disney’s Version

Beauty and the Beast, directed Disney and starring Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, was the first full-length animated feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991. The title song, “Beauty and the Beast,” won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Song for Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is a musical adaptation of the Disney film and a short live synopsized performance that was performed at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, but with changes. It had a Broadway run of 5,464 performances, making it the sixth-longest running show on Broadway in 2007.