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It’s been a LONG time since we have posted a review. We’ve been insanely busy from March-August with one of our theatre productions, which took up nearly all of our time outside of work, meaning that the blog had to take a another step back, which is always hard to do, as we love writing it so much. But we’re very glad to be back writing, and here is our review on Beauty and the Beast. We hope you enjoy!
Like The Little Mermaid, another beautiful poster
After the controversy of The Rescuers Down Under being pulled from the screens early (including its marketing), Disney needed a hit. Although there have normally been significant gaps between Disney releasing fairy-tale films (13 years, 9 years, and a whopping 30 years), the release gap between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast is a mere two years! Disney’s 30th animated classic from the canon, Beauty and the Beast, originates from the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and later abridged, rewritten, and published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in the 18th century. According to research, variants of the tale have been around for at least 4000 years. Like The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney attempted to adapt Beauty and the Beast during the Golden Age and again during the Restoration (Romantic) era. We imagine that there was a struggle to adapt this ‘beast’ because when it comes down to it, most of the fairy tale …
(Special Note from Melissa: In terms of the couple anyway, notwithstanding that half the plot is actually about Beauty’s father – But Daddy and the Beast has less of a ring to it somewhat)
… consists of the unlikely pair having dinner together, the beast proposes, the beauty says no, rinse and repeat, until the end – hardly the most scintillating plot for a film. There was also fear of having to compete with the French 1946 Jean Cocteau version – perceived by many as the definitive adaptation of the fairy-tale.
Fast-forward decades later, following the critical and box office success of The Little Mermaid they opted for another fairy tale (instead of waiting 30 years), and offered it to Who Framed Roger Rabbit director, Richard Williams. Williams turned it down to work on his long-term (30-year-long!) baby The Thief and the Cobbler, but suggested British director, Richard Purdum. It was originally conceived as a non-musical; the team relocated to London to work on it, and six months later they returned with the first rough 20 minutes of the film. After the presentation, they were told to bin the whole 20 minutes and start again.
‘I’ve got to write the whole thing over again!’
Purdum resigned from the project. Ron Clements and John Musker were approached to direct but they were knackered from The Little Mermaid. They took a chance on two young first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, appointing them as acting directors for a few months before officially giving them the job. Don Hahn stayed on to produce, and Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay (with a very strong story team behind her). Throwing the non-musical concept out of the window, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were asked to provide their musical touch and help save this sinking ship. At that point, Ashman’s heart was in his pet project Aladdin, but he grew into the idea and both he and Menken jumped on board, casting the film in New York (rather than the usual LA casting) – and thus Beauty and the Beast became the second Broadway infused animated musical of the Renaissance. Despite its rocky beginnings, would it surpass the success of The Little Mermaid, and make up for the under-performance of The Rescuers Down Under? Let’s see! But first … ORIGINAL TRAILER TIME!
- Walt Disney presents … Bambi?!
- ‘He was a lonely beast cursed by a mysterious spell’ … we’ve all been there!
- ‘She was the beautiful young girl who could set him and his kingdom free’ … so no pressure?
- Also we have to point out, how 90s sounding is this trailer??? ‘He was a’/‘She was a’ – it sounds like a parody!
- ‘Until something wonderful happened’ thanks for the spoiler Original Trailer Man! We may as well just start the film half way through
- ‘It’s a story filled with fun’ – We don’t think having someone sneeze in your face is FUN!
- Seriously how much of the climax are you showing?
- Very little of Gaston in this trailer … surprised!
- ‘From the Academy Award winning composer and lyricist of The Little Mermaid’ … whose names we won’t mention … nice
- Credit where credit’s due – once Be Our Guest starts, the editing is top notch … are they getting better at this?
So on to the review!
‘On your marks! Get set!’
(Special Note from Melissa: For so many years, my sister and I used to be in hysterics during this scene as it sounds like he’s saying ‘bake’ – ‘What does she want me to do? BAKE???!’)
We’ve decided that here again is another film which features two protagonists – it is called Beauty AND the Beast after all! Before we start, we must point out that the creative team forgot to give the Beast a name … yes they forgot to give their protagonist a NAME!
‘All you have to do tonight is come up with the name of your main character’
Couldn’t even do that …
‘Some people would say that’s real sloppy’
The filmmakers openly admit that they blundered in the DVD commentary (and also offer the amusing suggestions of Tyrone, Bob and Steve as name possibilities). Somehow Adam has become common public knowledge as the Beast’s name, but we’re unsure as to where it initially popped up. However, we’ll still be calling him Beast … because we’re stubborn.
We’ll start with Belle!
Belle is intelligent and quick-witted with a gentle and no-nonsense personality. She has the maturity and sharpness of a Cinderella, but the liveliness and curiosity of an Ariel.
And like Aurora, they both know how to bed flop sob:
Belle was animated by Mark Henn (co-animator of Ariel) and young British animator James Baxter. The production team were inspired not only in her design but also in the voice casting of Paige O’Hara by Judy Garland (her blue and white dress is most certainly an allusion to Dorothy).
It wasn’t the only Wizard of Oz reference
Screenwriter, Linda Woolverton was inspired also by George Cukor’s Little Women, stressing that she incorporated a lot of Katherine Hepburn into Belle’s characterisation. To this day, Belle is the only brunette of the Disney princesses.
(Special Note from Melissa: Yes Rapunzel becomes a brunette, but to be honest hearing that when blonde hair is cut, it turns brown and all its magical properties cease to exist, hardly make brunettes feel fantastic … you can tell I’m a brunette. So hooray for Belle being a true fellow brunette!)
They were originally going to ask Jodi Benson to play Belle.
‘… Very original’
However, Howard Ashman suggested O’Hara as her voice sounded more mature and ‘European’ … perhaps they could have cast a European actress? Although Belle had the same live-action model as Ariel, Sherri Stoner, a characteristic for Belle was specifically taken from O’Hara – hair falling in her face and tucking it behind her ear.
The town thinks that Belle’s odd, without really justifying why other than calling her ‘different’ (because she’s the only one who dares to wear blue?!), ‘dazed and distracted’, ‘never part of any crowd’, and that she reads.
(Special Note from Melissa: Having a main female character who reads meant a lot to me as a child – alongside Matilda, and a little later Hermione)
Not only does she read, but she walks and reads simultaneously, annoying the townspeople in the way that people who walk and text at the same time do – as she leaves destruction behind her (Ironically enough today the townspeople would all be walking and texting …). The funny thing is that this town acts amazed that she reads, and yet the book that she’s read twice (Why is a librarian/bookseller stunned that a person would read a book twice?) is seemingly a fairy tale book. She’s hardly reading Tolstoy. Plus, the book she returns is about a beanstalk … and an ogre.
Never go back!
Her favourite book however, that sounds a little more interesting.
‘Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try and stay awake’
Actually is Belle reading The Princess Bride?
Well that is how Beauty and the Beast ends …
… it can only delay it for a while
Belle is a non-conformist within her town, and yet she would fit in in so many places. Her town is full of many two-faced, narrow-minded people. She’s surrounded by philistines who think that reading is weird and Gaston is awesome.
In other words, a ‘lovely’ bunch …
This stupid sheep is a metaphor for this stupid town
They also emphasise that it’s a pity (and a sin) that she doesn’t fit in, simply because she’s beautiful – like her beauty is wasted on her.
What the town thinks of Belle
It could seem like Belle has a superiority complex over her town and is perhaps patronising (‘little town full of little people’), but they turn out to be awful anyway (more on Belle’s relationship with the town’s biggest jerk, Gaston, in ‘Antagonist’!). Belle, like the Beast is isolated and lonely, with no one to converse with on a similar level – even the bookseller can’t wait to get her out of the shop! Her father is loving but not the sharpest tool in the box. Belle is relatable partly because her wants and desires are vague – a very twenty-something character, she wants ‘adventure in the great wide somewhere’ and feels certain that she wants more than ‘this provincial life’.
When she’s on the cusp of the end of Act One, she reaches the castle and her character reveals true strength and power, as she takes her imprisoned father’s place to save his life. It is a truly excellent scene, as she shows the Beast genuine compassion and sacrifice – an emotional moment. Her strength is not only in her sacrifice but also her response to it, as she pleads for her father, and then accepts her fate, but also in her emotional reaction.
Now that we’re at this point in Belle’s journey, let’s talk about our other protagonist, the Beast. The Beast has a major character arc and journey. As a young Prince, he was transformed into a hideous beast because he was ‘spoiled, selfish and unkind’ and there was no love in his heart.
He spent 10 years between the prologue and the film’s beginning, wallowing in self-pity, anger and bitterness. He essentially went through the nastiest puberty possible – hair everywhere, hormones going crazy, mood swings, rapid growth spurt and major insecurity. Somehow he was not missed by anyone (part of the enchantment?) and his parents are either absent or deceased – either prospect seems rather bleak! He let himself go over the years, and has forgotten how to live like a man. In the film’s first third, he seems more like the antagonist than the protagonist. He’s vicious and frightening in the first scene that we see him with Maurice, and it is only when Belle offers to take her father’s place that we see the true humanity in Beast for the first time. From this point on, he is less the animalistic predator, and more an impatient, insecure young man with a temper.
Laurence Fishburne, Val Kilmer, Tim Curry and Mandy Patinkin were considered for the role of the Beast. Robby Benson completely convinces in the role. It could have been very easy to cast an actor with a gruff or booming voice. Benson has a powerful voice, laced with vulnerability and sincerity – the cracks in his voice are what makes the performance – that moment when he says ‘It’s hopeless’ is one of the film’s most poignant moments.
His journey highlights the message that this is a film about regret and redemption – about how a stupid mistake that you make in your youth can ruin your life (and others’ lives too), unless you are able to redeem yourself. His relationship with Belle is his only chance to do that – he needs her. In fact, there is a role reversal from the usual in Beauty and the Beast. Although we do have a couple who rescue each other, in that the Beast saves Belle from being mauled by wolves and Belle rescues the Beast from a combination of death and eternal beast-dom, it is the male character who really is the prince in the tower that needs to be set free and rescued by a love interest, rather than the female. If the Beast were female, audiences would bang on about what a damsel in distress the character is. Drawn from his love for another, he gives up his will to fight and live, and yet when she comes back, he suddenly has the drive again as life now feels worth it.
Yet there are no outcries of ‘Beast can’t do without a woman!’
All the while instead of critics focusing on that, Belle is frequently criticised (Disney’s ladies are always criticised … as we’ve realised over time!) for two factors in particular: Stockholm Syndrome and for being too perfect. Belle being Beast’s prisoner will always be problematic. How many times have we heard people bring up Stockholm Syndrome as if they’re the first person to come up with that idea? The Beast is humbled when Belle berates him, ‘You didn’t even let me say goodbye!’ – his first major turning point. He and the staff emphasise that she is a guest, not a prisoner. As we see, Belle could easily run out and leave (she does it!), but when the Beast saves her life, she chooses to stay … which is complicated, especially when later on, she says ‘If only I could see my father’ – as it reminds as that she is a prisoner. However, when he ‘releases’ her, she leaves – again SHE CHOOSES TO LEAVE.
(Special Note from Melissa: Wouldn’t it have been better if Belle had brought Maurice back to the castle? Wouldn’t he have been better cared for there? Especially with all of the staff looking after him? But then … we wouldn’t have the climax. Moving on!)
Belle isn’t perfect – she does make mistakes, her curiosity and stubbornness gets the better of her and later she accidentally sells out the Beast to save her father, setting the mob on him – ‘this is all my fault’ she says repeatedly. Also, she invades his privacy by going into the West Wing when he specifically told her she could go ANYWHERE except the West Wing – it’s like reading his diary – don’t do it! Curiosity gets the better of her and she deceives his trust. Furthermore, she could have destroyed the rose. Well done Belle you nearly destroyed the castle’s entire life support system.
(Special Note from Both. The more we say West Wing the more we think of this fictional exchange: BEAST: You’re free to watch any boxset you like. Except The West Wing.
BELLE: What’s The West Wi-?
BEASTl I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET!!!)
It’s interesting that Belle would prefer to invade on the Beast’s privacy than see a library … especially when you see how thrilled she is later when the Beast presents it to her as a gift. On that note, it is lovely that this is the gift that Beast gives Belle when he wants to give her something special – more meaningful.
By the way we can’t stop laughing at the Beast’s face in that shot
Beast’s library sadly was recently bumped off the Most Marvellous Looking Library On Screen very recently:
The library gift leads to Belle reading Romeo and Juliet to the Beast. Belle certainly upgraded her literary prowess from Jack and the Beanstalk … what did the bookshop in her town sell?! Her mind must have been blown by the ginormous library. She finishes the play complete with romantic sighing …
Then Beast asks if she can read it again … did Belle seriously read the entire play? Complete with different voices for different characters? The filthy Shakespeare puns? The violence? It’s no feel-good love story worthy of these facial expressions:
‘Ahhh ‘There rust and let me die’ – gives me that warm fuzzy feeling’
When Belle and Beast don’t get along in the beginning, the interaction between them is hilarious, particularly when their stubbornness is at the forefront, for example when Belle can only be heard through the door while they’re in ‘hate’ mode – it’s the stuff of screwball comedy:
Beast’s first mistake when not letting the ‘beggar woman’ in was that he lacked compassion and was too proud. Belle teaches him about compassion, but their conflict in the two of them not getting along is that the Beast is too proud to show his true vulnerability and humanity, while Belle cannot see the man behind the monster and ‘doesn’t want to get to know him’ even when the Beast ‘tries’. But if the Beast’s true sin is pride, and Belle’s is prejudice, we indeed have Jane Austen all over again! Well she is one of the queens of romantic comedy. Belle and Beast do have an Elizabeth and Darcy-like relationship. In fact, the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale may have inspired Jane Austen rather than the other way around! Belle, like Elizabeth Bennet, is lively, intelligent and witty, while Beast, like Darcy, struggles conversing with strangers and comes across as cold, proud and disagreeable. In the beginning, they dislike each other, but both Darcy and Beast fall for their respective lady (both whom are from a lower social standing to them), and consequently they become much better people in their love for another. It takes until the end of both stories for both ladies to admit their love for their respective man, letting go of their initial prejudices and seeing the gentleman beneath the ‘beast’ exterior.
Shame these two didn’t do a Beauty and the Beast adaptation in the 1990s
Back to our couple again: The argument between Belle and Beast in the scene in which she is tending to his wounds is a strong contender for one of the film’s best scenes. It reveals that they are both as stubborn as each other, and also that they were both wrong in their respective situations – they can’t back up their actions – the Beast is right – Belle shouldn’t have gone into the West Wing, and Belle is right – the Beast needs to learn to control his temper. Belle is the first person to truly stand up to the Beast and not take any of his rubbish. He is accustomed to living with staff who were either afraid of him, walk on eggshells around him, indulge or pander to him. She calls him out on his terrible attitude and behaviour, but all the while she expresses gratitude for saving her life – a touching end to a fiery scene. Brenda Chapman led this sequence and she was inspired by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn films (curmudgeon and spitfire – both as stubborn as each other!). When she had to pitch it to Katzenberg, she said that she really struggled with pitching, but because Ashman adored the idea, he supported her and fought to keep it in the film, defending the scene to Katzenberg.
There’s such give and take between the characters – Beast struggles to eat with cutlery, but Belle compromises and makes it easier for him. He loosens up when she plays with him in the snow.
Resulting in hilarity
She and the staff seem to be guiding him along to becoming a gentleman. The Beast’s arc from a beast to a gentleman means … Beauty and the Beast is a makeover movie.
Fits right in
After the Beast has completed his My Fair Lady experience, that’s when he has to be the true man, as he lets Belle go, despite the fact that the rose is down to its last few petals. The decision to let Belle go is mature, selfless and a huge step forward for the Beast.
Beautifully animated (/acted)
He lets her go because he loves her, and yet afterwards (ironically) he responds immaturely to the situation. The castle is under attack, his staff are under threat, and when they come to him for help, he says ‘It doesn’t matter now. Just let them come’, leaving them to defend themselves.
It certainly reveals the selfishness of rulers, and yet at the same time that he has reached his lowest point, and it’s devastating anyway. When he dies (and he truly does die! He is resurrected but for at least a minute he’s gone), it’s one of the canon’s most emotional moments, and tying back around to the theme of redemption and regret, Belle regrets her own actions and realises too late that she loved him – it is an earned reunion between these characters, as in their flaws and all of the mistakes they have made, they know that they love each other and that’s all that matters.
It really hangs on letting us think the worst
When the Prince behaved like a beast, he looked like a beast. But he ultimately became a true gentleman inside, earned the love and respect of another, and so he is rewarded with his former form, which seems fair after 10 years of living in a body that was not his own.
Some people are not so lucky. But she’s not allowed to complain.
Remember how infamous the hunter in Bambi is in that we never even saw his face? Or his gun? A bird is shot off screen and we see the body hit the floor in the background. Similarly, in The Fox in the Hound, birds are killed off-screen, with the only sign being a flump of feathers (how tasteful …). We really get an idea of Gaston when we openly see a bird shot mid-air, fall to the ground, and stuffed awkwardly in a bag by a sidekick – with Gaston standing as if he were posing for an artist – ‘You’re the greatest hunter in the whole world!’ / ‘I know’. ‘Man’ is no longer hiding in the shadows off camera or a hermit hunter with no friends but his dogs – he’s taking centre-stage – unashamed, cocky, and abrash with over-the-top masculine energy.
Gaston marks a departure from the conventional Disney antagonist, as he doesn’t become a fully-fledged villain until about half-way through the film. He begins as a humorous, egocentric jerk and ends the film as a murderous psychopath.
His ultimate goal, of wanting Belle to be his wife, feels rather small when compared to the goals of previous villains, but unlike his predecessors he already has power over his dominion – as everyone in town (with the exception of Belle) thinks that he’s great, he’s ‘everyone’s favourite guy’. He starts the film in a position of power, but his fatal flaw is an inability to accept anything other than absolute, uncontested love and admiration. He refuses to accept Belle’s rejection of him, and becomes more aggressive in his pursuit of her. This is particularly alarming as he doesn’t pursue Belle out of any romantic feelings, nor does he view her as another person: he merely wants her for a trophy wife.
He could have wooed any young lady in the village and likely been successful – he didn’t need Belle! He had it all! That brings us to another point – Gaston is … MENTAL! Seriously, the ‘surprise’ proposal and wedding in one day is one of maddest situations in the canon so far. It’s a strangely hilarious and disturbing scene all at the same time.
And everyone thought Prince Edward was mad – at least he said ‘in the morning’ and not right now! Along with other previous Disney Princes
He already shows that he is a little unhinged in the film’s beginning, especially in his aggressive and possessed response after Belle rejects him – alarm bells ringing! Through the character of Gaston, Beauty and the Beast tackles lad culture, everyday sexism and male sexual harassment. Belle and Gaston’s initial interactions are amusing, mainly in the juxtaposition between her wit and his idiocy – ‘Gaston you are positively primeval’ / ‘Why thank you Belle’. She clearly can’t stand him and thinks he’s rude and conceited, but we imagine that she never believed his character would take such a cruel turn and is later enraged by his behaviour. Belle never says yes to Gaston, even when he attempts to blackmail her in the final act. The more she says no, the more he harasses her, and she constantly holds her own – Belle is a fantastic role model for young women, and Gaston is a reminder to never give in to a man that treats you with such abuse and a lack of respect, all under the guise of ‘adoration’.
Even though Gaston is not an intelligent mastermind, he is ruthless enough and in a high enough position to get his way. The love and admiration that the villagers have for him also takes a more sinister turn, as they all willingly go along with his schemes, even as they become more extreme. Nobody speaks up on Maurice’s behalf when Gaston attempts to have him committed to the insane asylum (a truly awful scheme), instead they’re all standing by to see Maurice get taken away. Then, when the asylum plot is nullified, the villagers all rally behind Gaston with the intentions of killing the Beast (even though, moments earlier they weren’t even aware of his existence).
Stupid town of sheep!
(Special Note from Both: This scene really strikes a chord, showing the effect that fear can have over people en masse – even if the fear is unfounded, there are those who will take advantage of the situation and exploit people’s fear … mark current politics)
Gaston lives in a town where everyone (par Belle) thinks that he is fabulous – he is an honorary sovereign in his own dominion. Beast and Gaston are two sides of the same coin – their paths have a degree of symmetry (scarily enough they both share traits of abusive behaviour – a more disturbing angle of the story). The Beast is the prince of his castle, and Gaston is the closest that the town has to a prince – while they both have an extent of ‘rule by fear’, the difference is that Gaston is popular and ‘likeable’, and the Beast is not.
(Special Note from Melissa: We’re back to Jane Austen again! It feels easy to compare the Beast to Darcy and Gaston to Wickham – the former who does not make a good first impression but turns out to have a heart of gold, the latter popular with the crowd and likeable on first impression, but truly is a despicable scoundrel. The difference is that Belle is not fooled nor charmed by Gaston, unlike her counterpart in Elizabeth Bennet … go Belle!)
Both Gaston and Beast threaten to hold Belle’s father captive, and the bargaining chip in both situations ends up being Belle herself – the difference is that Belle puts herself forward in the first instance (to the Beast’s surprise), while Gaston proposes the idea in the second. Belle would rather be a prisoner to a potentially dangerous Beast than marry Gaston – perspective.
(Special Note from Both: To quote our recent production of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a line from that resonated with us during rehearsal, thinking of Belle and Gaston: ‘Had I been seized by a hungry lion, / I would have been a breakfast to the beast, / Rather than have false Proteus rescue me’)
Something that speaks volumes about the difference between Gatson and Beast is that Gaston snubs Belle’s reading (‘It’s not right for a woman to read’), whereas the Beast gives Belle a whole library, and the two of them develop a bond through reading together – plus he loves to hear her read – he likes her the way she is already.
Although he is a vain, self-centred character, Gaston is no coward – he demands the chance to fight the Beast himself, and he follows through on this. Despite his villainous nature, his willingness to lead the charge, and fight the Beast himself is a commendable trait. During the actual fight, Gaston utilises underhanded tactics to gain the advantage, but he still faces his opponent one-on-one.
(Special Note from David: For me the most inadvertently funny moment is when Gaston shoots the Beast in the back with an arrow)
“AAAARRRRGGHH! Seriously, what the hell?!”
The fight between our two ‘beasts’ becomes vicious, and ultimately Gaston plays dirty – he stabs the Beast in the back, after the Beast nobly (through gritted teeth) lets him go. However, paralleling with how he had everything and didn’t even need Belle, he didn’t need to stab the Beast, he could easily have walked away and gone back to a village where everyone adores him, but he just couldn’t let it GO – his fatal flaw. Ultimately he falls to his death immediately afterwards.
Should have married one of the triplets
Perhaps he hit Lefou on the way down – for one last time.
‘No one dies like Gaston, falls from heights like Gaston!’
Apparently an original draft for Gaston’s demise was supposed to be that the wolves would maul him after surviving his fall from the Beast’s castle with a broken leg …
(Special Note from David: Whereupon the wolves would get run off by a dog with the raggedy old voice of Pat Buttram)
‘Been there my friend’
We must point out that Gaston, in spite of the sinister turn his character takes, is hilarious – he is one of the funniest villains in the canon, up there with Ursula, Ratigan, Shere Khan and Prince John. He’s so egocentric, it’s impossible not to laugh – the song, ‘Gaston’ alone is comic gold. The relationship between Gatson and Lefou is so enjoyable to watch – you could make a drinking game on how many times Lefou is walloped by Gaston.
A favourite exchange of ours:
There was constant backing and forthing between Andreas Deja and Jeffrey Katzenberg over Gaston’s appearance – handsomeness versus cartooniness. It was the age-old problem that the animators did not want to animate the handsome man and Deja openly acknowledges that he felt annoyed about animating what initially felt like a pretty-boy soap opera character. However, this debate paid off; the compromise was that Gaston had a crooked nose (likely broken), strong jaw and chin, and huge build, and Deja came to love animating the character, establishing the balance between a humorous and handsome design. Apparently, there was even a poll in the office on the appearance of Gaston’s chest hair – about 20 drawings were submitted.
Before we move onto the next section, we’d like to discuss another antagonistic presence within the film: The Enchantress. Is she for good or for bad? It’s rather ambiguous in many ways. Isn’t enchantress just a happy, shiny word for witch? Not a great deal of explanation is given about why she cursed not just the Prince, but also the entire castle and all of its inhabitants, but it certainly comes across as a very villainous spell no matter how you choose to view it.
The Enchantress coming by is like the equivalent of Supernanny coming round to sort out unruly children, but instead of disciplining him, she transforms the 11 year-old child prince into a beast … as you do. Basically someone that pops into a disruptive lifestyle to offer hard truths and ultimately improve the environment in the long run …
But Mary Poppins wouldn’t condone this:
Seriously I’m reporting you
She disguised herself as an old beggar woman, offering him a rose in return for shelter. Hmm an elderly lady bearing a shiny red gift. Why does this sound familiar?
Oh yes! And you know what? SNOW WHITE LET HER IN, ACCEPTED THE SHINY RED GIFT AND DIED!
‘Seriously? No I’ve read about things like this. Get OUT!’
‘You’ve got to be kidding!’
The Enchantress warned him not to be deceived by appearances, while deceiving him with her appearance. There are plenty of mixed messages in this prologue.
‘You should be deceived at times, but not at other times’
Unlike previous villains like Maleficent or Ursula who make their evil doings known, the Enchantress is a phantom presence. Is she like a darker version of the Blue Fairy? There to teach the protagonist a very hard lesson?
Also concluding with death?! Perhaps the Blue Fairy and the Enchantress are more alike than we thought!
It just seems so cruel and violent a punishment. She curses a child … for a whole decade! He has spent his entire adolescence as a beast. It’s not like Jumanji, he doesn’t get a do-over – he is never getting those young years back! Who made her judge, jury and executioner? What right has she to come in and judge this young kid? Really, she could have handled this better!
Also, were the staff punished to make the Beast feel the weight and guilt of his actions, or were they being punished for their crimes? Did they over-indulge the child prince to the extent that the kingdom could have had this on their hands:
Though if Lady Olenna were the Enchantress we’d be very pleased
We never see the Enchantress, but her influence has a significant bearing on the entire Castle storyline, and she manages to make her phantom presence felt when Belle intrudes upon the West Wing. Just as Belle is about to discover the Beast’s true identity, the enchanted rose glows brightly, drawing her attention away. This in-turn leads to the Beast frightening Belle, and her running away. Through one simple action, the Enchantress very nearly managed to prevent the curse from being broken. Like Ursula emerging from the waters to distract Eric from Ariel, Belle is distracted from the truth with the flash of the rose – cruel really.
The only counter argument is that she could have been trying to prevent her from finding out as it would make her ‘ineligible’? Does the Beast become human again because the Enchantress’s curse was broken? Or because this is the result that she wanted anyway? A mystery!
Some people call him the Space Cowboy
‘Crazy old Maurice – he’s always good for a laugh’ – says random, awful lads in the pub. Truth be told, Belle’s papa, Maurice is a bit mad and generally good for a laugh. While he does fall into the role of comic relief, like many Disney fathers before him, his compassion for Belle makes him more similar to scatter-brained Gepetto (also an inventor of sorts) than Disney Dads who are there to chew the scenery. In the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, the ‘beauty’s’ father has a much bigger role to play and half of the story is from his point-of-view. While his relationship with Belle is a huge part of the heart of the film, the team made a great decision to reduce the father’s role from the source material, so we get our protagonists together at a much faster pace. ‘Be Our Guest’ was originally sung to Maurice, in a bid to be closer to the original story (they also changed him from a merchant to a kooky inventor).
Maurice is a loving, but rather absent-minded parent; he cares a lot about Belle, but is generally inattentive towards her interests. When Belle attempts to talk to her father about how she feels as though she doesn’t fit in, he is too preoccupied with his own invention to pay her much attention. He also demonstrates a lack of understanding of his daughter’s interests when he suggests that Belle could talk to Gaston, a ‘handsome sort of fellow’.
‘And why not talk to Biff Tannen? Or Regina George? Or that guy from Edward Scissorhands … whatever his name is? They’re all handsome people’
Maurice is a rather bumbling, yet endearing character, and is consequently treated very cruelly throughout the film. Nevertheless, he is very well-meaning, and shows his love for his daughter when he pleads with her not to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner, stating that he has already lived his life and that she shouldn’t throw hers away.
Unlike this awful human being
(Special Note from Both: Check out a review of this dreadful Beauty and the Beast adaptation … what a hilariously awful looking film! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWW4t8iv10Y)
Maurice does not have much of a character arc of his own, but he is very central to the plot’s actions: after getting lost in in the woods on the way to the inventors’ fair, Maurice ends up a prisoner in the Beast’s castle …
(Special Note from Melissa: Completely his own fault. As we’ve learned from Black Beauty, ALWAYS LISTEN TO THE HORSE! He completely ignores Philippe the horse’s suggestion of taking the prettier, safer looking route, and then later passive-aggressively asks ‘Where have you taken us Philippe?’ Ugh that was YOU Maurice!)
… after Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner, he inadvertently trigger’s Gaston’s villainous plot, by raving to the townspeople about the Beast (truly not doing himself any favours); and after Belle and the Beast share a romantic evening together, concern for her father’s wellbeing draws Belle away from the castle – which could very easily have resulted in the entire household staff remaining cursed forever.
Nice job idiot!
Lefou is Gaston’s diminutive sidekick and lackey, who constantly sucks up to his ultra-macho companion. Constantly praising Gaston’s prowess as a hunter and an alpha male, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for him – seemingly hoping that his credibility will improve if he’s seen to be hanging around with everyone’s hero.
(Special Note from David: There’s a definite ‘law of the playground’ feel about Lefou and Gaston’s friendship)
We’ve previously lamented the sidekicks to the main villains being too irritating, to the extent that they undermine the villain’s credibility. Fortunately, Lefou – though irritating by design – manages to be the right kind of annoying (a difficult balance to get right) and serves as an entertaining secondary character. There’s something very satisfying about seeing Lefou get punched, which is a satisfaction shared by the animators. A loyal spaniel to Gaston, Lefou even waits outside in the snow for God knows how long, for Belle and Maurice to return.
His design is noticeably cartoony when compared to all of the other human characters, and this is utilised to its fullest effect each time that Gaston clobbers him. For the bulk of the running time, he provides comic relief, but during the ‘Mob Song’ and the subsequent attack on the castle, he is briefly seen in a more outright villainous manner. His ultimate fate is unknown, but it’s unlikely that he’ll take Gaston’s place as the town’s hero.
(Special Note from Melissa: Perhaps Gaston actually lived as landing on Lefou softened the blow …)
(Special Note from David: Absorbing the impact)
Howard Ashman apparently came up with the idea that the staff were transformed into household objects, as opposed to the objects themselves being enchanted and non-speaking (this is evidenced in the original 20-minute opening). However, we assume that the objects in the castle are a combination of real human staff and lifeless objects that have been enchanted by the curse – Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee style:
We wonder if they were inspired by Bedknobs and Broomsticks for the furniture fight the mob scene?
Otherwise, Beast would have a ridiculously large number of staff, and besides why would so many of them not have (or barely have) faces? But does that mean those ‘characters’ go back to being inanimate objects afterwards? It’s mind-boggling when you think deeply about it …
The main household staff could all very easily have fallen into formulaic, ‘safe’, character types: the womanising Frenchman, the stuffy Englishman, and the elderly English Tea lady. It is a real testament to the filmmakers, therefore, that the characters have become so beloved – the ways in which they are animated, written and performed really makes them stand out. Although like comic book super villains, their names are hilariously on the nose – how convenient it is that they were already called Mrs Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Chip – God help anyone in the castle whose name was Monsieur Flushington or Madame Toilette.
This character, let’s call her Madame Fawcett, is a contender for the most miserable looking member of staff … doesn’t help that Mrs Potts jollily bobbles around her with the freedom of movement
Much like Maurice, none of the household staff go through character arcs of their own per se, but they all have their parts to play within the story. They are all affected by the curse (we assume that while the Beast does age, they don’t, so they could also be dealing with the conflict of immortality), and consequently they are invested in the romance between Belle and the Beast because so much is at stake. However, their interest is more for selfish reasons (justifiable, but selfish nonetheless). With the exception of the naïve young Chip, none of the household staff ever refer to Belle by her name, because to them she is simply a means to an end (they refer to Belle as ‘her’, ‘she’ ‘the girl’, etc) – ‘Someday the girl will come …’
While Beast does not have anyone as emotionally invested in him, this does change progressively when he mellows out and consequently there are some lovely moments when the staff are rooting for their master – when Mrs Potts gives him tough love, and when Lumiere gives him romantic advice. Although before that, when they have to walk on eggshells around him, they end up treating the Beast like he’s stupid sometimes.
‘Uh, master. Have you thought that, perhaps, this girl could be the one to break the spell?’
(Special Note from Melissa: Seriously Lumiere, what did you think he was going to do, eat her?)
Lumiere and Cogsworth are one of the best Disney comedy double-acts, and they have a very amusing repartee in their love-hate relationship. Delightfully enough, Nik Ranieri and Will Finn who animated the respective characters, had a very similar relationship to the bickering couple with similar personality traits, hence why they were assigned these roles. They even played up to this by acting out Lumiere and Cogsworth’s final scene as live action reference.
Interestingly enough, Cogsworth was written with John Cleese in mind, but he turned it down to play the villain in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. David Ogden Stiers plays the role fantastically, with for the most part, a very solid accent, but we did hear the occasional slip (the way he says ‘process’ gives him away). The late Jerry Orbach delivers his role with superb energy – but not being French, we’re less likely to notice accent slips!
Mrs Potts often acts as a kind-hearted – yet no-nonsense – voice of experience; offering advice to the Beast, and reassurance to the rest of the staff. Angela Lansbury plays the role incredibly well, seeming a natural fit for the character (she was one of Ashman’s only choices to play the part). It is very nice to have Lansbury return to Disney, twenty years after Bedknobs and Broomsticks, to be a part of such an iconic feature.
We’ll never forget your positive moves
Funnily enough though, Mrs Potts steamrolling Cogsworth to offer Maurice a cup of tea reminds us more of Irish hospitality than English hospitality. Actually had Beauty and the Beast been released later in the 1990s – how could this casting NOT have happened?
Chip is an interesting little character. Originally, he was a one-line part, but apparently, Bradley Pierce’s vocal performance was so cute that they expanded his role.
And consequently deleted this mute musical box character … BYE!
As we have discussed before when chatting about child characters in Disney films, Chip could easily have been an annoying character, but he’s not; he genuinely is a sweet kid, and thankfully not overused (or using pop cultural or dated vernacular … shudder). Again, he is the only one of the household objects to refer to Belle by name and he actually plays a surprisingly significant role in the climax. However we must point out, is Mrs Potts actually Chip’s mother? He calls her ‘Mama’ but she does seem a little old to be his mother … Plus, who are Chip’s brothers and sisters? Does Mrs Potts have a favourite? Does Chip have a literal ‘chip’ on the side of his head? Did Mrs Potts give birth to all of the children or did she adopt them? Or are they just ‘enchanted’ – not actually real children (yikes!)? Or perhaps they’re a ring of Lumiere’s illegitimate offspring. We’ll never know.
(Special Note from David: But then they’d all be little candles)
(Special Note from Melissa: Or little tealights)
When cornered by the mob they protect the castle by beating them up in a variety of comic and deadly ways (seriously deadly!), demonstrating the revolutionary spirit of the staff.
Watch out Beast and Belle, Chip may work out that Maurice’s invention could be rather useful in an uprising and tell everyone all about it …
Why do the knights with roving eyes not help out in the battle? Seriously they would have been useful, as shown (again) in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
By the way, the Battle is a strange one … overall it has a slapstick comic style, and yet we have shots like this:
Like the Beast transforming back into human form, it is surreal seeing the staff as themselves, as like the Beast, we are used to seeing them a certain way. We leave them with Lumiere realising that after years without certain ‘parts’, he can now get down to business with Babette after she grazes him with her actual feather duster (no metaphors here).
‘It is not ok that I’m aroused by this?’
However, he ends up ‘clock-blocked’ by Cogsworth
No matter Lumiere, Cogsworth will probably perish in a few days when he realises that all of his internal organs are either missing or in the wrong place – his cogs fall out a lot during the film.
‘That’s gonna hurt if this spell ever gets broken’
They tease a possible romance between Mrs Potts and Maurice.
‘I’d take tea over coffee any day’
Anyone we’ve missed? Yes! Despite featuring in only two scenes, Monsieur D’Arque makes such an impression with his sinister design …
… and Tony Jay’s fantastic voice work (he called it his ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ voice). In fact he makes such an impression that Jay was offered a much larger (and influential) role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame – more to come on Jay. Madame de la Grande Bouche is a fun character and it’s a shame that she doesn’t feature more (and that we don’t see her human form at the end … what’s her story?). Also we’ll give a shout out to the footstool dog – a voiceless character that is cute … just for being a dog.
Artwork and Imagery
The film’s artwork is very striking, paying homage to the style of the Golden Age, and yet feeling entirely new, aided by the CAPS system. The main locations within the film are fully realised and contrast with one another effectively as the action switches back and forth, from Belle’s town to the Beast’s Castle. At the beginning, the village is seen in a golden, autumnal daylight; while the Beast’s castle is dark, cavernous and filled with mystery. As the action progresses, the castle becomes brighter and more accessible, while the village is painted in a more sinister light – the lighting in the village scenes gets darker, such as when Gaston speaks to Monsieur D’Arque in the very dimly-lit tavern. The two worlds collide during the finale, which brings the darkness back to the Castle, before the closing moments when the enchantment is lifted and the Castle is seen in total brightness. Lighting is excellent!
Here are some particularly beautiful shots:
The iconic ballroom sequence is noted for its innovative use of CGI (and other scenes too of course), especially as the camera sweeps around the characters. As the years have gone by, it’s hard not to notice the use of CGI but it doesn’t negatively impact the film.
The animation really stands out with some of the most memorable character designs to date. Special mention has to go to Glen Keane (as ever) for his work on Beast. It is another masterpiece! While Robbie Benson gives so much to the character through his vocal performance, some of the most outstanding moments for the character come through his changes in expression at key moments in the plot: when Belle offers to take her father’s place, and when he makes the decisions to let Belle go and later Gaston. Keane said that he had had enough of Beauty and the Beast beasts looking like they were alien creatures – he wanted the beast to look like something of our world. After extensive research (including many zoo visits and trips to the local taxidermy), the Beast became a hybrid creature formed of a gorilla’s brow, a bison’s head, a wolf’s legs, a lion’s mane and a bear’s body, and with the eyes of a human (into the soul of the Prince).
The Beast’s final design as a human is constantly a source of debate – the consensus seems to be that (ironically) most audiences preferred his look as a beast. Even critics were miffed:
Janet Maslin. The New York Times. ‘… the Beast is ultimately revealed to be a paragon of bland handsomeness beneath his glowering exterior’
Dave Kehr. The Chicago Tribune. ‘In a rush of uncertainly executed shooting stars, the Beast is reborn as a rubbery-faced Tom Cruise clone. The sense of anticlimax is overwhelming’.
John Hartl. The Seattle Times. ‘The major problem with Beauty and the Beast isn’t unique to the Disney animators, who have not quite managed to pull off the Beast’s inevitable transformation at film’s end (they’ve never had much luck with those bland Prince Charmings anyway). You may feel the way Greta Garbo did when she emerged from Jean Cocteau’s live-action 1946 version. “Give me back my Beast,” she is reported to have said’.
The filmmakers themselves even said that they knew that no design that they came up with would please everyone because audiences had fallen in love with the Beast (‘Who’s this guy???’ … ‘I want my bison!’), not … this:
Perhaps darker hair might have felt closer to our Beast?
We realised through capturing screenshots that he briefly has facial hair … and ginormous eyebrows
(Special Note from Melissa: It reminds me of the end of Grease when Sandy appears post-makeover. When I was little, it used to baffle me as it didn’t look anything like her and I missed the old Sandy!)
‘Tell me about it … stud!’
It’s also strange that the Beast, as a human, looks as ‘mature’ as he does in stained glass and in the portrait when, mathematically speaking, he was likely eleven when he was cursed. It was a major bone that Howard Ashman picked with the directors, as he felt that it was more tragic if it were a child who suffered at the hands of the enchantress – the directors imagined an Eddie Munster-like beast boy and thought it was silly – he was not impressed with their response, and apparently let them have it.
The trouble is they never quite made a final decision and in terms of story and character, he is clearly a young adolescent (which is visibly clear in the Work-in-Progress version), and yet in the final film he looks too mature. CHOOSE!
On another note, what a 90s looking kid on the left!
Another criticism we have in terms of the Beast’s imagery is that we feel like we see him too soon. When Belle says, ‘Come into the light’, we’ve already seen so much of Beast that it doesn’t seem like that much of a surprise. That early shot of him on all fours is marvellously primitive:
We wonder if they should have kept the Beast looking as animalistic as possible until Belle’s sacrifice for her father, when his true humanity does begin to emerge.
The animation during “Be Our Guest”, another Busby Berkeley-influenced number in the canon, is bright, lively and filled with spectacle, the perfect blend of animation and a big-scale stage musical number. As the song progresses it becomes more and more like a sequence out of Fantasia, which feels like a very fitting homage to the studio’s Golden Age. There are so many visual allusions to previous Disney films, particularly (shockingly enough!) Pit of Despair age film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad – there seems to be a lot of inspiration there in the Brom/Gaston comparison, the similar-looking settings of the tavern and the village, and the rather dark tone. Even though it was added in years later, “Human Again” marks the return of Walt’s dancing brooms – another nod to the studio’s legacy. Because “Human Again” was inserted into the film a decade later, the animation does look somewhat different from the rest of the animation in the film, rather like when watching an episode of an animated series from one season and then, immediately afterwards, watching one from a much later season – it does jar a little.
For all of its triumphs, there are a few shortcomings in the animation: unfortunately, the ending to the film feels a little lifeless as it is simply a redressed version of the ending to Sleeping Beauty – try not to look to closely at the main character’s faces, and ignore the fact that none of the other characters move at all. Cut corners and time pressures are very clear in specific moments, particularly in background characters. Another noticeable hiccup occurs during the scenes between Belle and Maurice, when Belle’s face suddenly becomes huge – inconsistency between artists perhaps?
(Special Note from David: It’s very hard to ignore once you’ve seen it; I call it “Belle’s Big Weird Face”)
One of the film’s most striking moments in terms of artwork and imagery is the Beast’s transformation. We’ve had a multitude of these in Disney and they tend to all be amazing, from the Queen’s 1931 Jekyll-Hyde-inspired transformation into a hag, to Lampwick’s horrific metamorphosis into a donkey, to Cinderella’s rags morphing into a gorgeous ballgown (Walt’s favourite shot), to Ariel’s dangerous transition from mermaid into woman. Glen Keane did not want the transformation to be a ‘suddenly the Prince appears’ like it’s a magic trick – he wanted the audience to actually see the process. The transformation itself reminds us of an artistic representation of Jimmy Stewart’s romantic speech to Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life:
‘And the moonbeams will shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair’
The soundtrack to Beauty and the Beast has become one of the most recognisable and iconic within the entire canon, but it might never have existed at all if the original plans for the film had gone ahead. A lot of this can be attributed to the success of The Little Mermaid, which proved that there was a lot of momentum in the animated musical genre, and the plans for Beauty to be a non-musical were scrapped. Ironically, at this point in the canon (and to be honest, likely to date!), it is the closest film in tone and style to a Broadway musical.
(Special Note from David: I don’t always agree with Jeffrey Katzenberg, but he had a big say in this decision, and consequently Beauty and the Beast ended up being a lot more like The Little Mermaid and less like The Rescuers Down Under, which has to be considered a good thing!)
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were brought in to weave their magic once more and sadly this would be the last full soundtrack that they would create together.
(Special Note from Both: The duo worked on Aladdin too, in conjunction with this, but many of Ashman’s songs would not be used in the final film – we’ll talk about that in more detail next time)
Menken’s score, marked specifically in the opening theme, is clearly inspired by ‘Aquarium’ from Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals and we associate this theme with the Beast. Perhaps the choice of ‘Aquarium’ could be drawn from the notion that the Beast is in his own ‘aquarium’, stared at by others – a young man trapped in a beast’s body/aquarium, when he should be free. Belle’s theme is drawn from the ‘Isn’t this amazing’ strain from the opening song, ‘Belle’, as she steps into a world that’s the stuff of the books that she reads. They are both beautifully striking themes that run through the score, with the former evoking haunting vibes, and the latter peaceful and majestic all at once.
On the soundtrack, ‘Transformation’ and ‘The Beast Lets Belle Go’ are both exquisitely poignant, with the former taking us to such a low point in its tragedy, only to rise up to pure wonder and victory. The original track for the viola-led ‘Death of the Beast’ features on the soundtrack and we must point it out, as it is gorgeously tragic and beautiful. Perhaps it may have been perceived as too sad, reflecting the mood at Disney at that point. The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme, like the ‘Part of Your World’ theme is the heart and centre of the film’s tone, and really does resonate – it sticks with you always. The first time we hear the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme is when Belle sees the rose interestingly enough. It is a beautiful score that truly captures the darkness and wonder of the film’s tone. Only Menken’s second score, he really entered the cinema’s music industry as a composer on a high – we have loved his first two scores.
“Belle” is written in the style of an Operetta – very Gilbert and Sullivan-esque – a number which frequently transitions between song and spoken dialogue. It is the closest that Disney has ever come to emulating the stage musical in the opening number. At just over five minutes in length, it covers a great deal of ground from a storytelling standpoint, introducing the film’s heroine, the townspeople, and the antagonist. We learn that Belle doesn’t fit in with the villagers, and that they in-turn misunderstand her for being non-conformist. Gaston is also introduced, along with his motivation of wanting to marry Belle – which will drive his actions throughout the narrative. In other words, it’s a delightfully put together exposition dump.
(Special Note from Both: In a quarter of the time more has been established than in Richard Purdum’s original 20-minute opening)
The tune is reprised slightly later on, except this time Belle is alone and is allowed to be the entire focus – it is the closest that she gets to having her own number – the ‘I Want’ song. She had previously mentioned her dissatisfaction with the life she was living, and this time she seems more determined to find something new – vague enough to reach twenty-somethings like us.
The music swells and then doubles in scale as the entire orchestra are brought into play, and the visuals are reminiscent of the opening to The Sound of Music as Belle dances, open-armed, at the top of a hill.
“Gaston” is a bawdy drinking song with homoerotic flourishes, instigated by Lefou in order to cheer up Gaston following Belle’s rejection of his proposal, by telling him how great he is. Very quickly everyone in the tavern joins in, and Gaston is such an ego-maniac that he gets caught up in the number too – ‘As a specimen yes I’m intimidating’ – modest. It is surprisingly like a waltz, underlined with French themes, as if it could be titled ‘Waltz for Gaston’ or ‘Ode to Gaston’. Musically the tune begins with quite a melancholic strain, before giving way to a lively ‘oom-pah-pah’ rhythm, while the lyrics are filled with enjoyably comic witticisms that we have come to expect from Ashman’s writing style, as well as the occasional not-so-subtle innuendos.
Could it be anymore euphemistic?
Just … these lyrics – these lyrics: ‘Every last inch of me’s covered with hair / ‘Then goes tromping around wearing boots like Gaston’ / ‘I use antlers in all of my decorating’ / ‘When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs every morning to help me get large’. HA! The lyrics are so ridiculous that it almost sounds like running out of ideas and just coming out with the silliest things possible – wonderful.
Sung fantastically by Jesse Corti and Richard White, this could be considered the film’s ‘Villain Song’ but for the most part it is rather light-hearted, goofy and comic. That said the Gaston Reprise marks the beginning of Gaston’s transition from blockheaded jerk into violently obsessive psychopath, still hilariously written – ‘No one plots like Gaston, takes cheap shots like Gaston, plans to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston’.
“Be Our Guest” could be considered a filler-number as far as the story is concerned (especially since the song was originally sung to Maurice – technically closer to the source material) but it does provide some exposition for the household staff – proving that there’s more people wound up in this plot than just Belle and the Beast. It is the most extravagant musical number in the entire film, and perhaps the most well-known song from the film’s soundtrack (with the possible exception of the title track). It is a number that allows the artists and animators to show off, decorated metaphorically with the indulgence of a wedding cake, which would not have been conceivable ten-years prior. If you do consider it to be filler, it compensates for it by being entertaining and incredibly catchy. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury sing with such glee and delight that it’s infectious, with the former laying on the young Maurice Chevalier in his performance. It offers a true sense of so much pent up repression and energy in the characters in their being allowed finally to break free of their mundanity and just do something – resulting in over-the-top service and ending appropriately with corks popping and fizz spilling – an orgasmic finish.
Baz Luhrmann must have been inspired by both Be Our Guest and Gaston when he created this number
(Special Note from Melissa: Although there is something rather awkward about the notion of servants only living to serve … because clearly they have no other desires of their own)
We came across an amusing story on Howard Ashman’s website (please check it out – it’s a wonderful read). Animator, Nik Ranieri, went on a huge rant to Ashman one day about how he heard these demos for a new project, Beauty and the Beast, and that the songs were absolutely awful, nothing next to the brilliance of The Little Mermaid … slowly he realised that Ashman wrote the songs … yikes. Consequently, the song that he dissed the most, ‘Be Our Guest’, was ironically the song he would have most to do with as he was given Lumiere to animate. Careful what you say!
“Something There” was a late addition to the film (written to replace the deleted ‘Human Again’), but it feels entirely necessary as it skilfully illustrates the growing affections between Belle and Beast. We hear Robbie Benson’s normal non-Beast voice for the first time (sung internally within the Beast’s mind) as he starts to feel hopeful-yet-melancholic- his gentle tones remind us of the Prince inside. There is a reprisal of Belle’s musical motif – which was initially heard during the opening number as she sang about Prince Charming in the story she was reading – as she has now encountered a Prince Charming (of sorts) of her own. Her motif changes lyrically to ‘new and a bit alarming’ – one of Ashman’s final notes when he was very ill as he listened in over the phone from hospital was ‘Tell Paige … Streisand’ – they immediately got it – ‘New and a bit alarming’. The tune has a very childlike, Christmassy-feel to it, although this is a little problematic as it incorrectly gives the impression that months have passed by, when it has actually only been a couple of days.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a remarkable song, which immediately manages to solidify itself amongst the timeless songs from the canon. The tune sounds like a piece of classical music which feels like it has always existed (very much ‘as old as time’) and works effectively with or without the lyrics. Lansbury’s performance of the song is akin to Cliff Edwards’ version of “When You Wish Upon A Star” – it will never be topped no matter who sings it. Initially Lansbury was reluctant, as the demo sounded too pop-like in Menken’s style, but Ashman acted out the song more like how a little English tea lady would sing it, sent her that demo, and she felt reassured. Lansbury got it in one take.
It is musically the heart and soul of the entire film – beautiful, elegant, intimate and yet soaring all at once – a burst of emotional musicality. So simple and yet so impactful, it is a song about true love. Lyrically, the song does not have Ashman’s usual wryness. Like when Shakespearean characters who usually speak in delightful, witty prose, suddenly change to verse, this is Ashman figuratively changing from prose to verse. It is as simply sincere as ever with no witty or ironic inserts. Something has changed, and it is beautiful and yet sad all at once.
Far more of a Villain Song than his earlier number, “Mob Song” fittingly demonstrates how much of a dangerous adversary Gaston has become over the course of the film. Upon discovering that Belle has feelings for the Beast, Gaston manages to rally the entire village together to hunt down the Beast and kill him. There is an impressive ominous pulse which builds in intensity throughout, as the villagers make their way from Belle’s house to the Beast’s castle. Ashman shows off his skill with lyrics and allusions, by throwing in references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth (‘Screw your courage to the sticking place’) and also a 1920s Cole Porter musical (‘Fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong’) all the while creating a powerful sensation that something huge is about to happen. It is truly a dark horse number as it never seems to be anyone’s favourite, but it is fantastically executed in its intensity and power.
Finally, just a quick note on “Human Again” – a song which was originally cut from the film, but then added back in years later for the film’s re-release in IMAX and subsequent VHS and DVD releases – impressively all of the necessary cast members were able to reprise their roles. It begins as a gorgeous, intimate little waltz, complete with accordion for Lumiere, and develops into a full ensemble burst of exultation, as they tidy the castle up, Disney style:
But they keep the animals OUT this time
The song does not add much to the story, but it once again reminds us that the fates of all the household staff are linked to that of the Beast. The tune is lively and upbeat, although tragedy runs through the lyrics, as they demonstrate everything that all of these characters have missed out on for more than a decade. It is the ensemble’s ‘I want’ song – and it is delightful to hear what they want to do afterwards. It is a ‘when the war is over’ song too, inevitably reminding us of conflict-driven France in the two World Wars – ‘I’ll be cooking again, be good looking again, with a mademoiselle on each arm’ could be straight from a soldier’s mouth. ‘When the world once more starts making sense’ … true indeed.
It is the first Disney animated feature to start a trend that is a pet peeve of ours … ending the film with a pop version of the film’s main song over the credits … argh. Lansbury’s version is so much lovelier, and while Celine Dion (who was a rising star at this stage) and Peabo Bryson are both talented singers … it’s just so sickly sweet and 90s power ballad to the max. Lansbury’s version is wonderful and stands the test of time (many critics agreed and much-preferred Lansbury’s version to the power ballad version). We understand that it is for financial and marketing reasons – after all it reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, but … argh we’re just not fans … and we’re aware that it will not go away for at least a few years. Gah.
The Beauty and the Beast story is quite honestly a ‘tale as old as time’. As we said in the opening, while the fairy tale was written in the 18th century, the story in different forms has been around for approximately 4000 years. The original 20-minute opening that they presented was much closer to the 18th century source material – Belle is not an only child, Maurice is a merchant, and they become down on their luck financially and have to downsize. In 20 minutes, we do not see the Beast, and we see very little of Belle – already a huge problem, when animated films around that time were usually 70-80 minutes long on average. Gaston is a fop conspiring with a horrible auntie-figure that comes to live with the family for Belle to marry him because MONEY. While there is an incredibly moving moment involving a music box (check it out if you can – it resulted in a gasp from one of us), it is a very filler-heavy opening, and we’re glad that it was ultimately scrapped, especially since no songs were planned for that version. How sad the musical world would be without ‘I use antlers in all of my DECORATING’.
Disney offers yet another sharp, witty script with solid gags that becomes incredibly moving as the film progresses. Smart changes were made in the adaptation process, and clearly effort and thought went in: e.g. the symbolism of the rose (in the original story, the Beast was furious that the merchant took a rose from his garden); the origin story of the Beast (in the original, he was an innocent, cursed because an evil fairy was miffed that the Prince would not make love to her); the enchanted objects being cursed staff (very similar to the dwarfs having specific character traits, Disney put their own spin on a blank canvas of an idea and made it into something very compelling and memorable) …
Hello Mr Sugar Bowl from The Sword in the Stone by the way
… ; Belle being a reader; the inclusion of a misogynistic yet ‘loved by all’ villain, and many more.
The story is a very mature one, up there with Lady and the Tramp. The film is a romantic drama/comedy that, in many ways, would not be out of place in a live action film or television series. While it is most certainly a romance, it is also a coming-of-age story for the Beast’s character (Disney loves those old Bildungsroman narratives don’t they?). In a way, it’s an allegory for coming out of the awful, hormonal adolescent years into level-headed maturity. It’s a make-over story too, as we giddily pointed out (Beast does go from walking on four legs, barely dressing and unable to eat with a spoon to Fred Astairing his way around the ballroom in a suit … also he successfully eats with a spoon – growth). The film also has an upstairs-downstairs vibe about it in that the servants’ dramas unfold in connection with the ‘masters’ (like Downton Abbey or er Upstairs Downstairs).
However, there are problems in terms of story in Beauty and the Beast. The film does have plot holes, particularly in its timeline. The weather is … extreme to the extent that audiences to this day are still confused on the timings of the film. At the beginning, it’s autumn, then it’s winter, then seemingly at the end it’s spring … all in the space of a few days.
It seems like they didn’t always think things through, or they would start with an idea, and then forget about it, realise ‘oh no that doesn’t make sense’ and then go ‘oh well no one will notice it’s fine’. The crazy timeline is one of the reasons why ‘Human Again’ was originally cut as they discussed the lengthy passage of time in the lyrics. But there was a major problem – so Maurice is wandering around looking for Belle for weeks? So Lefou is sitting outside of their house for months? It didn’t make sense, so they cut the song (and fixed the song so it fit the timeline when it was re-inserted), but even now, it seems a little off, mainly due to the seasons … but then again, it could be the ‘enchantment’ of the castle that is causing mad weather.
Again, concerning time, this enchantment took place 10 years ago? 10 years is … a long time. 10 years ago, we were 16 and 17 – a LOT has changed since then! The Beast, as we said, was 11, and the condition was that he needed to find requited love before his 21st year … pressure. What have he and the staff been doing these past 10 years? How did no one pass by the castle in a decade? Is Maurice stopping by truly the first time they’d had a guest since the enchantment? Especially since ‘You’ve come to stare at the beast’ makes it sound like this has happened before. Where’s the food coming from? How do the villagers not remember that there was a Prince living in a castle nearby a mere 10 years ago?
Are they in a JJ Abrams style ‘Lost’ bubble, where no one is able to see it until the enchantress conveniently decides to let someone through … because cheating?
How were Gaston and the ‘fifty Frenchmen’ able to find the castle so speedily? There are a number of deus-ex-machinas in the film from Maurice’s invention to the magic mirror – we guess the magic mirror showed them the way?
The story is formed through a question – ‘Who could ever learn to love a beast?’ This is immediately followed by the title, so we assume it’s the ‘beauty’ who learns to love the ‘beast’. In fact, likely the young lady that we immediately see in the next shot.
Unless they were trying to tease that Gaston would be the beauty that would learn to love the beast.
‘Here in town there’s only he who’s as beautiful as me’
I often find it difficult to talk about the really good Disney films, as it is much easier to critique a film’s failings than it is to heap on additional praise. I have approached every film in the canon with the intention of enjoying them, and some films have met those expectations, whilst others have disappointed. Beauty and the Beast is a film I had seen a few times before, and so I already knew that it was really good, and it is also a film which is generally accepted as one of the best Disney films. Therefore, there’s not much left to say in praise of it, which hasn’t been said before. When reviewing The Little Mermaid we both felt that there was a lot more to say about the film, defending the characters and plot-elements which often came under fire (as well as praising the overall quality), but since Beauty and the Beast doesn’t get as much criticism, there’s not as much to say.
To keep things relatively brief, then, I’ll say this: Beauty and the Beast is rightfully acknowledged as one of Disney’s best films, and the production team who created it really embody the idea of the ‘Perfect Storm’ with all of the right components in place at the right time. I really like the two leads, I think that Gaston is a great antagonist (being both hilarious and imposing in equal measure) I enjoy the whole supporting cast, and the soundtrack is one of the studio’s best ever.
One final point I’d like to make: working on this blog has really brought to my attention how much of a contribution Howard Ashman made to the Disney Renaissance (arguably the most successful period in the studio’s history). Obviously he wasn’t solely responsible for all of the success, but I really don’t think that he gets enough recognition for the contributions he made. In the space of a few years, Howard Ashman helped to create two of the most beloved, and enduring Disney Animated Classics in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and it’s heart-breaking to think that he never got to see Beauty and the Beast finished. It’s also upsetting to think of what he might have created had he not passed away so young. Disney movies are renowned for having iconic sad moments, from the Seven Dwarves weeping over Snow White’s dead body, to the death of Bambi’s mother, and many more still to come in the canon, but for me one of the saddest is the dedication to Howard at the end of the credits for Beauty and the Beast.
Beauty and the Beast was a film that I did grow up with, but I never owned it on VHS (likely borrowed or rented). I was in a panto version of the fairy tale when I was 9 (it had practically nothing to do with the film … in the slightest) which got me thinking about the film again – a few years later I bought the platinum DVD (it was my first Disney DVD) and it had a huge impact on me at the time. At that stage, I’d gone off current Disney and felt disillusioned with what they were releasing. Watching Beauty and the Beast after not having seen it for many years, I was completely spellbound – it was the first time I truly grasped how amazing Disney animation was – the skill and artistry that went into these films began to sink in – in writing, artwork, characters and music. It made me want to revisit the old Disney classics again, so I’m always grateful to Beauty and the Beast for having that impact on me.
Watching it again for The Disney Odyssey, and seeing the films that came before it in date order, its impact has not diminished. I love the musical theatre feel of Beauty and the Beast – the songs are fantastic, the protagonists are engaging, the antagonist is simultaneously dark and hilarious, it looks visually stunning and the script is really strong. The story does have some plot holes here and there and background characters can look a little iffy from time to time, but they do feel minor in juxtaposition to what the film excels in. The voice acting and character designs complement each other wonderfully – Glen Keane, Mark Henn (and James Baxter!) and Andreas Deja particularly stand out for their work on Beast, Belle and Gatson – the ‘love’ triangle. The voice work for all of the characters are excellent, and I can’t even point anyone out specifically because they’re all brilliant – a true ensemble cast. The relationship between Belle and Beast is one of the more mature ones in the canon, and the film touches upon troubling and dark themes from everyday sexism in the Gaston plot to the sinister cruelty of the enchantment – more than I had ever realised! Alan Menken and Howard Ashman have triumphed again in their score and songs – it’s sad to think that this is the last film in which all of the songs are co-created by this amazing creative partnership (at least Aladdin has some!). As David said, doing The Disney Odyssey has reminded me of how important Ashman was in the creative drive of the Renaissance Era – and it was hard not to well up at the end of the credits. Beauty and the Beast is an excellent film, which made me laugh and feel moved all at once. Although I still wonder .. which do I prefer – Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid? Will have to think about that …
Beauty and the Beast ultimately left behind a huge legacy – it was the first full-length animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs), and to win Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) at the Golden Globes – what a triumph! It was also the first since Mary Poppins to be nominated for Best Picture from Walt Disney Pictures and the first musical since All That Jazz. Let’s not forget that Gregory Peck advocated for The Jungle Book to be nominated for Best Picture, leading him to resign from his position as President of the Academy when he was unsuccessful. Until Up and later Toy Story 3 were nominated, Beauty and the Beast was the only one (it still is the only one to be nominated in a selection of five films and the only hand-drawn film) … but an animated film has never won, likely not helped by the Best Animated Feature category, which was introduced in 2001.
Beauty and the Beast was nominated for four Academy Awards in total, Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Music, Original Song for ‘Belle’, and Best Music, Original Song for ‘Be Our Guest’. The film won Best Music, Original Song for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Best Music, Original Score. Beauty and the Beast was also nominated for BAFTAs, Saturn Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Grammy Awards, Hugo Awards, and PGA Awards. It won Golden Globes for Original Score and Original Song, Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature and Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Field of Animation for Glen Keane (YES! YOU STAR!), an ASCAP Award, a BMI Film Music Award, DFWFCA Awards, a Golden Screen Award, Grammy Awards, a KCFCC Award, a LAFCA Award, a Golden Reel Award, a National Board of Review Award, a National Film Preservation Board Award, and a Young Artist Award … in a nutshell, they did rather well didn’t they?
Worldwide, the film made $451,421,625 at the box office … double what The Little Mermaid made. The film also received huge critical acclaim. It was even previewed at the New York Film Festival in September 1991 as a work-in-progress, with 70% of the film complete and 30% consisting of storyboard reels and pencil and computer tests – the first time Disney has ever made such a bold move – they presented an unfinished Disney film to an audience of adults. That audience gave the film a standing ovation. Wow.
Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, ‘Lightning has definitely struck twice. With Beauty and the Beast, a tender, seamless and even more ambitious film than its predecessor, Disney has done something no one has done before: combine the latest computer animation techniques with the best of Broadway … It is more darkly forbidding and at times more violent than the average animated children’s fable’. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times said that the film ‘like 1989’s The Little Mermaid, reflects a new energy and creativity from the Disney animation people … A lot of ‘children’s movies’ seem to expect people to buy tickets by default, because of what the movie doesn’t contain (no sex, vulgarity, etc.). Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too’. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune wrote, ‘More than just a terrific animated film for children, Beauty and the Beast revives the American movie musical, building on the success of the Oscar-winning The Little Mermaid … The beautiful title song, performed poignantly by the richly textured voice of Angela Lansbury, makes the case for all lovers to look past their partners` faults and into their hearts’. The Seattle Times’s John Hartl called it ‘a model of clear, precise storytelling, of state-of-the-art technique used to advance a story rather than show off’.
The Washington Post’s Hal Hinson called it ‘a delightfully satisfying modern fable, a near-masterpiece that draws on the sublime traditions of the past while remaining completely in sync with the sensibility of its time … For the first time in a Disney cartoon, you don’t feel as if you’ve slipped into a time warp … There’s even a kind of impudence in the comedy; you don’t feel clobbered with wholesomeness … The storytelling is brisk and engaging, the animation imaginative and deeply textured, the music and the production numbers sublime. Let’s not mince words — it’s great.’ Hinson however disliked the Beast, saying he cannot compare to the Jean Cocteau Beast: ‘This Beast … seems completely lacking in poetry. He’s a lunk without either mystery or pathos … he’s precisely what the rest of the movie isn’t — dimensionless.’
There were also some more mixed reviews. Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel wrote ‘Considered together, the songs and the incidental music form an elaborate, affecting score in the later-Sondheim mode. Much as I like Beauty and the Beast, I think I would have preferred it if its dark parts had even been darker … But to give Beauty and the Beast an even harder edge might have been too big a commercial risk for Disney’. Michael Sragow of the New Yorker wrote, ‘It’s got storytelling vigour and clarity, bright, eclectic animation, and a frisky musical wit … Throughout, the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken score is clever and fluid in the best Lerner-and-Loewe manner, with flashes of oddball humour that keep everything light and bouncy. (Gaston’s theme song trumps ‘C’est Moi’, from Camelot) … There isn’t anything particularly haunting, and not all the script’s variations are fresh. But this is easily the zippiest Disney cartoon feature in the thirty-one years since 101 Dalmatians’.
Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune’s review is one of the more negative reviews that we came across. He dismissed the frequency of Disney animated film releases: ‘The new Disney management, recognizing the perennial value of a “classic“ cartoon, has been encouraging their production at a breakneck pace, with uneven and sometimes slapdash results … several miles short of the genuine Disney classics of the `30s, `40s and `50s … the film has little of the technical facility, vivid characterization and emotional impact of Disney past’.
Beauty and the Beast, referred to by critics as the best Broadway show that wasn’t even on Broadway, inevitably became a Broadway show (starting a huge trend for Disney over the coming years … it also confirmed the Beast’s name for good). It opened at the Palace Theatre in 1994 and it ran until 2007 – the film was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical and it received mixed critical reviews. To date (2016), it is the ninth longest running Broadway show in history.
It was released in IMAX in 2002 (and on Platinum DVD), and ‘Human Again’ was inserted into the film after being such a success on Broadway – the creators were inspired by the edits made to the early Star Wars films to do the same for Beauty and the Beast!
Beauty and the Beast is No. 7 on the AFI’s list of Top 10 Animation films, No. 22 for Greatest Movie Musicals, No. 34 for 100 Passions and No. 62 in 100 Songs for ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In 2002, it was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.
A live-action film, as we speak now, is on its way in March 2017 (two years after Cinderella), starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere (now we like Ewan McGregor but oh God have you heard his accent in the teaser trailer? Even he said in an interview recently that his French accent, despite being married to a French woman, is dreadful), Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Josh Gad as Lefou …
Frozen crossover dreams come true for many we’re sure …
Beauty and the Beast, despite its enormous success, will always be bittersweet and etched in sadness as it coincided with the death of Howard Ashman from AIDS at the age of 40. At the Academy Awards, Ashman received his Oscar posthumously – his partner, Bill Lauch, accepted it on his behalf. In multiple documentaries, it’s really moving when everyone that worked with him recounts their final days and weeks with him. 25 years have gone by since the release of the film and those who knew him still feel emotional when talking about him. We’ve experienced only two films in the canon that have been marked by his influence, and as of where we’re at right now, they are both currently in our Top 5s. Ashman was frequently referred to by those at Disney as another Walt – it is easy to see why. His loss was clearly felt, and we are sad that once we’ve finished Aladdin, that’ll be it for Ashman’s wonderful lyrics and his magical touch on Disney animated films. Ashman left behind a talented group of people at Disney who will go on to make amazing things (that we’re looking forward to reviewing!), but it’s still sad that he won’t be there. New York Times critic, Janet Maslin delighted in a sample of Be Our Guest lyrics and said ‘This demonstrates Mr. Ashman’s gifts as an outstandingly nimble lyricist. His death from AIDS in March at age 40 cut short a brilliant career, but the jubilant energy of his work will long live on’. Indeed it will.