Beauty and the Beast is a timeless classic– a beautiful love story full of magic, excitement, and drama. It’s been told through writing, plays, movies, even TV shows, and its message of acceptance and love is adored by millions– both young and old. The 1991 Disney film release introduced us to cute and memorable characters and produced songs and music that enthralled audiences. For most of us this story has a special place in our hearts; reminding us that love can triumph even under the trickiest of circumstances.
But there is plenty about this tale that is not light and fairy tale-like, in fact, some of it is downright dark. It took a lot of forethought to produce a movie suitable for kids, but it was a hit hence why it’s being redone again in 2017 with the beautiful Emma Watson. I know, I know, I can’t wait either!
Today we’re heading off the beaten path, leaving the singing and love behind us and exploring some little-known facts about the origins of this story and the movie it spurred. From little-known facts to outrageous theories, be ready to forget everything you think you know about the tale as old as time.
15. Hidden Skulls To Symbolize Death
At the end of the 1991 film version, we see Gaston falling, but we’re left wondering if he survived or not. Well, not actually. If you freeze frame this section you may notice one tiny skull in each of his pupils during a close-up shot of his face. The earlier releases on VHS and laserdisc had these two frames removed, but the later versions on DVD and Blu-ray do not. Why was this? The Disney Company claimed that the two frames were important as they helped the viewer determine what happened to Gaston (i.e. he croaked).
14. Time to Die!
While working on Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney didn’t just add songs and characters and take out scenes; there were also a few lines that were cut out as they were deemed too dark and not suitable for the target market.
One of these is in the fight scene right at the end of the film between Gaston and the Beast. The original line was “time to die!” but during post-production, it was decided that this would be be replaced with the line “Belle is mine!” The original line was rather prophetic though because ironically it was Gaston’s time to die. But if you watch the scene carefully, you can still see Gaston’s lips mouth the original line. Check it out for yourself.
13. Evil Fairy Godmother
The version of Beauty and the Beast that we know today is very different compared to the original. The first known author of the book was Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, who published La Belle et la Bête in 1740. This version was lengthy and was shortened and rewritten by de Beaumont in 1756.
In de Villeneuve’s version, the poor prince was not turned into a beast because he was unloving or selfish, oh no, it was because he refused to marry his evil fairy godmother. Yes, that’s right, an evil fairy godmother, the poor guy. Another difference is that in the original, Belle didn’t struggle to understand the Beast because of his red hot temper, but because as a beast he was animal-like and unable to express his thoughts and feelings intelligently.
The 1991 animated version of the Beast was the brainchild of artist Glen Keane. Glen used a Frankenstein approach, borrowing many features from real animals. Starting from the top he gave Beast a head and beard roughly shaped like a buffalo, muscular brows like those of a gorilla, a wild boar’s tusks and nose bridge, a wolf’s tail and legs and finally, the body of an imposing bear, with fur to match.
Of course, the Beast is really a young, handsome man underneath his animal exterior and Glen made sure that the character had one feature that reminded viewers of this. The Beast is depicted in the film as having blue eyes and this is the one physical feature that remains the same whether he is in beast or human form.
11. The Film Almost Didn’t Happen
Walt Disney brought the story of Beauty and the Beast to his studio writers in the 1930s, but the writers found it too difficult to adapt the story into a film version. Walt put it on the back burner and tried again in the 1950s, but they were still unable to come up with a suitable treatment. Walt Disney then died in 1966.
After the massive success of The Little Mermaid in 1989, the studio decided that the story definitely had potential and with the advancements in animation, they decided to give it a go once more.
10. Sisterly Love
In the original story, Belle was not an only child, she had sisters. It was these sisters and her father that she visited after promising the Beast that she would return to him. But when she arrived home her sisters were jealous of her, seeing that she was well-dressed, well-fed, and obviously well cared for. They decided to trick her into staying longer, hoping that this would infuriate the Beast who would then eat Belle out of anger. This makes Cinderella’s sisters look pale in comparison!
9. This Tale Could Be Up To 4000 Years Old
Researchers at the Durham and Lisbon Universities who have been delving into the origins of the Beauty and the Beast story say that tales like Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast could be up to 4000 years old. They used techniques borrowed from biologists to study the links between old stories such as this, told around the world. It’s quite amazing to think about this; these stories survived for thousands of years without being written down until the 16th and 17th centuries. Until then it would have been passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation.
The story as we know it today was written in about 1750 by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. She is regarded as one of the first novelists to use folk tales to teach others about morals.
8. Scenes That Didn’t Make It
Some material never makes it onto the big screen, ending up instead on the cutting room floor. This is true for all movies and there are two particularly dark scenes that were snipped out of the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast because they were considered too grim for a children’s film.
The first never even got off the storyboard to be animated. It’s a scene where the Beast drags behind him the bloody carcass of an animal he just killed. It was scrapped almost immediately.
Another involves the original ending of the film where Gaston’s mangled body is identified through dental records by the town’s policeman and is subsequently buried by his parents in a macabre funeral scene. The scene was cut due to an audio problem, but you can see both in the special features section of the Beauty and the Beast: Extra-Enchanted Edition on Blu-Ray.
7. The Original Beast Didn’t Have Servants or Enchanted Furniture
Obviously, Disney needed to change the original story to make it suitable for a children’s feature film. This meant taking away some of the darker elements (and scrapping funeral scenes and those that could have been otherwise upsetting) and adding a little cheer to the story as well.
In the book by Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the Beast lived alone in his castle– purposefully excluding himself from the world because he was ashamed of his condition, angry and depressed (who wouldn’t be?). Of course, the story needed a little more color for the castle and so Disney added the staff of enchanted objects. This is how memorable characters like Lumière and Cogsworth came to be in the story, and steal hearts all over the world.
6. The Tragedy of Howard Ashman
The 1991 version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was full of beautiful and memorable songs. These were written by the same two people who also created the songs for The Little Mermaid– Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
Sadly, Ashman would never get to see the film and hear the songs he worked so hard on. He was in the end stages of AIDS when he penned the soundtrack and died eight months before the film premiered. When the film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (Beauty and the Beast) Bill Lauch (Ashman’s long term partner) accepted the award on his behalf.
5. Based on Real Events?
Think Beauty and the Beast is just a fairy tale? It might be, but then again, maybe not…
There are a few experts who have studied the story and its origins who believe that it could have been inspired by true events. In the 16th century, there was a man named Petrus Gonsalvus who lived on the island of Tenerife in Spain. This unfortunate man suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition that causes a person to grow an abnormal amount of hair all over the body. Today the condition is well understood, but in those times not so much. Luckily, he was brought to King Henry II’s court where the King took Petrus under his protection. After this, he was introduced to a beautiful woman named Catherine who he later married. Starting to see some parallels?
4. Tears That Were Almost Too Real
How do actors know that they are masters of their craft? When even those on set with them are fooled by their performance!
During the filming of the 90s classic version, the voice of Belle, Paige O’Hara, was required to record a scene where she cries as she mourns the Beast. The actress, who was 30 years old at the time, sobbed in such a disturbing childlike manner with real tears, that the director stopped to ask O’Hara if she was alright. Paige immediately dropped out of character and yelled, “Acting!”
Pretty impressive stuff wouldn’t you say?
O’Hara, now 60, was honored for her contribution to Beauty and the Beast with a Disney Legend Award which she received in 2011. Today, she still does promotional appearances and paints Belle for Disney.
3. Weird Coincidence
Alright, bear with me here as I explain a strange coincidence I uncovered while researching this topic.
In the movie, the prologue tells us that the rose will bloom until the prince is twenty-one. A little later we hear Lumiere singing “Ten years we’ve been rusting…” so that means that the spell was cast ten years prior when the prince was just eleven years because he’s just about to turn twenty-one when we are introduced to him.
The author of the most famous version of this story, Marie Leprince de Beaumont, also suffered a loss when she was eleven years old when her mother suddenly died.
2. A Tale of Mental Illness?
To most of us, the story of Beauty and the Beast is about not judging a book by its cover and learning to love. It’s the classic damsel in distress tale, right?
Then, there are those people who have examined the tale a little closer and their conclusions are… well… interesting. According to them, Beauty and the Beast is a twisted psychological drama, filled with serious mental conditions. Take Belle, for example; she speaks with birds and animals and they speak back– a classic sign of schizophrenia. The Beast takes her to his castle (or does he abduct her?) and she quickly develops Stockholm syndrome– a well-known mental condition that causes captives to identify and sometimes even fall in love with their abductors. Doesn’t sound much like a fairy tale now does it?
1. No Mommy for Belle
Not sure if you’ve ever noticed this hidden theme, but there seems to be a distinct lack of mothers in Disney movies. Many of the most famous characters don’t have mothers– Jasmine in Aladdin, Arial in The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and yes, Belle in Beauty and the Beast are all missing maternal figures. Even poor Nemo in Finding Nemo loses his mother in the first scene.
Now according to Disney producers, there are two theories about why this is. The first explanation is a practical one, the films are short and the theme is always around growing up. Losing their parents forces the characters to start their journey into adulthood.
Another theory is a little darker. In the 1940s, Walt Disney proudly presented his parents with a new house. There were some problems with the furnace and Walt got some maintenance men from his studio to fix it, but they fumbled the job with tragic consequences. The furnace leaked, making his father extremely ill and killing his mother. Walt never spoke about this incident but it’s rumored to have caused him incredible guilt. Could this have translated into his work?