La Belle et la Bette is the closest predecessor possible to Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’, shot in live-action in 1946 by Jean Cocteau. As with the cartoon feature, the story follows the character of Belle, who is forced to live under the watchful eyes of the Beast in place of her father after stumbling upon an enchanted castle whilst lost in the woods. The film flows with a combination of tragic romance, stunning production design and a lesson of moral vanity in the face of adversity.
Conceptual art from the pre-production stages completely reflects the atmosphere of the Beast’s castle, giving it a very real sense of mystery and unease. “Cocteau uses haunting images and bold Freudian symbols to suggest that emotions are at a boil in the subconscious of his characters.” (Ebert, 1999) There is no denying that the dark atmosphere, coupled with the prospect of living with an alpha male figure, with limbs protruding from all corners of the room, suggests that there are hints of sexual tension as the vulnerable young lady copes with the presence of a terrifying animal.
The facial design of the beast was particularly reflective of his attitude towards Belle. “In my opinion, one must have Marais’ passion for his work and his devotion to his dog to persevere as he did in deserting the human race.” (Cocteau, 1970) This gives the impression that the Beast was something of a human dog, as many features were designed around one, hopelessly lonely, standing his ground in his territory and endlessly loyal to the one he loves. Even the way in which the Beast sniffs at Belle’s sheets when she is away shows how truly animalistic he is, finding comfort in the smell of his beloved.
Prosthetics and costume design, for the decade in which it was made, were particularly awe-inspiring. “The costumes were so elaborate they were said to be ‘as much as the actors could stand up in.’” (Ebert, 1999) The production art works alongside the costumes and sets in such a way that it feels as though the film purposefully works better with the lack of colour. It is clear from the beginning that no expense was spared in order to immerse the audience in this romantic fantasy, which alongside the post-modern camera trickery makes this film a truly magical viewing experience.
Steegmuller F. 1970 - On the Making of Beauty and the Beast - http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/17-on-the-making-of-beauty-and-the-beast
(Fig 1) Christian B. - http://cineclap.free.fr/la-belle-et-la-bete-1946/la-belle-et-la-bete-1946-a04.jpg?lzv1sf
(Fig 2) Christian B. - http://venetianred.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/cberardbb2.jpg?w=300&h=263
(Fig 3) La Belle et la Bête (1946) - http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-QA-nK_3PKJ8/TjOiJQNAhgI/AAAAAAAADbY/uVTwDxDz5B0/s1600/beauty.and.the.beast.1946.720p.bluray.x264-cinefile.mkv_snapshot_01.16.57_%255B2011.07.29_23.17.40%255D.jpg
(Fig 4) La Belle et la Bête (1946) - http://venetianred.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/cberardbb1.jpg