BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Directed By: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Produced By: Don Hahn
Based On: Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)
Premiered On: November 22, 1991
Distribution By: Buena Vista Pictures
If there is but a single film of the entire era of the Disney Renaissance that defines it as a whole, Beauty and the Beast is easily one of the top contenders for a multitude of reasons. It is, at the time of this post, the only Disney Animation Studios film to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards and was the only animated film period until 2009 with Pixar’s film Up and the year after with Toy Story 3. However, considering there was nearly a two decade long gap between those Pixar films and this one, that says quite a lot for Beauty and the Beast as a whole.
Despite not winning Best Picture, having lost out to a film that redefined the psychological horror genre, Beauty and the Beast went on to win Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its titular “Beauty and the Beast,” which I’ll discuss a bit more later when I get to the music.
Besides the Academy Awards, the film won three Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score – Motion Picture, and Best Original Song – Motion Picture for its titular song. It also went on to win five Grammy Awards as well for Best Album for Children, Best Pop Performance by a Group or Duo With Vocal, Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture, Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
All of those awards for the same titular song too might I add.
Speaking of the music, I feel it worth honoring that the man responsible for all of the lyrical songs in this film, The Little Mermaid, and the songs “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali” from Aladdin worked on them on his deathbed.
For you see, my dear readers, Howard Ashman had been diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1988, midway through production of The Little Mermaid. Though failing in his health that did not stop him from continuing to write songs for Disney and he continued his work in his home in New York. On March 10, 1991 producer Don Hahn and the animators of Beauty and the Beast visited Ashman at the hospital where he weighed a mere 80 pounds, had gone completely blind, and could barely speak. Though the film would not be released until far later that year, they had told him outright that the film was incredibly well received by the press.
He died four days later at the age of 40.
The film Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to him with these words: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”
Here’s to you, Mr. Ashman. Here’s to you.
On to the basic summary of Beauty and the Beast, as I do not wish to go to the same lengths as I had with The Black Cauldron, though I will give some of my deeper, and slightly soapboxing, thoughts on a few scenes in particular.
Our story begins in a castle wherein a prince has recently turned away a beggar woman seeking shelter from the cold winter night and has offered up a mere rose as payment. The beggar woman turns out to be a powerful enchantress whom, seeking to punish the prince for his arrogance, casts a multitude of spells upon him and his domain.
The forest surrounding his castle, and even the building itself, becomes a place of terror and nightmares, the woods filled with hungry and ravenous wolves and once cherubic figures and statues turned into grisly gargoyles. The castle’s numerous staff turned into living items such as teapots, clocks, feather dusters, and even a candlestick. Last but not least, the prince himself is turned into a hideous monster of a beast and is given two “gifts” from the enchantress.
One is a magical mirror that allows him to see the outside world that he, in his new form, will never again be welcomed in. The other is the same rose she had offered, now enchanted to represent how much time the Beast has to break the spell. All that he needs to do is to find it in his heart to love another and to earn their love in return before the last petal falls on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. If he succeeds, he and his will be restored back to their human forms but should he fail, he will forever remain a monster.
Thus, through a series of rather unfortunate events Belle, a girl who loves books to such a degree that Wikipedia outright calls her a bibliophile, comes to the Beast’s castle, exchanging herself to be his prisoner in her father’s place as the bumbling inventor had, rather inadvertently, found his way into it. Though their relationship is admittedly quite rocky at the start, the two of them slowly start to grow closer together.
There’s far more to the film than just that, including the likes of the most arrogant Disney Villain known as Gaston who has vied for Belle’s affections simply for her appearance and the fact that she is the only person, male or female, who doesn’t swoon at his feet. I’m not exaggerating that bit either as Gaston’s “villainous” song is having an entire bar singing his praises.
Now if you’ll pardon me a moment while I get on top of my soapbox here, there are a few scenes of note that I feel worth mentioning.
The first scene, which is the film’s first song and Belle’s “I want” song aptly named “Belle,” is one that I don’t necessarily have a problem with as far as Belle is concerned. Rather, it’s the people of the village that she and her father live in all but outright gossiping behind her back about her oddities, calling her odd, strange, funny, and even commenting that she might not be that well either physically or in the head. Heck, the bookstore owner, arguably the only person in town with any common sense and fairness towards Belle, is astonished that she’d want to read the same book for a third time.
Being an avid book lover myself, this always got on my nerves as a kid and it wasn’t until I was older and I learned the… ah… lackluster history in regards to what women were “expected” to do back in an age where idiocy was in far more abundance than common sense. Even so, I still can’t wrap my mind around a town like Belle’s being so stupidly focused on the fact that she likes books and doesn’t “socialize” like she does with the rest of them. Then again, considering that Gaston himself admits to never having learned to read, I’d hardly be surprised that anyone else in this town could write their own names never mind reading them.
Though, to be at least somewhat fair, towards the townsfolk, there is something of a joke towards Belle’s love of books insomuch that her extremely brief cameo in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame has her walking the streets of Paris whilst reading. Considering how often I’ve done something similar myself when I was younger, I’m of the opinion that this was the first time she had read her favorite book and had, unwittingly, walked to Paris and back again without ever once realizing it.
On to something that has divided fans of this film for some time now is the addition of a scene that was missing in the original release. A scene that focuses on the deleted song from the film that was later included, and adored, in the Broadway musical called “Human Again.” Speaking frankly, I’d have liked this scene if they had animated back then rather than nearly a decade later. Though they try their best to match it, there are several minute differences in the animation styles that are just jarring to see.
However, there are two major things of note in this scene that I feel worth mentioning, though one can admittedly be attributed to an earlier song “Be Our Guest.” In the case of “Be Our Guest” we only truly see that the cook of the castle, an iron stove, has the same semblance of humanity as most of the other objects due, such as eyes, a mouth, something to resemble arms, etc. However, we also see a multitude of forks, spoons, and other accessories moving about.
In the song “Human Again” there are a blush brush, a hair brush, a hair comb, a bottle of perfume, and even a freaking dustpan that were all clearly human once before never mind the possibility of the suits of armor having been knights and/or soldiers to the prince. Admittedly, many of the staff were turned into an object that bore some significance to their post in the castle, such as the maids being turned into feather dusters and the chief cook into a stove, but there comes a puzzle into all this in one particular moment in the sequence.
Belle finishes reading the tale of Romeo and Juliet and the Beast asks her to read it once more, but instead she asks him to read it to her. He admits that while he had learned it had been a long time since he had actually bothered to read. Being a prince, he’d have a higher education than even Belle as far as reading and writing is concerned, especially considering the sheer size of his library. It wasn’t until I heard a particular line in the song “Be Our Guest” that it all suddenly made sense.
“Ten years we’ve been rusting…”
Holy Sugar Honey Iced Tea.
That… That is so unbelievably horrific for such a seemingly innocent little line…
No, seriously, think about this for a moment or three. Putting aside the Beast for the moment, look at Chip Potts, Mrs. Potts youngest child turned into a teacup. He is all of six years old, seven or even eight at the oldest, and has likely been so for over ten years, meaning that while the Beast was clearly aging and growing older as the years went by, none of the staff of the castle were meaning that the enchantress, perhaps realizing that the staff were guilty only by association to the prince, didn’t deserve to be cursed under the same circumstances. If and/or when he died, the curse may have been lifted from them, allowing them a chance at normalcy once more.
Of course, considering they spent nearly a decade as household objects, normalcy is a relative term. Goodness knows that if magic weren’t heavily involved Chip and the rest of them might have forgotten how to even walk seeing as not a one of them had anything resembling legs let alone feet.
It gets far worse when one adds the Beast into the equation. If he’s close to turning twenty-one at this point, that would mean that he had been all of eleven years old at the time of the enchantress’ visit. I’m sorry, but even at five years old I knew better than to invite a total stranger into my home for the night and with him being a prince, the Beast had far more reason to do so as she may well have been an assassin in disguise rather than a cold blooded witch of an enchantress.
I’d use a far more suitable word but I try to keep this blog PG-13.
Seriously though, the enchantress is a blanket word for one of the worst Disney Villains to ever exist and yet has no continuing role in the film proper. I mean really, how many of the castle’s staff had been cursed that night and had only been at the castle in a short period of time? Could you imagine starting work at the castle, a job that would pay extremely well and help you support your family, and then be turned into say, a coatrack, for TEN YEARS? If your family didn’t think you dead and moved on/away then they’d at least have aged significantly in that time and time, easily one of the most precious things in all of Creation, cannot be regained once it has been lost.
… Sigh… I suppose now is as good a time as any to discuss my choice in song for the film as a whole, which I’ll state outright is not the song “Beauty and the Beast” despite how apt a choice it is. Aside from being a literal titular song and the dance sequence between Belle and the Beast being one of the most recognized romantic moments in cinematic history… Alright, not really helping my case here but bear with me a moment. The song itself is one that shows how two entirely different individuals can come together despite their differences but that’s not how I feel the film itself is about.
Instead, my choice in song is “Something There” as sung primarily by the Beast and Belle. It’s not romantic dance in a ballroom but it’s the moment where I feel that the two of them start to actually fall in love with one another. True, this follows the Beast rescuing Belle from the wolves and her helping tend to his wounds and him giving her a library as a thank you… Dang, I’m not on my A-game today at all with this…
Alright, alright, just… Just watch them. Listen to the lyrics but just look how the two of them act and interact with each other.
Overall, I give this film ten out of five stars because anything less would really be an injustice. This film represents everything that is Disney, from animation, to song, to story, and to heart. True, there may some moments which may startle or even frighten younger audiences, the Beast for all the awesome that he is, is still a rather frightening sight when enraged, but what little darkness there is, is outshone by the light in this film. It is one that I can wholeheartedly say is among my top three personal favorites of Disney Animation of all time from Golden to Silver to Renaissance to Millennial and here in our current Revival Era.