In this remake of the classic fairy tale, Belle's father is a merchant whose ship has gone missing. As news of the wreckage starts to come through it seems that one crate may have survived. As he leaves to save his family from crippling debts he asks his daughters what they would like a present for his return. While Belle's sisters ask for exotic animals, Belle settles for a simple rose.
Upon recovering his crate, he finds he does not have enough to pay his creditors and finds he has nothing left. He returns home and gets lost in a mysterious forest. There he finds a strange enchanted castle where he is able to stay and eat.
In the morning he leaves the castle, spotting a rose in the garden. Remembering what Belle asks, he picks the rose. The Beast appears and tells the merchant he must offer himself as prisoner of send one of his daughters in his place. The merchant returns home, and Belle takes his place.
Theatrically, they are completely different styles of film. While Disney chose to go with an obvious musical masterpiece, Jean Cocteau chose a classical setting. The background behind each Belle is drastically different and the beast's personality and motives vary drastically between the films. For that reason, despite the obvious connections the films should not be seen from the same viewpoint.
The enchanted castle is probably the cleverest part of the film. Of course technology was lacking in the 1940's, so Cocteau instead decided to literally personify the castle. The candles are set in human hands on arms that move as a person passes, various structures have human faces set into them that turn on movement and the doors have been given voices.
As with most films from the era, the acting is rather exaggerated and is annoying in places. Bizarrely, Cocteau's story has one character playing three roles; Avenant is a friend of Belle's brother, the beast himself and, later, the prince. Although this is a smart plot twist, the Avenant and prince characters are both poor compared with the complex emotions shown in the Beast.
An interesting alternative view on the classic fairytale.