Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time. The original story was created in 1740 by a French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, although the tale we’re most familiar with is the rewritten version by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Where a beautiful young woman is held captive by the Beast, a once handsome but cold-hearted prince, cursed to be a monster until he can earn the love of another. There have been countless retellings across different cultures, from Russia’s The Scarlet Flower to the Danish The Beauty and the Horse.
However, today the fairytale is more commonly known as part of the Disney Princess franchise. While the Disney versions are fantastic, there are some incredibly unique retellings that definitely deserve some love. This list will go through seven wonderful, wacky, beautiful, and terrifying adaptations of the classic story. Some that hold true to the original tale and others which subvert all expectations. Above all, these films prove the timeless nature of the classic tale. Every generation puts its own twist on the story — Beauty and the Beast is constantly growing and adapting with the times, remaining forever relevant. Without further ado, here are our seven picks for the most unique adaptations of Beauty and the Beast.
Belle is one of the few futuristic retellings of the tale, taking place in rural Japan in a world where virtual reality is incredibly evolved. The anime film follows the story of young Suzu (Kaho Nakamura/Kylie McNeill), a shy, everyday high-school student with a lost passion for singing and songwriting. Upon her friend’s suggestion, Suzu logs into the virtual reality metaverse “U” and creates a beautiful new persona under the name “Bell” and becomes a globally-beloved superstar. When her concert is ruined by a monstrous user named “The Dragon” (Takeru Sato/Paul Castro Jr.), a vigilante group forms to hunt him down. Curious about the Dragon’s identity, Suzu embarks on an epic and emotional quest of self-discovery.
The film is visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining and emotional in all its whimsy. During the world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Belle even received a fourteen minute standing ovation and was extremely well received. Unlike the original Beauty and the Beast, Belle has an unlikely twist when they reveal the Dragon’s true identity. He isn’t your classic handsome prince in disguise. We won’t spoil anything here, but the film has a beautiful takeaway and is quite the tearjerker.
Strange Magic (2015)
While Strange Magic is technically an adaptation of Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dreamthe film has a Beauty and the Beast-esque romance between the two main characters. Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), the beautiful fairy princess of the Light Kingdom, and the Bog King (Alan Cumming), the hideous, insectoid ruler of the Dark Kingdom, are at war when he kidnaps Marianne’s sister over a stolen love potion. As the kingdoms are life-long enemies, the two have a natural hatred towards each other. But as they learn more about the other, they come to realize they’re not so different and fall in love.
In the original story, Belle sees through the Beast’s terrible exterior to find the beautiful man underneath. Her love for him breaks his spell and reveals him to be a handsome prince. Yet, in Strange Magic, the Bog King never becomes handsome. He is consistently ugly throughout the film and Marianne stays beautiful. There’s a wonderful message here in this film that the others failed to achieve — that when it comes to true love, looks really don’t matter.
Beauty and the Beast (2014)
This French film version is arguably the most loyal to the original material by Villenueve. Belle’s father (André Dussollier) is a widowed, bankrupt merchant forced to move his six children to the countryside. During one of his trips, the merchant becomes lost and seeks refuge in a mysterious, yet magical castle. However, he oversteps his bounds when he steals a rose as a gift for Belle (Léa Seydoux) and the Beast (Vincent Cassel) of the castle demands his life for the rose. Upon hearing this, Belle offers up her own life as the Beast’s captive.
While it has many similarities to the Disney version, La Belle et La Bete is a far darker version, traveling deeper into the backstories of both Belle and the Beast. The only fault in this version is the weakness in narrative due to the underdevelopment of Belle and the Beast’s love. Aside from that, the cinematography captures the magic and awe of this fairytale world beautifully. From intricate costumes to otherworldly sets, you truly feel transported to this ethereal universe. Plus, it’s quite enchanting to view the story in the original French.
Perhaps the wackiest adaptation on this list, Penelope is a quirky take on the fairytale. When Penelope’s great-great-great-grandfather Ralph Wilhern, a wealthy socialite, impregnated a young servant girl and refused to marry her due to his family’s disapproval, the young servant committed suicide out of grief. Unlucky for the Wilhern family, her mother was a witch and cursed the next daughter in their line to be born with the face of a pig. A curse to only be broken when “one of her kind” falls in love with her. When Penelope (Christina Ricci) was born, her mother hid her from the world until she was eighteen, then began the search for a counter-curse.
The film is light-hearted and romantic, without going overboard on the sappy sentimentality. It’s a family movie, with a lovely message about learning to love yourself for who you are. Surprisingly, the film also has an incredible cast, with performances from Reese Witherspoon, James McAvoyduck Peter Dinklage, to name a few. The story is a bit silly and predictable, but definitely worth the watch when you’re in the mood for something to warm your heart.
The Beautician and the Beast (1997)
If you’re a fan of Fran Drescher in The Nannyyou will definitely enjoy her in the adorable romantic comedy The Beautician and the Beast. The film follows beautician Joy Miller (Fran Drescher) who teaches at a beauty school in New York. After winding up in the newspaper for a heroic feat, a diplomat from the fictional Eastern European country of Slovetzia mistakes her for a science teacher and decides to hire her as a tutor for the children of Slovetzia’s dictator, Boris Pochenko (Timothy Dalton). Misinterpreting the job offer as one for a hairstylist, Joy accepts and moves to the foreign country.
While the film is a little outdated, it’s still very sweet, romantic and endearing. Drescher and Dalton have wonderful chemistry together, as their characters go from butting heads to falling deeply in love. As they grow closer, Boris enlists Joy’s help to rid himself of his reputation as a “beast”, undergoing both a political and personal makeover (though, I think I preferred the mustache). The film also captures Drescher’s wonderful irreverent sense of humor, while simultaneously showing us a soft and tender side to the story.
Panna a Netvor (1978)
The Czechoslovak film adaptation Panna a Netvor is not one for the kids to watch. In this gothic rendition of the classic fairytale, it follows the usual tale of a widowed, bankrupt merchant who gets lost on his journey and seeks refuge in a decrepit palace. There, he steals a beautiful white rose as a gift for his youngest daughter Julie (Zdena Studenkova), which angers the Beast (Vlastimil Harapes) of the castle. However, the Beast allows him to leave as long as one of his daughters takes his place out of their own free will. Upon hearing this, Julie chooses to save him. Captive in his castle and forbidden from looking at his ghastly visage, Julie and the Beast slowly fall in love.
Although the premise is similar, this version of the tale takes an entirely different approach to what most are used to when considering The Beauty and the Beast. The film is shrouded by this dark, gloomy atmosphere — a dark forest, mysterious fog, haunting church-pipes, and a looming palace. Even the Beast is different to the usual cat/buffalo creations, in this film he’s a winged bird-like creature. Panna a Netvor is terribly frightening and not an easy watch, but it has a beautiful and gripping gothic horror twist.
La Belle et La Bete (1946)
La Belle et La Bete is a landmark piece in cinematic history, and is perhaps the most influential entry in this list. This adaptation even earned itself a spot in the Criterion Collection, deeming it culturally significant. Once again, this story also follows Belle’s merchant father (Marcel André) being captured by the Beast (Jean Marais) after stealing a rose from his garden. Belle (Josette Day) takes his place after an ultimatum the Beast offered and becomes his captive. Every day, the Beast asks her to marry him and every day she refuses, until he slowly earns her love.
Unlike the rest on this list, this adaptation is the closest to the Beaumont retelling, which is what the Disney version is also based around. The film is astonishingly beautiful, with elaborate costumes and beautiful sets, even in black and white. It truly feels dreamlike and magical in its cinematography and the makeup for the Beast was a triumph for its time, as were the incredible practical effects. What makes this film even more fragilely beautiful is how it was made towards the end of WWII, a time when fear was deep in the hearts of the French. Yet this film was the perfect response, a story to prove that love can be found even in the darkest of times.