Disney Beauty and The Beast: The Beast’s Tale and Disney Beauty and The Beast: Belle’s Tale
Writer: Mallory Reaves
Artists: Studio Dice
I was initially pretty perplexed as to why Disney was bothering to make live-action remakes of some of its classic animated films, particularly those like The Jungle Book and Beauty and The Beast, where so many of the characters are still animated, just via modern computer-generated imagery rather than traditional 2D animation. I was actually still wondering this while standing in line to buy my ticket to the new version of Beauty and The Beast a few weeks ago. (Another concern, particular to Beauty and The Beast: How could the studio improve on what was one of their most perfect animated films?).
Then I saw the box office receipts for opening weekend, and my questions suddenly seemed silly. Why wouldn’t Disney remake their own hits, when doing so was such a low-risk avenue to making hundreds of millions of dollars…and that’s just on the movie itself, which is merely the tip of a marketing iceberg.
I was similarly perplexed when I saw these twin manga adaptations of the film in shops this past week, which are each premised on telling the story of the movie from one of the title characters’ points-of-view. Given how much screen time the pair share, wouldn’t there be an awful lot of overlap between the two adaptations? And given the importance of the events they experience apart from one another, wouldn’t one need to read both for something approximating the complete story? Why sell readers two books instead of one?
My perplexity lasted only momentarily this time. Why wouldn’t Disney try to sell an interested reader two books instead of one?
Neither offers a terribly complete, satisfying reading experience. Belle’s Tale is the more complete of the two, and I have to imagine it will be the one that sells more copies. It replaces the opening sequence of the film, in which we see the prince who becomes Beast cursed, with a flashback to her own early childhood (covered later and in the other book in flashback, when the pair magically visit the garret Belle was born in). But otherwise most of the important events of the film take place from her point of view anyway.
The Beast’s Tale restores the prince-focused opening and sacrifices all of Belle’s solo scenes; so basically everything that happened back in her town. We see her father’s visit to the castle through Beast’s point of view, as he skulks in the shadows and watches the man warily through slitted, pupil-less eyes. When Belle is experiencing the big “Be Our Guest” musical number (these manga adaptations are not musicals, so when it’s drawn in Belle’s Tale, it’s merely a weird panel of a delighted Belle watching plates fly through the air silently), Beast’s Tale has him crouched atop a tower like a gargoyle, brooding about how he wishes he could join in on the fun.
Despite how many scenes in both overlap, relatively few panels are repeated, but there are enough that it is obvious that some of the very same art appears in both books, inked slightly darker in Beast’s Tale. For example, when Belle and Beast argue through her closed bedroom door. On the other hand, much less art than one might expect, or could have been used, appears in both volumes. When Beast saves Belle from the wolves, the entire scene is drawn two different ways in the two different books.
What value the two books from two different POVs ultimately have is basically limited to a few lines of their inner thoughts added here and there, but these amount to little more than what you might have found in the thought balloons in old school American comic books.
The supporting characters all get short shrift. Gaston, the villain of the film, appears more-or-less out of nowhere in Beast’s tale, to the point that he seems like a particularly random element in the narrative. Le Foux is in only a handful of panels in either of the books, and even the cursed castle servants reduced to talking objects get relatively little “screen-time.” (I’m actually kind of surprised Disney didn’t also commission Gaston’s Tale and Lumiere’s Tale.)
None of this to imply that the books are without any worth, of course. It’s certainly fun to see the very un-manga-like movie designs translated into the style, and various storytelling strategies more common in manga applied to a version of this film’s story (like The Beast and Gaston appearing in gigantic size when they are being particularly menacing, for example). And hey, if you ever wondered what Emma Watson might look like as a shoujo heroine, here you go.
If one’s interest in comics tends towards process, it’s also somewhat fun to see the designs as they appear in this book, given that they are a manga adaptation of a live-action/CGI film adaptation of a 2D animated film from 1991, which was itself based on an 18th century fairy tale and inspired by its many variant adaptations over the years (especially the 1946 film version by Jean Cocteau).
Of course, those pleasures could have been accomplished just as easily with a single adaptation, instead of two partial adaptations, that almost—but not quite—add up to a whole story.