This ain’t yo’ daddy’s Disney flick; Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is much more faithful to the original French fairy tale, both in spirit and in plot (though it’s not a perfect adaptation by any means). I also believe it is the first ever film adaptation of the tale, and as such breaks ground in a number of ways, not the least being how creative and fantastic the film ends up being. Filmmakers in the decades since have cited it as a great influence on their work, and it is consistently on lists of the top films of world cinema. Putting this one up on such a high pedestal made me a little wary, to be honest, but the film itself worked out quite well, not exceeding my expectations but matching them.
You know the story: father is imprisoned at the castle of a monstrous beast, daughter Belle offers to take his place, and slowly Belle and the Beast fall for each other, yadda yadda yadda. I will say, though, that if you go into this expecting roughly the same story as Disney’s animated musical, prepare to be surprised. As I mentioned in the opener, this is much more faithful to the original story than Disney’s version, which might throw a good percentage of you, but once you get past that, there’s quite a fantasy to be explored here. Unfortunately, it was trying to describe it that had me in a quandary. There really wasn’t very much I could find to say about it; indeed, I went through the whole film and only had one note written down by the end of it, that the voice Jean Marais used for the Beast seemed a little high-pitched to me. What this does do, however, is provide a much more adult version of a child-like fantasy experience; indeed, Cocteau starts the film off with a written plea for the audience to suspend their disbelief and basically revert to their childhoods to enjoy the film proper, and that’s really the only way this one really works. But, that’s the key thing: in the right mindset, this film does work, and work well.
I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to the style of telling the story that this film employed, but once I did, the whole experience was quite enjoyable. The third act seemed a little rushed for me, and could’ve been expounded upon to make the film somewhere closer to 2 hours, rather than the scant 93 minutes it is, but no film can be perfect; for what the film does do, it does it well. Some may argue that Disney’s film should be on the list, what with being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture and all, but now that I’ve seen Cocteau’s version, I can see why the editors went the way they did; this took a serious amount of creativity and talent, and it shows exceedingly. Give this a try, even if you’re more of a fan of Disney’s version; there’s still a good deal of merit to be found here.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10