Picture from elecricartists.com
Picture from wolftrap.org
Both musicals are set in France, the leading hero is flawed physically yet the audience is attracted to him because of some innate beauty in his character, a rose is involved at some point and yes, there are horses. However, the differences lie in how they react to love; whilst the Beast personifies the strong and silent type who goes into his 'cave' to sort out his problems, the Phantom aggressively takes charge to bring an ending he wants. Ultimately however, it is up to lady love to love him back, the hero still looks 'in charge.' The difference is also seen in the other choices the lady has. Whilst Belle has the chauvanistic, macho Gaston, who wants nothing more than a housewife and baby machine, Christine Daae has the option of Raoul, who can sing, gives her a ring with a gem the size of Gibralta and is a Vicomte to boot.
Perhaps the things I call my favourites, are so well favoured because of something within myself. After all, favour is subjective. I have to say, that characters such as the Phantom and the Beast intrigue me and I find them more rich and multi-layered than the stereotypical 'Prince Charmings.' In today's world that strains for 'physical perfection', it is accepted, if not demanded, that flaws be hidden from view, that if any, they should only be known and burdened by the person bearing them. We are all meant to reach the impossible measurements for both men and women set by cartoons and fiction and everyone that falls below that standard could be at risk of being cruelly excluded by the rest of society. To me characters such as the Beast and the Phantom seek to defy that label; the hero is not someone held in high regard because of perfection but conversely, wins favour by exposing the vulnerability of his defects and weaknesses whilst still holding is own. The Beast rescued Belle from wolves, actually thought carefully about giving her she wanted (diamonds may be a girl's best friend but sometimes a girl wants more than just a best friend) and learned to dance with her. The Phantom's genius in architecture, illusions, design, theatre and singing casts a shadow over his rivals.
I suppose the stories are so strong because they have chosen the strongest of emotions in life as their theme. There is hope and faith and love, but of the three, love is the greatest.