After writing what I thought about Beauty and the Beast 1991 vs 2017 in the previous article, I watched the 1946 and the 2014 versions. I read a critic praising the 1946 to be the best version. The 2014 version got positive reviews in France but not too positive internationally.
It would be unfair to compare production quality and movie making techniques with a 70-year gap. So I focus on one aspect only – romance plot. To continue a plot-base analysis, it needs to be said that this article is full of spoilers. Even if you already know that the beast was a prince, there are creative additions to the other movies if you have not watched them.
Movie adaptations of popular books always bring a question of faithfulness. Let me summarize my interpretation of what happened in the original story first. The beauty is disgusted by the beast’s ugly appearance and rejects his marriage proposal every single time. It does not help that she always dreams of a handsome prince, since she does not realize that the beast is the prince. Gradually she treats him as a friend. Eventually, when the beast dies of grief, she pronounces her love for him.
The 1946 version is the most faithful, but it removes the dreams. It is not clear to me what triggers the beauty change from being disgusted by the beast, and angry of him showing up in her bedroom, to treating him as a friend. Although they spend some time together, she insists they’re only friends. At the end, she accepts the beast only because he turns handsome and happens to have a face exactly the same as a supporting character whom she loves. Not a great romance in my book. I’m also underwhelmed by the creepy designs of the human faces and arms in the castle, but since I said it is unfair to compare production design, so I’ll ignore it. There is one positive element in the movie that the other three versions lack – the beauty proclaims herself to be the actual beast, since she does not keep her promise.
The 2014 version manages to make both the beauty and the beast, and the prince before getting turned into a beast, to be all unlikeable characters. This version keeps the dreams, and uses the dreams to tell a completely new background of the prince accidentally killing her wife, who is a daughter of the god of the forest. The beauty refuses the beast when he is ugly, and accepts him only after learning he is the prince. If I have not missed anything, at no point in the movie does it tell a message that true beauty lies within. When he tells her to come back, saying he’ll die if she does not – this part is never explained and seems odd. In the final act, the brothers are involved in the scheme against the beast, but the sisters are not. This makes all the time spent in the prior scenes with the sisters worthless. We didn’t get to see many scenes of the important brothers before, so this is another oddity. The final act involves some stone giants – although it is interesting as a standalone sequence, it does not make too much sense as a punishment by the god. Most importantly, consider this: if someone marries your daughter and kills her, you feel angry and curse him. That’s totally reasonable. When he finds a new wife, you forgive him!? What logic is that?
The 1991 Disney cartoon makes drastic changes to the story, and dropped the bad sisters and brothers from the story while adding a handsome villain – these are really smart choices. Even though it is unfaithful, it gives us a pleasing movie that makes sense, reinforces the important message, and can be enjoyed by kids and adults. No wonder it is so highly regarded and loved by everyone.
As explained in my previous article, the 2017 screenplay is a further improvement from the 1991 version. In my not so humble opinion, the 2017 live action movie is the best version of Beauty and the Beast.