51 Days of Disney (Day 30): Beauty and the Beast

The Disney Renaissance was now going strong with a number of the soon to be classic Disney films being put into production. Walt Disney Feature Animation was looking for another success like the Little Mermaid, but no one could have predicted the success that was created by Beauty and the Beast.

The film opens with the narrator (David Ogden Steirs) tells us that there was a spoiled prince who turned away a old woman from a place to stay due to her appearance. She offered him a rose as compensation along with a warning that things are not always as they appear and that beauty is found within. After turning her away again, the woman transformed into a beautiful enchantress and made his exterior resemble his interior and placed a spell on the entire castle. The spell can only be broken if he can love another person and have them love him back in return, and the rose she offered would bloom until his 21’s birthday, but works as a timer as after it is done wilting, he would remain a beast forever.

The film shifts to a small village where our heroine Belle (Paige O’Hara) lives and is considered to be very odd by the local inhabitants. She is constantly reading any book she can get her hands on. She is the most beautiful girl in the village, which makes the local heartthrob Gaston instantly want her, but he is a boorish, brainless, and Belle doesn’t want anything to do with him. Belle’s father Maurice creates an wood chopping that will turn their life around and starts to travel to a fair that he is going to enter the invention, but gets lost in the woods and attacked by wolves. Maurice escapes into a castle, but is imprisoned there by the Beast for trespassing.

Gaston proposes to Belle the next day, but she pushes him away again. When Maurice’s horse Phillipe returns home without Maurice, Belle rides off to find him and arrives at the castle where her father is being held. Lumiere, Cogsworth (David Ogden Steirs once again), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and her son Chip, some of the servants turned magical objects in the castle, think that she is there to break the spell. She finds her father and trades her freedom for Maurice’s. Belle’s selfless act seems to have a profound effect on the Beast, but he drags Maurice out of the castle before Belle has a chance to say goodbye.

Maurice returns to the village to get help rescuing Belle, but all of the villagers think he is crazy when he starts ranting about the Beast. This gets Gaston thinking (a dangerous pastime) that he can get Belle to marry him out of her love of her father if he were to threaten to have im put in an insane asylum run by Monsieur D’Arque (Tony Jay, who is a name that will come up again later in the Disney Renaissance in an even larger and greater role).

During a tour of the castle presented by Cogsworth (by the way, what he is saying about the castle is almost, if not 100%, bull), Belle wanders off into the forbidden West Wing and finds the Beast’s magic rose. He is, of course, not pleased with this and scares Belle out of the castle where she is attacked by the same wolves that attacked Maurice earlier. The Beast saves her from the vicious attack because he felt bad about scaring her off, but is badly wounded in the process. Belle nurses the Beast back to health and he reveals that he has never felt like this about anyone else before. The two get closer as the Beast starts to soften up and through a scene that can best be described as the Oscar Winning Clip joke from Wayne’s World (and the worst part is I never learned to read!). The servants prepare the castle for one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous scenes in a Disney film.

The Beast sets Belle free when she finds out using his magic mirror that Maurice is sick. He gives her the mirror as a way to always remember him and she rushes off to help her father. When the two return to the village, Monsieur D’Arque is waiting to take Maurice away, but Belle shows everyone the Beast to prove that he is not crazy. Gaston sees the Beast as a monster and leads an angry mob to sack the castle and kill the beast, locking up Belle and Maurice in the process as so that they can’t warn the Beast. Belle breaks free and rushes to save the man she loves.

Like the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast had it’s roots in a film that was planned to be released in the 40’s or 50’s by Disney, but luckily for us, the project was shelved due to the complicatedness of the story. When the project was started up again, it wasn’t even planned to be a musical. Eisner wanted the film to be scripted out before the storyboarding process started, which was an odd choice as that process had been reversed for the entire back catalog of Disney films. He brought in a screenwriter named Linda Woolverton to script it and after she was finished, the storyboarding process began with her working directly with the story team. After seeing the storyboards, Katzenberg decided to shut down the project so it could be completely restarted from scratch. With that blow, the original director left and was replaced by the team of Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and that is when the film everyone knows and loves started to take shape.

The amazing success of the Little Mermaid (compared to the little success that the Rescuers Down Under) made Katzenberg hire Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to work their magic on Beauty and the Beast. Howard Ashman had been working on his pet project, Aladdin, at the time, but reluctantly joined the production of this movie, but a horrible blow struck him. Ashman found out that he was dying due to complications with AIDS, but he kept on working on the films he was hired onto. Wise, Trousdale, producer Don Han, Woolverton, and now Ashman and Menken started retooling the story to both account for the new musical numbers and to make it stronger as a whole.

The original faerie tale for Beauty and the Beast only has two main characters and is actually very gloomy and depressing, so Disney made some changes to spruce it up. The 1946 French film adaptation of the story added an oafish suitor for Belle and magical objects to the Beast’s castle, so Disney took these ideas and made them their own. In the 1946 adaptation, the magical objects were not really characters, so Disney created a plethora of characters based off of the idea of magical items and added some needed warmth and humour to the story along with characters to guide Belle through the story. They also expanded the character of the suitor into a full-fledged villain that created a definite dynamic to Belle and the Beast’s relationship.

The characters are what makes Beauty and the Beast as mind-numbingly good as it is. Ariel was the first Disney Princess who actually felt like a character and actually showed not only a backbone, but independence. Belle takes that step up to the next level as the Beast actually needs to grow and change as a person in order for her to love him back, unlike Ariel who instantly falls in love with the incredibly milk-toast Eric at first sight. She is also incredibly intelligent and has a burning desire to read every book she comes across, as stated above. The Beast starts out as an antagonist, but eventually turns into a hero and love interest through Belle’s involvement. The choices of clothing even visibly shows the growth and change in his character from primal animal to gentleman. Gaston is an interesting character as in any of the Disney movies that came before, he would have been the hero and love interest. He is as “perfect” as the early Disney Princes, but is incredibly misogynistic (some would argue that the others are misogynistic, but they didn’t have enough of a personality to really get that feeling out of).

The music took what Howard Ashman and Alan Menken started in the Little Mermaid and upped it to the next degree. The songs were bigger, the score was better. The score had better audio cues for each of the characters and there is much more variation in the score for each character’s theme and “Transformation” is probably one of the best pieces of score written for a Disney film. “Be Our Guest” is a better version of the same style of song as “Under the Sea”, namely the song that is just there for fun. It doesn’t necessarily progress the story, but it makes for pure entertainment. “Beauty and the Beast” is the first in a long line of serious love songs in the Disney Renaissance rather than the fun love song “Kiss the Girl”. “Gaston” is a much more fun villain song than “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (and is my favourite song in the film and is made even better in the Broadway adaptation with it’s reprise that includes the line “Who can make up these endless refrains like Gaston”). There is actually two villain songs in Beauty and the Beast, the aformentioned “Gaston” and the “Mob Song” which gets bonus points for having a Macbeth reference in the lyrics and a reference to a popular song from the 20’s.

The one song I do not like in the film is the one added to the extended edition of the film. “Human Again” was a song originally written for the film, but was cut from the original theatrical release. It returned as a song in the Broadway adaptation and was the “fun” song for the second act, but the problem is that it is a really boring song. It should have stayed cut entirely from Beauty and the Beast, but it was added back in and the results are the same as in the show. Fun scene, but the song is boring. I would have much rather seen the song written for the Beast in the show, “How Long Must This go On”, added to the film as it is a much better and much more emotional song. Also, the changing of the story that Belle reads the Beast in the “Human Again” scene from King Arthur to Romeo and Juliet just feels cheap and makes that part even more of a joke than it was before. In the film, “Something There” replaced “Human Again.”

Even the animation is better than in the Little Mermaid, and that is REALLY saying something. Glen Keane was the supervising animator for the Beast and everything he learned from animating Ariel, the Bear from the Fox and the Hound, and Professor Ratigan in the Great Mouse Detective is shown off in this film. The primal nature of the Beast is fully exploited in the beginning of the film with him moving exactly like an animal, but his movements become more human as he does until he finally becomes human (also unintentionally hilarious with the face he makes after he transforms) in one of the most powerful scenes since the Ave Maria segment of Fantasia.

The design of the Beast is very interesting as it is made up of a number of different animals. During development, a story team member named Chris Sanders (which is a name that will come up in a big way in the 2000’s) was asked to do a number of designs for what the Beast was to look like. He produced a number of versions based off of fish, insects, and even birds before creating something that resembled the final product. Glen Keane then took that design and refined it while studying animals at the zoo until we got the chimera we have now. The Beast is made up of a number of different animals. His face is made up of of the facial structure of a mandrill, the brow of a gorilla, the horns of a buffalo, the jaws, teeth, and mane of a lion, and the tusks of a boar. He has the body of a bear and the legs and tail of a wolf.

The film used CAPS to meld 2D and 3D together and it made the shots in the movie much more dramatic. A number of the backgrounds in the movie were made in 3D and that allowed the camera to move like it would in a live action film. It allowed it to move like it was on a dolly and made the ballroom scene even more powerful than it inherently was.

Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and the only until Up and Toy Story 3. It was also nominated for Best Original Score (which it won), had 3 separate nominations for Best Original Song (nominated for “Belle”, “Be Our Guest”, and won for “Beauty and the Beast”) and was nominated for Best Sound. The film even won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Beauty and the Beast is widely considered to be the best Disney film ever and for good reasons. The characters are amazingly created, the story is perfect, and the music is some of the best in film. The film went on to be the most financially successful film in Disney history and easily one of the most critically acclaimed and this would be a trend that would continue throughout the 90’s.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] my money. I’m obviously not going to be reviewing the film here (because that can be found here), but I do feel like there are things to talk about with this […]

    Reply

  2. Great post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Very useful information particularly the ultimate section 🙂 I take care of such info much. I used to be seeking this certain info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

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