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Behind the Folk Tale: Beauty and the Beast on “Once Upon a Time”

Rumple and Belle
Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in “Once Upon a Time” Photo: ABC

Since I provided a detailed analysis of the folk tale Beauty and the Beast last week, I thought I would look at how Once Upon a Time handles its retelling. I have to say, I’m not terribly impressed with the writers’ efforts. They were clearly working from the Disney version and did little if any background research on the story.

To begin, they went with Disney’s version of the story’s beginning but with their own twist. There are no sisters, though they did choose to include the character of Gaston. The role of Belle’s suitor is not mentioned in any past version of the tale. She is single and living with her father, usually her sisters and sometimes her mother. In Once Upon a Time, they place Belle as the daughter of a king, a detail not present in any of the stories or even the Disney film.

Smaller details such as this I could forgive if the utter lack of background study hadn’t been made so obvious by the beginning of Belle’s stay in Rumplestiltskin’s castle; not to mention the absurd crossing of stories through the choice to use Rumplestiltskin to play the beast. A more unlikely candidate could not have been chosen. Since when is an ugly mischievous imp equal in character to a giant frightening beast? His rather comical and more wicked demeanor simply doesn’t match up with the tortured and terrifying beast. The beast needs to be larger than life, which I’d say he is not. Even with all the makeup they put on him, he still just looks like an impish man playing dress-up. I’m not getting the wow factor from this show.

That’s really my biggest complaint about the way the writers handled the story. The beast is completely miscast and badly written. Does anyone remember the scene where Belle is trying to open the curtains in Rumplestiltskin’s library? That scene couldn’t have come across any more ridiculous than it did. When she asks him why he spins so much (not a very beastly occupation) he giggles…seriously, he giggles. I can’t get past it. I just can’t. The scene made me laugh. I was practically rolling on the floor. What kind of a beast giggles like a little schoolgirl? Really?!! But on to more serious matters…

At the beginning of Beauty’s stay at his castle, the writers have her residing in the dungeon…I guess to make Rumplestiltskin seem more menacing. But, that detail isn’t even in the Disney movie they watched for their research. Although I’m frankly quite glad they didn’t put her in bed with him…that image just makes me sick to my stomach. But they certainly could have had some type of mystery about what he truly looks like. I think it would have been intriguing to both the Beauty and the Beast plotline as well as the show as a whole if the writers had made him turn back into a human at night, making him vulnerable to attack. He’s too omnipotent at the moment. Nothing can really hurt him, even though they tried to show him as having weaknesses when they made him sick last season. But, still Hook was able to wound him when he was in human form and not beast form, so, in my opinion, it doesn’t really count. If he’d been in beast mode, Hook wouldn’t have been able to poison him. I just don’t buy it.

The addition of the chipped cup was also ridiculous. Yeah, it was cute in the movie, but leave it there, where it belongs. If I ever have to see that cup again, I just might scream. The gimmick doesn’t work. It certainly didn’t suddenly make me like the pairing anymore. The two actors don’t have chemistry and all of these little gimmicky things the writers add to try and tie them together don’t make up for that fact. He gave her a library. Ok, that’s nice of him, but I still don’t see them walking hand in hand in Central Park while some schmoozy romantic music plays in the background. The two as a couple is just not believable, and that more than anything else is what ruins the story.

Well, I could go on about details, but I think I’ll leave it there for today. Hope you enjoyed.

How do you think Once Upon a Time handled this tale? Any particularly bad…or good moments you’d like to mention? Sound off below…



Take a look at Top 20 Fairy Tale Films.

Don’t forget to peruse Highlighting the CW’s Beauty and the Beast.

Read Beauty and the Beast: A Bit of History.

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By on October 22nd, 2013

About Rebecca Lane

Rebecca Lane grew up in the hot desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona where she decided early on she wanted to write, if only to mentally escape her blistering surroundings. She has always been enamored of the arts and literature. As a child she often wrote short stories, and rewrote the endings of novels that she simply could not abide. She received her Undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she was lucky enough to also spend a year studying at Oxford University. While she began her journey dreaming of the day she would sing opera in a large Manhattan theater, she found in the end she could not stand waitressing and simply could not give up books and her hopes of someday writing them. She is currently working as a freelance writer/editor and earning her Masters in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

More posts by this author.

4 thoughts on “Behind the Folk Tale: Beauty and the Beast on “Once Upon a Time””

  1. I’m sorry, but you have zero idea what you’re talking about. Your “review” here is a mess, as well as full of falsehoods (whether accidental or intentional). You’re attempting to sound knowledgeable about Beauty and the Beast tales, when almost every single point you make is laughably incorrect and closed-mindedly interpreted, not to mention blatantly insulting not only to the story itself that Once is creating, but to people who truly pay attention to and understand the different versions of the BatB tale.

    • I’m not the one who wrote this post but I think your response is kind of rude as this is just one person’s take on the tale. Many do not like this interpretation and that’s fair as most people familiar with folk tales know that Once is more Disney than anything else and that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not particularly fond of the choice to combine the Beast with Rumplestiltskin either because I wanted a real Beast, the magnificent Beast that I love. I don’t hate it but I could care less about it, strange considering my own obsession with the tale and archetype.

      Yes, there can be Beauty and the Beast ‘like’ stories in theme rather than ones based on the literary version of the tale. I like many of these modern echoes and the archetype itself, seen in quite different stories such as “Cupid and Psyche” and other animal bridegroom tales. Rumple would be a Beast in that way: in theme rather than in reality and that’s fine. Nevertheless, the presentation itself was problematic to me as BATB is first, and most importantly about transformation, whether metaphorical or literal.It can be redemptive or merely outward. In this episode ONLY (as I can’t say where it went in the future as I rarely watch this show now), when he has a chance at redemption AND physical transformation, he will not take it. He chooses power instead. I didn’t really like that choice. It just felt off to me for this archetype if I’m being honest. Something didn’t sit right in me, but this is my own personal opinion.

      I do think the episode DID do some things right, such as Belle being tested in the episode, a common part of the archetype that is present in almost all animal bridegroom tales. Nevertheless, it was more the presentation that I had a problem with as well as the obsession with Disney rather than the literary tale, which is what I think Rebecca was mainly focusing on. It became too much about winking at Disney fans from the cup to Gaston to even Belle’s clothes. They could have gone back to the original source instead rather than all the gags and winkery going on. The dialogue was poorly written and the giggle (I agree), was a bit much (but I’ve never enjoyed his giggle). To see the Beast spinning gold, just didn’t mesh well for me, but I see it does for others so that’s great!

  2. I feel like you’re not as familiar as you think you are with Beauty and the Beast traditional stories: there are versions where she is the daughter of a king, such as Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 version.

    I think the dungeon scene is likely there as a parallel to the scene in the animated movie with Belle finding her father there, as well as to highlight Rumplestiltskin’s state of mind at the start of the episode.

    “Although, I’m frankly quite glad they didn’t put her in bed with him…that image just makes me sick to my stomach.” I can’t possibly understand how the idea of that is worse than some of the other couples on Once Upon A Time, like the rape of Graham by Regina or even David and Mary Margaret’s affair. Oh right, two consenting adults can’t be in bed if one of them is a giggly imp.

    You say that Rumplestiltskin was an absurd choice to play the Beast, yet I think it was one of the best decisions the writers ever made. If ANYTHING, the Disney movie deviates more from the original tales, where the Beast is polite, and asks nothing of the Beauty except a shared meal. Rumplestiltskin, in his cautious approach to Belle parallels the tales more closely. The Disney Beast with his aggression is very much a contrast to the quieter characters from other stories. Also, the Beast should be “tortured and terrifying”? We got a whole dose of that four episodes prior with “Desperate Souls,” I think Rumplestiltskin qualifies.

    The giggling complaint seems to be a dig at non-conformative masculinity: why shouldn’t the Beast ‘giggle like a schoolgirl’? The high giggles and impish attitude are Rumplestiltskin’s coping methods, a way of appearing inhuman and distancing himself from other people. As the episode progresses, he displays his theatrical mannerisms less and less as he becomes more ‘human’ over the course of the story. His voice changes as well: that is not my interpretation, that is in the script notes.

    The importance of Beauty and the Beast as a story is not how scary looking the Beast is, but about becoming more human. Whether the Beast is furry and clawed or lizard-like, and whether he spins or gardens (all the tales talk about how the Beast demanded repayment for his stolen roses-and if a DEAL doesn’t fit with the character of Rumplestiltskin I don’t know what show you’re watching), are extra details.

    I disagree that Rumpelstiltskin needs another weakness: he has one, the dagger, which can kill or enslave him. The Beast does not get to walk about human in the night in the original tales as far as I know; “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” has this conceit.

    I think the little chipped cup is cute, and a nice symbol for a love between people who are damaged yet still whole.

    This is entirely subjective, but I find that Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin have very good chemistry and work wonderfully in all their scenes together. The idea of Rumplestiltskin and Belle isn’t believable as a couple? Why not? I find the idea of them holding hands in a park completely adorable. (Please don’t say something like ‘age difference’ or ‘he’s scaly’ because you’re missing the point of Beauty and the Beast.)

    I am sorry to come rant on your post that is from a while ago, but I feel that perhaps you should give the episode another try.

    • Like I told the person above, I did not write this article. Nevertheless, I am very knowledgeable about this archetype (I studied this intently in grad school for instance). You make some good points but I don’t think you are entirely right either.

      Yes, Beauty IS a daughter of a King in Villeneuve’s version (though her adopted father never is). This is part of her back story that was cut in the condensed version by Beaumont.

      As for the dungeon scene, I don’t really care either way. Completely subjective and yes, likely paying homage to the cartoon which I think was Rebecca’s main irritation more than anything (this being an opinion piece). In most versions though, the Beast doesn’t throw Beauty in any kind of dungeon..

      Then there is the bed comment. Clearly, Rebecca was grossed out by the two. This is again opinion, one that didn’t talk about Once’s other problem areas so I don’t see the point in bringing it up? Personally, I hated the affair. And poor Graham. He was the only character I truly loved on this show…

      Saying that this version is closer to the tale, I cannot agree with. In the literary telling, the Beast has dinner with Beauty every evening (so yes they share meals) and every evening he asks her to either marry him (in Beaumont’s version) or to sleep with him (Villeneuve’s version). In the literary versions, the Beast is kind to Beauty,but he could be beastly and terrible to others (hence why themes of redemption seep through, particularly in later retellings when the tale shifted a bit). I can’t exactly say that Rumple’s behavior quite matched up with the quieter versions of the story. While technically a Beast in theme, I more closely align Rumple with the Byronic Heroes, many inspired of course by the Beast (like Mr. Rochester). It makes sense these two archetypes would begin to blend.

      I think you are reaching with the non-conformative masculinity bit because I don’t think that was the point? To me, it’s just grating. As a creative choice, I just didn’t get it. He could have been theatrical and less so as the episode progressed without being too over the top. This is of course a personal preference. I would have preferred a more interesting way of him becoming more human. Again, I wanted better transformation.

      While becoming more human (transformation) is an important part of the tale, it is also about Beauty’s choice to see beyond the surface. It is about her own test. You are right, that he can take any beastly form, I would have just preferred it NOT be Rumplestiltskin but that comes down to personal choice. I honestly find it grating the way Once meshes the characters from various stories or films as is usually the case. Not everyone is going to like this choice (I personally prefer the mingling of fairy tales as seen in works like Fables or even Rapunzel’s Revenge). And making a deal is a common theme in fairy tales. I can see why Once did it but I’m not sure it worked. All subjective opinion of course.

      Rebecca’s desire for more weakness is understandable and also just an opinion. It makes sense for him to be human half the time this could easily connect back to not only Cupid and Psyche, East of the Sun like you said, and even Villeneuve’s version where Beauty falls for the Prince in his human form (which is the Beast) in her dreams. It is one of my FAVORITE parts of the literary tale that unfortunately got cut in the condensed and preachier version.

      The cup had more to do with the winking to Disney more than what it represents. I didn’t like it either because I find Once’s obsession with Disney a bit over the top. But different opinions make the world go around I suppose.

      And the chemistry is subjective. I don’t personally care about looks or age (as I like many things like this. For me, I just didn’t ‘feel’ the chemistry. I thought it was alright. Not horrible but not amazing either. All in the eye of the beholder. I can’t speak for Rebecca, but I don’t need the Beast to be young and attractive. I thought the 80s Beauty and the Beast show was wonderful for instance.

      I do find it curious why suddenly there are posts out of the blue but whatever. People who like it, will like it, while those who don’t, won’t.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


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