I’ve developed a tentative relationship with the Disney Twisted Tales series. Because characters or authors do not connect these books, each book is so different that you really don’t know what you’re going to get. Although the previous entries I reviewed were not that great, I still held out hope that As Old as Time, the Twisted Tale about Beauty and the Beast, would be different.
I had special hopes because this is Beauty and the Beast, which I consider to be the crowning glory of the Disney Renaissance. Certain fairy tales lend themselves very well to literary twists, and this tale as old as time has seen plenty of fun, imaginative, and clever ones. But again, given my tentative past with this series, I was not expecting anything too grand. And…
In this twist on the Disney story, Belle actually touches the Enchanted Rose in the West Wing. And she sees a strange vision through this magical object: her long-lost mother was actually the Enchantress that cursed the Beast and his servants. Thus begins a mystery that Belle, the Beast, and the castle staff try to solve before the curse is complete, and the Beast’s kingdom disappears forever.
Something I’ve noticed about Liz Braswell’s entries in this series is that she likes to make her heroines angry. Similar to Aurora in Once Upon a Dream, Belle is much quicker to anger than I imagined she could be. Now, having a little bit of an attitude was part of Belle’s character to begin with, so it’s not completely out of line. But seriously, Ms. Braswell. You don’t have to give your characters more “dimension” by making them quick to throw cleavers on a kitchen counter.
The Beast, fortunately, was completely in character, and I definitely appreciated that. He’s actually one of my favorite characters in all of Disney. He is mean and course and unrefined and all that, but that’s only because he is angry, scared, and confused. Here, we see how his parents treated their subjects during a plague, and you can see how he became who he is. Luckily, there were people that showed him kindness and fairness, so he learned some of that too, making him a smart and self-aware, if still quick-tempered, individual.
There are so many reminders of the Beast’s humanity throughout this story, and it only further endeared me to the character. Plus, there are many adorable moments between him and Belle. I love any big, brutish character who gets a little shy around girls, and that’s what the Beast is to me: he’s a teddy bear who can fight wolves and mad hunters, but will cuddle you up in front of a fire.
There are some clever twists in this entry. For instance, since Belle touched the Enchanted Rose, the castle begins to slowly sink into the earth, speeding up the kingdom’s disappearance from the world. Plus, the Beast slowly becomes more beast-like, forgetting his humanity from time to time. He has to fight such instincts until he can help Belle solve the mystery, and you root for him to hold on just a little longer. I admit, the moments where Belle has to gently guide him back are quite sweet.
Also, the enchanted objects are described more like they would appear in real life, rather than a cartoon. That is, rather than having these huge, expressive Disney eyes, they are merely objects that move and stretch but don’t have faces. It’s kind of unsettling to imagine real objects moving this way, and it takes a while to imagine these beloved characters without their expressive faces. But I did appreciate the slight change.
And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the twist was genuinely interesting! Everyone has their theories, but this book took its own intriguing spin on some key questions: how old was the Prince when he was cursed? Where did the Enchantress come from? Why did no one remember the Prince’s kingdom? What the heck was up with that creepy portrait of the Prince in the West Wing (thank GOD someone finally acknowledged how unsettling that thing is!)?
Plus, we get a darker spin on what the first twenty-four hours were like for Belle in the castle. You can feel her fear and uncertainty, but it also allows for some more bonding moments between her and the castle inhabitants, which I liked.
I really only have huge contentions with two things.
The first is the ending.
Going into this book, I had a very specific idea of what the ending would be. So I might have barreled through this book in my haste to read that perfect, romantic ending.
And that was when I realized my second contention: that Belle and the Beast’s romance was pretty much a footnote here.
I mean, isn’t the point of a Beauty and the Beast story to have a compelling love story? But here, the mystery of Belle’s mother takes center stage, rather than the romance. So we don’t get that catharsis where Belle realizes who the Beast is and the curse is entirely lifted. I mean, sure, there is a happy ending, but it has almost nothing to do with Belle and the Beast’s relationship. So…to not get the ending I wanted—counted on, in a way—was very much a letdown.
Also, the revelation of Belle and the Beast’s “love” is not the private, sweet one it usually is in these stories, which kind of ticked me off.
So…I’m seriously torn with this one. Is it more important that I enjoyed how this book answered some key questions than not getting the ending I wanted? Should I be more appreciative of how the story drew me even closer to the Beast, and forget that there was little to no romantic payoff? I guess if someone were to write an alternative version of Disney’s story, then this isn’t a terrible one. But the animated classic, where we actually get a romantic payoff and leave the mystery of the Enchantress to our imaginations, is vastly superior.