Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Another beauty, another beast

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast

On the 25th birthday of the Disney animated film of the beloved classic tale of Beauty and the Beast a new version is rocking the movie theatres.

Transforming one of Disney’s most iconic animated films into a live-action extravaganza was well worth the effort, now that it is a Hollywood blockbuster.  Its top opening for a March release of $176 million made it the highest March opening ever and the sixth best opening of all time.  Director Bill Condon gathered an outstanding cast, Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey and such established stars as Ewan McGregor, Ian Mckellen and Emma Thompson which helped bring out the crowds to be newly enchanted by this familiar tale.

While taking nothing away from the 1991 musical version, it adds a joyous explosion of colour, as well as an emotional connection and human eye contact.

Studded with new gems the familiar songs written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman have all been retained and a bonus of new sentimental songs have been added, also written by Alan Menken with the cooperation of Tim Rice.

The incarnation of an enormous hit is not only smart but profitable. Disney has 20 classics ready for remakes, and we cannot wait to enjoy each and every one of them.

Families will rush to see their beloved classic fairy tales again and again.

But who still believes in fairy tales nowadays? Why do we hold them close to our hearts, tell them to our children and grandchildren with such conviction, proving perhaps that we still believe? We believe in magic, good fairies, wicked witches and a prince charming. We believe in goodness, in love, in “happily ever after”. We believe in all the fantasies of heaven and earth.

How did such fairy tales, folk tales, myths and fables begin?

They have existed in every culture since pre-historic times, handed down orally from generation to generation. Nothing was written until the invention of printing in the 1400s, but some stories date as far back as 4,000 years.

Such fables were by no means for children alone. Their rich colourful characters, exotic ambiances, daring adventures appealed to adults equally, despite their simple, direct styles.

For hundreds of years, famous authors have written their own original stories about fairies, witches, monsters and magic in their novels, plays and ballads, inspired by the imagination of the ancients.

How did the Arabian Nights come to be? Adventure, action, wizards, magic, lessons and morals are a collection of different cultures of Asia and North Africa.

What about the Tales of Mother Goose? They were written by French author Charles Perrault, who gave us Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty among others.

Did not the Brothers Grimm go from door to door collecting their famous tales of Snow White and Rumpelstitskin from old housewives of their village?  Danish author Hans Christian Andersen created his own original stories such as The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes from tales he heard every day. They are deeply philosophical, with lessons to learn about sacrifice, jealousy and the perils of human frailties.

Why Shakespeare himself wrote about fairies in his A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream? Who can forget Puck, the mischievous elf that personifies the wise knave?

Beauty and the Beast has all the qualities of a fairytale, the evil-spell, the frightful beast, prince charming and the beautiful Belle who represents goodness.

The moral rings loud and clear: “Inner beauty is greater than physical beauty”, but that only scratches the surface. It speaks of sacrifice, kindness and above all of love, the strongest human emotion, which in itself can perform all the magic we dream of.

La Belle et la Bete was written in 1742 by French author Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Her lengthy version was abridged, rewritten and published by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 and again by Andrew Lang in 1889.

Variants of the tale were known across Europe and an operatic version, Zemire et Azor written in 1741 had an enormous success, well into the 19th century. Villeneuve may have also been influenced by several old versions such as Cupid and Psyche, The Golden Ass, and The Pig King

Belle (Beauty) sacrifices herself in place of her father to live with the terrifying beast. The beast, only in appearance, was cursed by a wicked witch, and only love could restore him.

Kind and loving, Belle learns to appreciate the inner beauty of the beast and agrees to marry him. The spell is broken and a prince charming stands before her offering his gratitude, his love and all his wealth.

The power of kindness is often underrated, but here it emphasises how Belle’s kindness was able to melt the heart of the beast — and love wins the day.  Kindness kills. It killed the beast.

According to researchers this is based on a true story and maybe 4,000 years old. The tale has been adapted for screen, stage and prose over the years.

We put so much stock in appearances with an unforgiving eye. Few have the gift of penetration.

Mired in mud and moss, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray preserved his appearance, but his portrait revealed the ugly impurity of his heart.

A simple fairytale teaches us to look beyond what we see — to find the beauty in the beast.

“Things are beautiful if you love them.”

Jean Anouil (1910-1987)

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