A Transmedial Tale: Beauty and the Beast

“I think the core of it, is confidence in storytelling.”– Chris Sizemore Editor at the BBC [1]

Storytelling is the creative’s greatest tool. Everyone and everything has a story, but it’s the way in which a story is told which gives it the ability to capture our imaginations. A great story can make you laugh or cry. It can bring us together or make us feel alone. The most important stories are the ones we learn at a young age. They teach us right from wrong, and how to behave in this new and exciting world we find ourselves in. Transmedia is a form of multimedia storytelling conceptualised by Henry Jenkins [2]. It is defined by the way creators use technology to expand upon their narratives [3], using ‘multiple delivery channels‘ to create ‘a unified and coordinated entertainment experience [4]’. With storytelling entering a digital age and Disney’s new live adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ arriving in cinemas soon, it’s important to ask how transmedia could be used to better educate children and adults, why ‘Beauty and the Beast’ would be a perfect vehicle for this and whether Disney should be taking a greater advantage of transmedia storytelling?

Written by French author Madame de Villeneuve in 1740[5], ‘La Belle et la Bête’, tells the tale of a handsome prince who is transformed into a beast, due to his spite and hubris. The curse can only be lifted if, before his 21st birthday, he finds someone who loves him despite his appearance. Constructed through magical realism, the narrative conveys a warning of the danger of preconceptions. The beast becoming the physical manifestation of his own prejudices taught the reader a cautionary tale [6] of the consequences of prejudice towards others. Such moral questions provide the perfect foundation for expansion through transmedia storytelling. The immersion and interactivity of apps, social media and VR, combined with this universal tale could create limitless learning opportunities.

Transmedia Literacy is a programme set up precisely to explore this potential. Funded through Horizon 2020, the programme is headed by Carlos A. Scolari[7], Associate Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra[8]. The author of 15 books on digital media, Carlos wants to explore the possibilities of immersive educational tools. The project aims to bridge the, ‘cultural and technological gap between today’s youth and [the] school system[9]’, which has been caused by advancing technological integration in our lives, as well as to encourage schools to do more to implement, ‘transliteracies’ into the classroom. The programme is a collaboration piece with scholars all over Europe working together to develop a greater understanding of child learning behaviours through technology. The program will redefine classic storytelling blurring the lines between ‘offline and online’.

The Walt Disney Company was built upon the foundation of redefining storytelling, adapting classic fairy tales like Robin Hood and Snow White into new and exciting animated films, with unforgettable musical numbers and vibrant artworks. By using tried and tested analogue devices Disney encouraged ‘participation,’ and, ‘loyalty’ [11] from its audience. These early adaptations, and this era of Disney we will call ‘analogue transmedia[10]’.

The 1991 animated film [12] introduced Beauty and the Beast into the Disney cannon. As an instant success it lead to the Broadway adaptation which ran from 1994 to 2007, becoming Broadway’s 10th longest running show. The new live action adaptation [13] is once again another opportunity for Disney to expand upon this story. The retelling provides a chance to update the original, for instance the casting of Emma Watson, an actress known for challenging traditions and subverting gender roles, is a sign of societal progression.

Disney’s ability to retell classic literature and develop pre-established worlds with care and attention, provides the perfect foundation for expansion through contemporary transmedia. The Beast feels he needs to act like a monster because of his appearance, but it’s only when he realises that Bella loves him despite his looks that the curse is lifted. These are contemporary issues. In an age where the fundamentals of identity can alter within the merits of social-media, it’s easy to become manipulated by social expectations.  With social media’s heavy focus on appearance it’s easy to feel we need to be someone else, someone more successful, someone more loved. Looking at Beauty and the Beast through a transmedial lens would allow Disney to use multiple delivery channels to deliver a story critiquing society’s perceptions of appearance. They are well set up to do this. The Marvel and Star Wars acquisitions should have shown them how to expand a universe to have cross media potential, since these properties were already well established in popular culture. Star Wars before its acquisition in 2012 was regarded as one of the largest transmedial cannons of any franchise [14].

As Disney steps into a new year it would be exciting to see them use these modern transmedia techniques to expand age old stories, deconstructing these messages and applying them within a modern context. Disney has confidence in storytelling, but do they have the confidence to innovate it?

Frederick C Lampen

Links:

For more on Transmedia:

http://blogs.gre.ac.uk/creativeconversations/2015/09/03/the-hyper-connected-audience/

For more on Writing:

http://blogs.gre.ac.uk/creativeconversations/2016/07/25/the-writer-as-collaborator/

 

[1] Smith, S. Transmedia storytelling, BBC Academy (BBC 2017)

[2] Jenkins, H. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (Postmillennial Pop). NYU Press (January 21, 2013)

[3] BBC Academy, Transmedia storytelling 101, BBC Academy (BBC 2017)

[4] Jenkins, H. Transmedia Storytelling 101Confessions of an Aca-Fan, the Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. March 22, 2007

[5] Madame de Villeneuve’s. The Story of the Beauty and the Beast: The Original Classic French Fairy tale CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Unabridged edition (27 Oct. 2014)

[6] Dr Tehrani, J. Durham University News, The Department of Anthropology (Durham University, 4th February 2016)

[7] Associate Professor at the Department of Communication at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona  and author of 15 books on digital media

[8] A. Scolari, C. Transliteracy – 645238 / Horizon 2020 – Research and Innovation actions (2017)

[9] Castells, M. The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford, Blackwell, 1996).

[10]  Lee, N. Madej, K. Disney Stories: Getting to Digital. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012 (Page 72)

[11]Beuder, P. People’s Insights Annual Report. (he MSL Group’s Annual Report, 2013)

[12] Woolventon, L. Chapman, B. Beauty and the Beast (1991) (The Walt Disney Company, 1991)

[13] Chbosky, S. Spiliotopoulos, E. Beauty and the Beast (2017) (Walt Disney Pictures, 1991)

[14] Hood, B. Why Disney Blew Up More Than 30 Years of Star Wars Canon (Bloomberg 1th 2015)