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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

“For Who Could Ever Learn to Love a Beast?”

        I am about to commit Disney fan blasphemy and risk going to Disney fan hell (where I am forced to watch nothing but The Black Cauldron on repeat) by uttering this next statement: as a kid, I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast.  I know.  I know.  It’s only regarded as the greatest Disney film… ever.  It was the first animated film to be up for the Best Picture Academy Award, which is absolutely tremendous. 
            In fact, if you go all the way back to 1967 when The Jungle Book was released, you will discover that Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch himself) - who was President of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science at the time – lobbied greatly for an animated feature film (specifically The Jungle Book) to not only be nominated for Best Picture, but actually take home the award.  Unfortunately, other members of the Academy didn’t see eye to eye with him on the subject, writing off animated films as mere children’s fare not to be taken seriously.  This eventually led to Peck’s resignation as President in 1970 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061852/trivia).  It would be over twenty years later that Beauty and the Beast would be the first animated film to receive the honor, and it would be another eighteen years before the category for Best Picture would be expanded to include ten films instead of five.  Almost immediately, another animated film received the honor of the Best Picture nomination (Pixar’s Up) even though once again it got snubbed for top prize.  This year, Toy Story 3 received a nomination for Best Picture, revealing that the Academy is finally willing to rank animated films alongside the most prestigious works of cinema.  It wouldn’t surprise me if animated films were that far off from winning the top honor from the Academy in the near future.
            But animated films wouldn’t have received the chance at all had it not been for Beauty and the Beast changing perceptions of what animated films could accomplish.  To this day, critics compare all subsequent animated films (not just Disney films, but all animated films) to this one.  The likes of the American Film Institute and IGN.Com and all who fall in between regard it as one of the – if not the absolute - finest Disney animated films.  But for me personally… I just was not a Beauty and the Beast fan as a kid.
            I saw it once when it first came out in theaters, and that was really the only time I remember watching it as a kid.  We bought the VHS but I never felt any desire to watch it.  Why?  Well, in case any of y’all hadn’t already noticed, I was a bit of a ‘fraidy cat as a small child.  And the Beast… he scared the crap out of me.  I remember leaving the theater just after Maurice forced Phillippe down the dark and scary path, and came back during the Beast’s introductory scene to Belle.  Upon seeing the Beast in that scene I promptly left the theater again and I did not come back until just before “Be Our Guest.”  Of course, then came the scene where Belle explores the west wing, during which I took off the minute I saw her take the glass casing off of the rose.  After I came back while Belle was tending to the Beast’s wound, I think I was able to sit through the rest of it.
             Yes, I am aware that I was a wimp as a kid.  Guys, I didn’t see Jurassic Park until I was well into my teens.  If there was a movie that really scared me when I was little, I used to hide the VHS tapes because just looking at the covers bothered me, and yes, Beauty and the Beast was among those that I took great care to hide.  As I got older, though, I heard Beauty and the Beast discussed more frequently and more reverently than any other Disney film.  Plus, whenever I took one of those “Which Disney Princess Are You?” quizzes, I always got Belle; what can I say, I’m a brunette who aspires to write books and have lots of adventures.  So when the first Platinum Release of Beauty and the Beast came out, I began watching it quite frequently just to see what all the fuss was about.
            Safe to say that Beauty and the Beast is a film that had to grow on me, much like Belle’s appreciation of the Beast had to grow over time.  It has become a film that I truly enjoy watching now and I appreciate greatly how much of an impact that Beauty and the Beast has had on the Disney Company, the world, music, and animation.  It was the second film that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman participated in together and cemented their impact on a new age of Disney films.  Howard Ashman passed away six months prior to the film’s release and this film is arguably his finest work, as he had a hand in more than writing the songs. 
            The concept of the enchanted speaking objects?  Ashman.  When the story team was trying to discern whether this was Belle’s story or whether it was Beast’s story, Ashman was the one who said, “It’s called Beauty and the Beast,” making the filmmakers realize that they should be placing equal amounts of focus on both of the major characters.  These were pretty major contributions coming from a man who originally had not wanted to participate in the project.  It’s true; Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s next pet project was to be Aladdin, which they had already begun developing songs for (want to hear more about Ashman’s original vision of Aladdin?  Check out the making of documentary on the Platinum Edition of Aladdin, or buy yourself a copy of Waking Sleeping Beauty on DVD).  It was Jeffrey Katzenberg who persuaded Ashman and Menken to develop Beauty and the Beast as a musical, after experiencing some developmental problems with the initial story treatment.
            Those story problems, by the way, had been plaguing the project for a long time.  And when I say a long time, I mean a really long time, as in shortly following the release of Snow White.  Yep, Walt himself tried to tackle the tale as old as time.  Two major attempts at developing the story into a feature were made in the 1930’s and again in the 1950’s.  Walt ultimately set the project aside in favor of others because of the persistent story problems.  Some have even alleged that Mr. Disney was dissuaded from doing his own version of Beauty and the Beast because he was intimidated by Jean Cocteau’s critically acclaimed film adaptation of the fairy tale (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_the_Beast_(1991_film)).  After the tremendous success of The Little Mermaid (another story attempted and scrapped back in Walt’s day), Beauty and the Beast was pitched as a feature once again.

            It seems the curse of story problems followed the film all the way into the 1980’s, this time under the direction of the London Disney animation studio, which had worked on the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  This version wasn’t a musical and it was very loyal to the original Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont telling of the tale with aspects of the Jean Cocteau film thrown in.  Upon viewing the first twenty minutes of film via storyboard reels, Katzenberg decided that the production needed to start over from scratch under the guidance of an entirely new directing team consisting of Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (if you’re at all curious about the original vision for the film, the storyboard reels were included as a bonus feature on the recent Diamond Edition release of Beauty and the Beast).   
            I haven’t mentioned the names Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale before, have I?  That’s because this was their first big feature animation directing assignment.  The only other big project they did with the Disney Company prior to Beauty and the Beast were the animated segments for the Epcot attraction called Cranium Command.  Never heard of it?  Don’t feel bad.  It was one of several educational attractions housed in the Wonders of Life Pavilion, along with Body Wars and The Making of Me.  The purpose of Cranium Command was to educate guests in a fun way about how the brain works in conjunction with the rest of the human body to make humans go (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranium_Command).  If you’re at all curious about it, then I’ve got some bad news for you because the attraction closed back in 2007 along with the rest of the Wonders of Life Pavilion. 

            Kind of hard to believe that these same guys went on to direct Disney’s most prestigious animated film, huh?   I say give them some extreme kudos because Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece.  Of course, they didn’t do it alone.  It should be noted that this was the first Disney animated film to have a screenplay written for it; in all of the years before Beauty and the Beast, the story ideas for animated films were compiled entirely on storyboards.  Since this process saw a lot of ideas come and go, it proved to be long and tedious, making it kind of expensive.  So to cut down on costs for Beauty and the Beast, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton. Beauty and the Beast also marked the return of a Disney legend to the story team, in the form of Joe Grant, the same man who originally came up with the story that would become Lady and the Tramp.  The whole project was also overseen by producer Don Hahn from start to finish, his first time working in that role.  And of course, the film would not have been half of what it was were it not for the musical and story contributions made by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.
            All that time spent in story development hell paid off in the end because the story of Beauty and the Beast is pert near flawless.  So what makes the film so special exactly?  For one thing, it’s a romance.  Way back when I reviewed Lady and the Tramp I mentioned that though romance frequently plays a part in many a Disney animated classic, rarely is it what moves the story forward and directs the film’s action. 
            If we were to look at all of the previous Princess movies, Snow White was a straight up fairy tale (with a dash of Silly Symphonies thrown in), Cinderella was an underdog story, Sleeping Beauty was an artistic tour-de-force that was about good triumphing over evil, and The Little Mermaid was the story of a father and a daughter finally connecting.  Though there was romance present in all of these films, it was not the heart of the story.  Beauty and the Beast is very much a classic romance film, as acknowledged by the American Film Institute.  Beauty and the Beast is one of two animated films that made AFI’s list: 100 Years… 100 Passions.  It was a list ranking the greatest love stories depicted in cinema.  Not surprisingly, Lady and the Tramp was the other animated film to make the list and even it did not get as high as Beauty and the Beast did.  Beauty and the Beast holds the number thirty-four spot while Lady and the Tramp is in the number ninety-five slot.
            Disney has declared Beauty and the Beast’s romance status several times, naming it “the most beautiful love story ever told” several times in their advertising for the film.  It’s hard to argue with that statement, given that it seems there has always been a “beauty and the beast” story, no matter what century you take a peak at: Cupid and Psyche, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, even King Kong are all stories of a beauty and a beast, making that statement “tale as old as time” absolutely true.  What is it that makes Disney’s spin on this ancient tale ring so profoundly with audiences?  I’ve mentioned a couple of times that when someone mentions a certain story (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the like), the first version that pops into their heads is the Disney animated film adaptation of that story because of what a gifted storyteller Walt was.  He was able to keep what was good from the source material and add to it with wonderful music, engaging characters, and a more fully fleshed out story. 
            Beauty and the Beast is a true return to that tradition, as it was something that the studio had gotten out of touch with following Walt’s passing.  The creative minds behind Beauty and the Beast wisely realized that they were attempting to tackle what is arguably history’s most profound and resonant love story, and were inspired by aspects of the story’s previous incarnations, but added that extra layer of Disney magic to create what would become possibly animation’s most triumphant film.  The moral of the original story is intact, but adding to it is the compelling story of a young woman who dreamt of living an extraordinary life, who didn’t realize that she was living her dream until she was smack dab in the middle of her own adventure straight out of the literary classics.   
            But the film couldn’t have become a classic were it not for how it was performed with such tremendous heart by its voice cast and animators.  I mentioned back in the day that Sleeping Beauty had one of the strongest supporting casts of the Disney Animated film canon.  Well, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t have just a strong supporting cast; the entire cast of characters is portrayed with precision and sincerity.  Just as Ashman declared that the story was called Beauty and the Beast, we will start with the Beauty and the Beast.
            On the Beauty side of the title, we have the lovely bookworm Belle, voiced by one Paige O’Hara, yet another Disney voice to come from the Great White Way.  Interestingly, O’Hara was not the first choice for the role.  Originally, the little mermaid herself, Jodi Benson, was to provide the voice for Belle until the filmmakers decided that their leading lady needed to have a more European sounding voice (whatever that means).  Ashman had worked with O’Hara before, and suggested to her that she try out for the part.  That audition, by the way, did more than give Belle her voice.  That one lock of hair that keeps falling down to the center of her forehead and the way that she brushes it back was based entirely on O’Hara doing exactly the same thing during her audition. 
            Ariel was the first indication that the role of the Disney princess had changed, but Belle was the confirmation that feminism intended to become a permanent fixture at Disney.  More in the vein of Katherine Hepburn in Little Women, Belle was envisioned as an eccentric girl who was unaware of her own beauty.  She was never intended to be the most physically stunning of the Disney Princesses, but Belle still resonated with voters on UltimateDisney.com: she was voted into first place for the greatest Disney heroine of all time.
            So what’s so great about Belle?  Well this subject happened to come up during a texting conversation I had with one of my friends from Splash Mountain last night.  His name is Parker,  he loves Disney, and he offered a heterosexual man’s opinion on why Belle is so amazing: “She was warm and charming to all but mainly she was an outcast.  Everyone her age ogled over Gaston whereas her life was centered around literature and family.  She didn’t care what was popular and enjoyed what she liked rather than following the trends of the other towns people.  And she had some curves.”  I think he managed to nail all that is true and wonderful about Belle, emphasizing her comfort with being an outsider especially.
            Her outsider status is further indicated by the film’s color palette.  The entire population of the town wears warm colors, while Belle is the only person who wears blue, subconsciously cuing the audience into the idea that she is different from everyone else.  Noticeably, the Beast, who is an outcast like Belle, also wears blue throughout the film.  Ironically, her inability to relate to the town’s people makes it very easy for the audience to relate to her.
            One audience member who responded very favorably to Belle was my mom.  For several years, she has always said that Beauty and the Beast was her favorite Disney film.  Upon a recent research viewing, my mom sat down to join me and pointed out something about Belle that increased my opinion of her ten fold.  It was during the scene after Belle first meets the Beast, and she is crying while being led to her room while the Beast tries to engage in awkward pleasantries with her.  Out of nowhere my mom said, “You know what’s amazing?  Even though she got to live in this big castle, it meant nothing to her because she couldn’t be with her father.  Think of all the girls who marry for money and live in fancy houses, but are still unhappy.  They could learn something from Belle.”  It struck me that Belle is not at all shallow, a quality sorely lacking in many people.
            As I get older, the finer nuances in the two title characters is something that I’ve come to appreciate more than anything in this film.  It’s possible to watch Beauty and the Beast multiple times and still manage to arrive at new conclusions regarding the characters.  For one thing, I’ve finally been able to answer a criticism that I’ve seen Beauty and the Beast fall prey to for years.  If anyone has spent any time on DeviantART.com looking at Beauty and the Beast artwork, then you are bound to come across the occasional piece that pokes fun at Belle and the Beast’s relationship, suggesting that their love is a form of bestiality. 
            … I’m allowing a pause for readers to gag at the thought of bestiality.
            … Everyone good?  Okay, moving on.  Why would people think that?  Because supposedly Belle had no way of knowing that the Beast would turn into a human when she declared her love for him, making it seem that she had fallen in love with an animal.  First of all, I think these people are missing the point of the whole story.  Second of all, these folks have overlooked one key fact: Belle isn’t stupid. 
            A lot of time is spent establishing Belle as an extremely intelligent young woman.  After all, she describes Gaston as primeval, enjoys books without pictures, and most importantly is able to deduce that the castle is enchanted.  Granted, it’s kind of obvious that the castle is under an enchantment with all of the cancan dancing forks and talking candelabras, but Belle states very dryly to Cogsworth that she had figured out the castle was enchanted all by herself.   This line is important because she says it right before she sneaks into the west wing of the castle.
            It is here in the west wing that she curiously stares at the shredded portrait of what appears to be a young man with familiar blue eyes.  She had already figured out that the castle was under an enchantment from observing the talking kitchen appliances, so it’s not much of a stretch for the audience to conclude that she had figured out that the Beast was under an enchantment as well.  As her relationship with him grew, she always knew that there was more to the Beast than what she was seeing.  She didn’t know exactly what kind of man was within the beast, but she began to realize that there was something good deep within the Beast’s heart worth loving.
            That is one of Belle’s most amazing traits, also established early on: her ability to see beauty within.  Her love of books is especially indicative of this, as well as her unwavering belief that her father is a genius.  Of all the beautiful women in the entire world, the one who stumbles into the Beast’s castle is one of the few who could possibly see the good in him.  Of course, her looking beyond the fur and the fangs takes a bit of trial and error.
            Can you blame the girl for fearing him though?  Take it from one ‘fraidy cat kid, the Beast was as scary as dragon Maleficent and almost as scary as the Queen in her Old Peddler Woman guise.  Not just his appearance either.  He definitely embodied the phrase “spoiled, selfish, and unkind.”  He yells at his devoted servants, he cruelly rips Belle’s father away from her before they can say goodbye to one another, and he loses his temper far too easily. 
            The Beast begins the film in a truly beastly manner too.  His animal like habits are prominent when the audience first meets him, like the way he walks on all fours when he’s agitated, when his hair bristles along his back when he senses an intruder, and the way he licks at his wolf wound after receiving the injury.  His animal appearance was inspired by a menagerie of different animals: the mane of a lion, the beard and head structure of a buffalo, the tusks and nose bridge of a wild boar, the brow of a gorilla, the legs and tail of a wolf, and the large body of a bear.  Originally, there were going to be six tiger stripes along the side of his head, but those proved to be too expensive to animate (the only really good shot of the tiger stripes in the film is when the Beast lifts up that first wolf to growl in its face).  Adding even more to the beastly equation are the growls of real panthers and lions that were added to the Beast’s speaking vocals.
            The man who gave the Beast that gravelly voice was Robby Benson.  If your response to that is, “Ice Castles Robby Benson?” then you’re having the exact same reaction that Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, and Jeffrey Katzenberg had upon hearing Benson’s audition tape.  The tape blew them away because they could hear the man within the beast more than any other prospective performer.  I can’t think of a better way to describe Benson’s outstanding performance.
            Even at his most beastly moments, the Beast’s humanity is still evident to the audience.  How is it evident?  His eyes.  Every emotion he feels is perfectly conveyed through his clear blue, totally human eyes.  Such subtlety could only be the work of a master animator, right?  Then it should surprise no one that the Beast’s supervising animator was Mr. Glen Keane.  It was through his very subtle animation performance that the audience sees the Beast as both a figure of terror as well as a figure of tragedy. 
            Some of the poses the Beast does are straight out of theater.  The one he adopts when he spies on Belle discussing her feelings for him through the mirror is the perfect personification of despair.    What Keane is able to establish so well early on with the Beast is that when someone is never told “no” for twenty one years, they not only become “spoiled, selfish, and unkind,” they mostly become socially awkward.  The Beast knows that he has to learn how to love in order to break the spell, but it is evident that he has no idea how to even interact with people.  When Belle tearfully bemoans the fact that she didn’t get to say goodbye to her father, watch how uncomfortable the Beast looks.  His eyes show so much vulnerability, as though he is thinking back on his actions and realizing that he was wrong to force the father and daughter apart.  He even temporarily adopts a lighter, almost friendlier tone as he attempts some awkward small talk when he shows Belle to her room.  Also revealing is after the Beast loses it in front of Belle for sneaking into the west wing, when he presses a hopeless hand to his forehead, realizing that his inability to control his temper is going to cost him his one chance to finally become a man.
            Obviously, a great bulk of the story revolves around Belle seeing past the Beast’s appearance, but what most don’t talk about nearly enough is that the Beast himself had to learn to see past appearances as well.  Not many discuss how he too was judging Belle entirely on her appearance when they first met.  When Lumiere and Mrs. Potts are speaking to him about Belle, there’s this moment where the Beast anxiously runs his hands through his fur and says: “It’s no use.  She’s so beautiful, and I’m… well, look at me!”  And after he overhears Belle declaring that she wants nothing to do with him, he states out loud that she would never see him as anything other than a monster.  The Beast was judging Belle, believing that because she was a beautiful young woman that she could never look beyond what she saw on the surface.  His doubts remain after he and Belle have become friends, if his verse in “Something There” is any indication: “She glanced this way, I thought I saw, and when we touched, she didn’t shudder at my paw.  No, it can’t be; I’ll just ignore, but then she’s never looked at me that way before.” 
            Notice that after Belle and he have bonded following the wolf attack, he begins wearing a shirt in addition to his pants and begins walking on two legs.  The way he wondrously touches his bandaged arm as he remembers the fearless way in which Belle touched him is accompanied by one perfectly amazed facial expression, courtesy of Mr. Keane.  One moment that I absolutely love comes just before he shows Belle the library after he asks her to close her eyes.  He timidly waves his big hand in front of her face to be certain that her eyes are closed.  The big excited smile that stretches across his face is so real and genuine that the scary Beast from a few scenes earlier is all but forgotten from the audience’s minds.  I’m not sure if I would declare the Beast as Glen Keane’s magnum opus, but I do know that the Beast is up there among the finest animation performances to ever come out of any animation studio.

            Of course, the animation acting is superb all around.  Especially the scene following Belle’s attempted escape from the Beast’s castle after the Beast saves her from wolves.  Just after he collapses from exhaustion following his fight, Belle grabs on to Philippe’s saddle as though about to mount her horse again.  There is a pause and a close up on her face.  She says nothing at all but her facial expression is all the audience needs to see the conflict running through her mind.  Her eyes soften as she comes to appreciate the fact that he just saved her life before she rushes back to his side and puts her cape over him.  Since I have to question how a girl her size managed to hoist a beast his size up onto a horse that size, I think it was a wise decision on the filmmakers’ part to simply cut to her guiding Philippe to the castle with the Beast draped over his back. 
            The film’s true turning point is when Belle dresses the Beast’s wound, or what I like to call when the Beauty tames the Beast.  Belle has this look of never wavering determination on her face, barely flinching when the Beast growls at her (note how the servants carefully back into a corner of the room, dreading his reaction).  I love how when the Beast shouts right into her face, she doesn’t look scared and manages to fire her own retort back at him.  Their tense tête-à-tête is a film highlight, with Belle finally calling the Beast on his temper.  With their hostility finally worked through and Belle tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, she finally manages to properly mend his wound and says the first sincere words the Beast has likely ever heard from someone other than his staff of servants.

            The scenes showing Beast and Belle falling in love are downright palpable.  There’s the moment I mentioned earlier just before Beast gives Belle the library, and then comes that enchanting scene in which Belle and the Beast finally share a meal together in the form of breakfast.  There’s no dialogue exchanged, and because of that the animation performance is downright Oscar worthy.  Belle’s discomfort with the Beast’s eating habits all but vanishes when she sees how difficult it is for him to eat with a spoon.  So a silent compromise is struck when Belle and the Beast lift their bowls of porridge together in a non-spoken toast.  This scene is followed by the “Something There” sequence.

            This is probably my favorite song from Beauty and the Beast (with the title song coming in a very close second).  Why?  Because of how beautifully it lets the audience know what our two main characters are thinking.  So much of the power of this film comes from the facial expressions and the small gestures that Belle and the Beast make, making what isn’t said more resonant than the actual dialogue.  “Something There” does follow in the classic Disney tradition of duets between the two love interests, but they are not singing to each other as had been the standard of most of the previous Disney love songs. Instead they are cueing the audience in to their innermost personal thoughts that they would not dare share with each other. 
            It isn’t only the song that makes the scene so great.  The animation accompanying it is – in my opinion – the most beautiful animation in the entire film.  The Beast manages to go from unsure of himself to adorably awkward to conflicted and withdrawn to downright playful all within the same scene.  It is Belle, though, who really shines in this scene.  As far as her performance goes, I love her facial expression as she looks at the Beast just before she ducks behind the tree: even though she’s smiling, something in her eyes reveals a degree of uncertainty.  When she sings “new and a bit alarming” (this particular segment of O’Hara’s performance was inspired by Barbara Streisand, by the way) she presses a hand to her heart, worries a fingernail, and looks completely, utterly overwhelmed with confusion.  The expression she adopts a second later (as she tucks that lock of hair away) is almost like acceptance, as though she is acknowledging to herself that she is falling in love with someone completely unexpected.  As a side note, I think Belle looks absolutely gorgeous in this scene, even more so than the ballroom scene.
            No discussion of Belle and the Beast’s romance would be complete without mention of the ballroom scene during which the film’s title song is played.  Other than the short scene in which Lumiere gives the Beast one last pep talk before the Beast goes off to woo Belle (By the way, does that foofy hairstyle the Beast is originally given look familiar?  I’ll give you a hint: Wizard of Oz), there is absolutely no dialogue exchanged between characters until the end of the song when Mrs. Potts tells Chip to head to bed.  The scene’s story is told entirely through song, facial expressions, and actions Belle and the Beast take.  Watch the moment when Belle excitedly pulls the Beast up to dance: his scared and confused facial expression is perfectly timed with “both a little scared, neither one prepared.”
            The Beast’s fear and awkwardness follows him into the ballroom.  The way his eyes get wider and he audibly gulps as Belle puts his hand on her waist shows that he has never touched a woman that way before, which makes him kind of adorable.  Of course the scene would not have been what it was were it not for the efforts of the computer animation department at Disney since that immaculate ballroom was entirely digitally animated.  The filmmakers were not completely sure that the ballroom could be pulled off in computer animation, to the point that they had a backup plan called “Ice Capades” meaning that if the ballroom was not animated in time, they would simply have Belle and the Beast dancing against an all black background with a spotlight following them.  I’m sure this idea would have looked much better in the final film than the ver I’m trying to picture it in my head, but I do have to say thank God they were able to pull off the ballroom.

            No discussion about Beauty and the Beast would be complete without discussing… well, “Beauty and the Beast.”  It would be the song that would earn Howard Ashman a posthumous Oscar for Best Song and it lives on to this day as a classic Disney love song, covered by everyone from Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson to Jump 5 to Jordin Sparks.  I have to say, though, the original is by far still the best as sung by the legendary actress of stage, television, and film, Angela Lansbury.  It’s hard to imagine a world where she didn’t sing “Beauty and the Beast” but believe it or not, that almost happened.
            This story has become famous since the original platinum release of Beauty and the Beast, but I’m going to tell it anyway because it blows my mind.  Angela Lansbury originally did not want to sing “Beauty and the Beast” because it was a ballad and she felt that her voice was wrong for it.  She was really insistent to both Ahsman and Menken that they needed to find someone else to sing it.  They managed to convince her to perform one take of the song, but apparently one take was all it took because that one take of Angela Lansbury singing “Beauty and the Beast” is the final version that you hear in the film.  Just one take and Disney suddenly has one of their greatest songs in the history of the company.  If that’s not an indication of the talent that Angela Lansbury possesses, I don’t know what is.
            Of course, Miss Lansbury turned in quite the performance as Mrs. Potts as well.  She’s a genuine mother figure to both Belle and the Beast, following in the tradition that the Fairy Godmother set way back in Cinderella.  She’s sweet and encouraging and more than willing to listen when Belle is troubled about losing her father and her freedom.  She also stands out among the trio of servants for being the only willing to be firm with the Beast as indicated when she hops down from the fireplace mantle onto that conveniently placed pillow (check out the original Platinum Edition documentary for Beauty and the Beast to hear the story behind that – yes, there is a story to be told about the pillow, just trust me on this!) to tell him that he needs to act like a gentleman for Belle.  She also is the mother of the “cute” character of the film, Chip, the chipped teacup.  
            Bradley Pierce (his other famous role was playing Peter in Jumanji) provided Chip’s sweet, innocent, unassuming voice.  The filmmakers had originally planned for a music box to fulfill this role, but they liked Pierce’s voice so much that they expanded the role of Chip, who initially only had one line.  I do kind of have to wonder why Chip’s brothers and sisters asleep in the china cabinet did not get more explanation (How did a teapot, who normally is an elderly woman, have a son who can’t be more than six or eight years old?  Are those other teacups her adoptive children?  Where is Mr. Potts?), but other than that, Mrs. Potts comes across as an excellent mother, not only to Chip, but to the whole castle.  She also proves to be the more reasonable (and ultimately helpful) of the servant leaders.
            That isn’t to say that the other servants aren’t awesome because they are.  Mrs. Potts, Cogworth, and Lumiere are all performed flawlessly by some of the most famous voices to ever grace a Disney film.  The late, great Jerry Orbach was responsible for Lumiere’s Maurice Chevalier inspired voice and he outdid himself.  When I was a kid, I firmly believed an actual Frenchman had done the voice of Lumiere.  Can you blame me?  Mr. Orbach was incredibly convincing in his role as a suave, womanizing, French maître d especially during Lumiere’s signature song.

            You know the one I’m talking about.  Of the amazing songs that Ashman and Menken created for this film, “Be Our Guest” was selected to be a segment in Fantasyland’s Philharmagic with Donald assuming the role of the guest.  Not only does this song spotlight a lot of dishes that sound really tasty, it is also a lovely homage to the French culture as well as being an in-depth look into the minds of the castle staff.  The song also showed off an impressive set of pipes that apparently the world forgot Jerry Orbach possessed.  I do have to go on a bit about him being casted in this film because I absolutely loved him as an actor.  He truly did everything from Broadway (he was Billy Flynn in the original production of Chicago) to television (Besides an epic run on Law and Order, he guest starred six times on Angela Lansbury’s Murder She Wrote ) to films (he was Baby’s father in Dirty Dancing), but the enthusiasm he expressed about being a part of a Disney film was downright infectious.  Of his role as Lumiere, he said, “It’s like being Jiminy Cricket or something. It’s a character that’s just ageless, timeless, and wonderful to be associated with.”  Jerry Orbach, you live forever through this film.
            Of course, Mr. Orbach wasn’t the only person who auditioned for the role of the talking candelabra.  When Broadway, film, and former M*A*S*H actor, David Ogden Stiers, came in to audition for Beauty and the Beast, he actually read for the role of Lumiere.  The casting directors weren’t feeling his French candlestick and handed him a picture of a tiny little clock.  After performing a tightly wound, tense voice with a stuffy English accent, David Ogden Stiers won the role of Cogsworth.
            If I had to pick a favorite voice of the Disney Renaissance, it would definitely be David Ogden Stiers.  Not only was he downright hilarious as Cogsworth (my favorite line in the whole film, “Well there’s the usual things: Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep,” was improvised by Stiers), he proved to be as versatile a voice actor as Verna Felton was back in the day.  His relationship with Disney began with Cogsworth, but did you know that he also performed the voiceover narration in the opening prologue?  I didn’t find that out until recently.  He later supplied the voices for not one but two characters in Pocahontas, as well as another role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The amazing thing is that all of Stiers’ characters were dramatically different from each other, and he managed to infuse each one with a distinct and completely suitable voice.  He even received the opportunity to voice a Disney villain.
            Speaking of villains, Beauty and the Beast possesses one of the more interesting villains to come out of the Disney cannon.  Most of the villains in Disney animations have either been one hundred percent menacing and evil (The Horned King, the Wicked Queen, Lady Tremaine, and Maleficent) or one hundred percent amusing and evil (Prince John, Captain Hook, Madam Mim, and the Queen of Hearts).  On the occasion that a villain has possessed traits from both ends of the spectrum, the audience has been treated to some of the most entertaining and fascinating characters in the Disney cannon: Cruella DeVil, Ratigan, Ursula, and now Gaston.  Gaston (whose booming, deep voice is provided by one Richard White) is in many ways the physical embodiment of the message of Beauty and the Beast, in that real beauty is found within.

            If the Beast has a monstrous outside that houses a pure, kind, loving soul, then it only makes sense to make the villainous Gaston his polar opposite by having him be the perfect physical embodiment of tall, dark, and handsome, a form that houses the soul of a chauvinist, cruel, pig.  This is something that had not really been attempted by Disney before; most of the time when the audience sees a character, they know who is good and who is bad.  Physical appearances don’t really help the audience here; they must spend time with the characters and get to know their personalities before they can make any sort of judgment call.  Essentially, the audience is in the same boat as Belle, in that she judges the people around her based entirely on how they act and what choices they make, as opposed to what they look like.
            That isn’t to say there weren’t visual aspects of the characters that determined what kind of people they were.  I mentioned that Belle and the Beast are the only two characters that wear blue, the color of outcasts.  Frequently in Disney films, blue is the color of good, while it’s polar opposite, red, is often associated with bad things.  Notice that Gaston’s primary color is red.
            I’m very much with Belle on the whole Gaston is a total tool front.  Sure, there’s nothing wrong with his appearance, but everyone saw the way he proposed marriage to Belle, yes?  The guy takes the time to plan, arrange, and set up a wedding before he’s even proposed to the girl.  It never once entered his mind that she might turn him down.  Plus, the only reason he’s asking Belle to marry him isn’t because he loves her or anything crazy like that, but because she happens to be the most physically attractive girl in the village.  He openly mocks her father, he thinks she should give up her interests and her dreams, and the only purpose she serves to him is to be a pretty baby factory that will rub his feet.  Wow.  What a keeper.
            Gaston proves throughout the film that he loves only one thing and that is himself.  During the opening “Belle,” he looks positively enchanted with his own reflection.  He’s the type of person who would run into his own arms at the end of a beach if he could.  His buffoonery makes him a figure of comedy for the first third of the film, at least until Belle publicly rejects his marriage proposal.  Notice that his foreboding “I’ll have Belle for my wife – make no mistake about that” is followed by some noticeably ominous music, which serves as the first villainous indication we have about his character.    
            From this point on, Gaston still manages to be a brainless, good looking, narcissistic lug, but he also shows how manipulative and heartless he is as well.  After she rejects his advances, he doesn’t think to get to know Belle and maybe develop a relationship with her the healthy, normal way.  Instead he devises a plan to throw her eccentric father into an asylum and blackmail the girl into marrying him.  Pretty wicked, but I have to give the downright evil prize in that scene to Monsieur D’Arque for not only agreeing to go along with this plan, but having a downright orgasmic giggle at the mere thought of it.  Tony Jay, by the way, voiced that character, and the filmmakers loved his voice so, so much that he was cast as the major villain in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
            Of course, Gaston did serve as the inspiration behind one of the most memorable and entertaining villain songs in Disney history.  Aptly titled “Gaston,” the Ashman/Menken song is a lyrical tour-de-force almost surpassing “Under the Sea” as far as lyrical creativity goes.  I mean you have to give props to a song that manages to fit in the word “expectorating” and still have it sound melodious and cohesive.  The scene also proves to be an animation showcase for the talent of animator Andreas Deja.  Deja had initially expressed concern about animating a handsome face, fearing that it would be difficult to exaggerate the way he needed Gaston to do, but here in this scene - especially when Gaston is showing off his ripped physique when he sings, “So I’m roughly the size of a barge!” – Deja was able to push Gaston to almost ridiculous limits.  It worked extremely well, and displayed how much range Andreas Deja is capable of.

            Speaking of Andreas Deja, Tink mentioned way, way, way back when I reviewed The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad that there are many people who compare Brom Bones to Gaston by noting their similarities.  Guess what guys?  There’s a reason for that.  Andreas Deja used Milt Kahl’s Brom as inspiration for Gaston’s final design.  Deja always speaks so passionately and so reverently about the Nine Old Men in his interviews that the fact that he looked to one of them for inspiration does not surprise me in the slightest. 
            All of the characters discussed above have a crucial role to play in the climax of the film, which starts when Belle finds her father in the forest.  I have to talk at length about the climax; I know that I’ve been seemingly talking at length about everything else, but the climax of Beauty and the Beast is really special.  A good climax should involve all of the central characters in some way, it should resolve the action that the entire film has been building towards, and it should provide a satisfying resolution for all of the major character and story conflicts.  Beauty and the Beast’s climax does all of this and more, making it my absolute favorite part of the film.
            Following in the tradition of the Universal’s original Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast’s climactic final act kicks things off with an angry mob.  They had come with their pitchforks and torches to persecute Maurice, but that all changes when in a desperate act, Belle reveals that the so-called Beast that her father had been telling all of the townspeople about was indeed real.  Obviously, she didn’t think that plan all the way through because the townspeople - egged on by a spurned Gaston – suddenly turn their pitchforks and torches in the Beast’s direction.  A lesson for us all, once an angry mob has been formed, someone has to get lynched.  By the way, that line in “The Mob Song” that Gaston says, “Screw your courage to the sticking place,” was inspired by a line spoken by Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: "We fail? / But screw your courage to the sticking place, / And we'll not fail" (Macbeth, Act 1, scene 7, 59-61).
            I’m sure upon arriving at the castle they were expecting many things, but I'm fairly certain that they weren’t expecting an army of inanimate objects to retaliate.  Fight back the enchanted castle servants do and it is glorious.  The townspeople definitely had it coming to them throughout the film and the enchanted objects leave no room for questioning whom the victor will be.  My favorite line in the whole scene has to go to Mrs. Potts for when she yells, “Up here, you scurvy scum!”  I just love the way Lansbury read that line.  Of course, both Cogsworth and Lumiere get their chance to shine in the big fight scene as well.  I absolutely adore Cogsworth when he puts on his Napoleon hat and brandishes a pair of scissors like a sword with an insane laugh.  Lumiere rescuing his feather duster girlfriend by setting the townsperson’s pants on fire was also awesome, but the best moment in the whole scene is when the footrest dog steals Lefou’s shoe and the three townspeople chase him into the kitchen.  As a passionate home cook I could have told those three that the absolute worst place to enter in an enchanted castle would be the kitchen, but I think they figured that out pretty quickly on their own.  Normally I’m pretty dense about pointing out glaring continuity errors, but even I noticed that Lefou’s shoe disappears and reappears in a couple of shots.

            This has all been good fun, but immediately following this rather humorous battle sequence is the final confrontation between Gaston and the Beast and it is the most dramatic and tense scene in the entire film.  I’ve mentioned that the Beast and Gaston are opposites in almost every way and no scene better illustrates that than this one.  For one thing, Beast is… well, a beast and Gaston is a hunter.  Hunters have a really bad reputation in Disney films.  It started with Bambi, continued with pig headed hunter characters in The Sword in the Stone and The Fox and the Hound, and has come full circle with Gaston.  As opposed to being an invisible menace like he was in Bambi, here the hunter is a fully realized character with a name, face, and personality.
            This hunter/beast relationship is best exemplified when Gaston finally discovers the Beast in the west wing.  Gaston is positively gleeful upon discovering his prey and readies his bow for a shot.  Beast, on the other hand, sees Gaston and does nothing.  He doesn’t move, he doesn’t speak, and he makes a sound in his throat and casts his eyes downward in a lethargic manner.  The Beast, believing that Belle is gone forever, along with his chance at ever being human, no longer cares if he lives or dies.  It’s difficult for the audience to watch the Beast not fight back at first; he gets shot with an arrow, shoved through a glass window, gets kicked around literally, but he still does nothing, almost as though he is waiting for Gaston to finish him off.
            Then Belle comes back, the Beast rises up to Gaston’s challenge, and the fight changes from a hunter finishing off his prey to two men fighting over the same woman.  Though this is the stuff straight out of classic literature, appearing in everything from The Count of Monte Cristo to Bridget Jones’ Diary, it is not a set up Disney has done very often.  The only other occurrences I can think of in which two men fighting over a woman’s love served as the climax of the story was when Bongo dueled with that rival bear and possibly between Ichabod and Brom’s rivalry if we are to believe that Brom was the headless horseman.  With that in mind, Beauty and the Beast’s status as Disney’s greatest romance film is cemented as it closes with this classic literary device.
            Further emphasizing Beast and Gaston’s differences from each other is their manner in combat.  Gaston is rather chatty in this fight.  He takes every opportunity he can to taunt and antagonize his opponent, while the Beast is quiet save for a couple of growls.  The heart of the conflict is actually vocalized by Gaston: “Did you honestly think she’d want you when she had someone like me?” The end of that line finishes on a shot of the Beast completely enshrouded in shadow except for his eyes and his bared teeth.  The Beast looks incensed at this statement because Gaston basically just vocalized his fears; why would Belle love someone like the Beast?  He’s angered to the point that he begins fighting back more vehemently than he had before. 
            Gaston’s line “Belle is mine,” was not originally what he was supposed to say.  The original line was, “Time to die,” but it was changed to bring Belle back into the scene.  I think that the changed line works better on multiple levels than the original mostly because I think that the Beast would be more angered by the idea of Gaston mentioning Belle than he would be by any threats on his life.  After this statement, the Beast reverts back momentarily to his more animal like instincts, which culminate in him dangling Gaston by his neck from the roof of his castle; simply saying “time to die” would not have invoked such a response in the Beast.
            After listening to Gaston pathetically grovel for his life, the Beast’s snarling facial expression changes and the wonderful prologue music plays again.  What is going through his mind?  In my opinion, he’s realizing that inside he isn’t an animal, but a man who can choose not to be a beast.   I absolutely love that the only thing he says to Gaston through this whole scene is one gravelly, “get out.”
            Belle then calls for him with an outstretched hand.  I love the image of the Beast only being able to fit his one really large thumb within Belle’s small hand.  The look on his face looks so astonished and reverent as he says, “you came back.”  The Beast truly believed that Belle was only fond of him because she was being forced to remain within the castle.  Him uttering, “you came back” over and over indicates that he finally knows that Belle returns his feelings.  The look on Belle’s face as she holds the Beast’s hand to her face is unquestionably the face of a young woman in love. 
            Then Gaston comes up behind the Beast and literally stabs him in the back.  He didn’t think that plan through too well because he loses his grip and plummets to his watery death.  If you watch really closely, you can see a couple of frames where little skulls appear in Gaston’s pupils, leaving very little to question about his fate.  Yet another villain to add to the list of gruesome Disney villain deaths.
            If Beauty and the Beast has one tear jerking moment, it’s definitely Belle and the Beast on the balcony.  The Beast uses the last of his strength to touch Belle’s hair and face one final time before seemingly taking his final breath.  Belle is naturally distraught and clutches desperately at him, begging him not to leave her.  She finally utters the words “I love you,” just before the last enchanted petal falls.  Though it is an emotionally charged scene and I do like the way the dialogue is written, something about the way O’Hara read “I love you” seems odd to me.  It doesn’t feel natural for some reason.
            Then comes the transformation scene.  In my opinion, this is the scene worth watching Beauty and the Beast for.  The effects animation is awesome (that smoke that rises around the Beast is real smoke that was originally filmed for The Black Cauldron) and Belle’s reactions employ some great facial animation, but this scene is really a showcase for my man, Glen Keane.  One of the reasons that he wanted to animate the Beast was because he wanted to do the transformation scene so badly – he actually said it would be the highlight of his career.  I have to say that it is quite the accomplishment on his part, because watching the Beast’s body seamlessly change into a human’s never fails to give me chills. 

            The reveal of the man within the beast is always amazing.  First of all, the audience finally gets a good look at the subject of that shredded up portrait. Second of all and more amazing is Belle’s reaction to the sudden change.  It would have undermined the meaning of the whole film if she had simply rushed into the arms of this strange man but she didn’t.  She looked skeptical and she touched his hair with hesitance, like she was looking at a stranger.  It wasn’t until she looked into his eyes that saw the man she fell in love with.  By the way, for a long time people wondered what the Beast’s real name is, and the Broadway play provided an official answer: the Beast in his prince form is named Adam.
            Belle and Adam finally share a long overdue curtain-closing kiss.  Let us pause on the kiss.  Disney is famous for their kisses; in the theme parks, you can buy a poster called “The Disney Kiss,” but many of the really famous kisses, like Snow White and Aurora being woken up by their respective princes, don’t look that great.  Not from an artistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of a heterosexual twenty five year old woman.  Their mouths looked as though they were barely connecting, alluding to nothing more than a brief, little peck.  I don’t know about everybody else, but when someone says the phrase “true love’s first kiss” I’m expecting something more.
            Ariel and Eric’s kisses were improvements but neither character moved; they were composed as though they were a still piece of art, not an animated couple.  This was a discussion that my sister and I had a couple of years ago just before we watched Beauty and the Beast together.  When Belle and Adam’s kissing scene came up, we both watched the scene silently before we turned to each other and literally said at the exact same time, “Now that’s a kiss.”
            I love watching the emotions that flicker across their faces as they lean towards each other.  That’s the way people really look at each other before they kiss for the first time.  Their kiss is anything but a brief, little peck.  There’s actual movement on the part of the two characters and (dare I say) a bit of tongue action is implied.  Heck, the kiss is so passionate fireworks literally start going off.  I don’t know if it’s the very best Disney kiss ever, but I do know that it’s up there.
            The film ends with all of the denizens of the castle (human again at last) watching the happy couple dance into happily ever after.  I mentioned back in the Sleeping Beauty post that the dance Belle and Adam do at the end is actually reused animation of Aurora and Phillip dancing at the end of their respective film.  The animation of them dancing was not the only contribution Sleeping Beauty made to Beauty and the Beast: if you look at the people watching Belle and Adam, they are composed the same way the citizens watching Aurora and Phillip were.  I actually think it’s a really lovely homage, and I don’t disapprove of the animation reuse here.
            There is one other idea that’s popped up in Beauty and the Beast that has occurred in other Disney films.  I’ve mentioned the symbolic use of the seasons a couple of times in Disney animation, and they are once again employed here in Beauty and the Beast, but their duration is admittedly a bit illogical.  The film opens with Belle wanting more than a provincial life in autumn, which should subliminally let the audience know that change is coming.  When Belle is imprisoned in the castle, a full snowstorm is waging announcing the arrival of winter, the season of death, reflecting Belle’s despair.  The audience is led to believe that only a few days time passes for the brunt of the film’s duration, or else logic would dictate that Maurice had been wandering through those woods for months (which is the main reason they originally cut “Human Again”) and had miraculously not yet died.  By the time the servants prepare the castle for “the most magical, spontaneous, romantic atmosphere known to man or beast,” the snow is already melting and the staff is busily planting new flowers.  I’m not too familiar with the climate in France, but I have to say that’s possibly the shortest winter ever.  The moment the spell is broken and the castle is reverted back to its original, glorious state, the film fittingly ends in springtime, the season of love and new beginnings.
            The seasons are not the only symbols found in Beauty and the Beast.  The rose motif found throughout the film is truly stunning.  It hearkens back to the original fairy tale in a very clever way, and wonderfully serves as the classic symbol of beauty.  The use of the stained glass windows at the beginning and the end was absolutely gorgeous, especially when viewed in conjunction with Menken’s amazing “Prologue: Beauty and the Beast” score. My favorite line in the prologue narration: “But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances for beauty is found within.”  Why do I like it so much?  Because of how eloquently it states the message at the heart of all iterations of the Beauty and the Beast story.  Though not a new concept, it is a message that bears repeating, especially in a world as appearance obsessed as ours.  The narrator’s entire speech was incredibly poignant and well performed. 
            That gorgeous stained glass window that marks the ending was actually built in Disneyland shortly after the film’s release.  This would prove to only be the beginning of this film’s relationship with the theme parks.  Belle and the Beast are staples of the parades, as well as being incredibly popular face characters available for greeting, especially at the France pavilion in Epcot.  Belle even employs her love of books in the parks, by reading aloud to guests during Story Time with Belle in the Magic Kingdom.   In 2012/2013, Beauty and the Beast will gain even more of a theme park presence when a Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant opens as part of the Fantasyland expansion.  Since the release of the film, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage has been an incredibly popular show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios since its opening.  In fact, its popularity inspired Disney to venture into then uncharted territory for the company.
            Beauty and the Beast would be the first Disney film adapted into a fully realized theatrical production on Broadway.  It wouldn’t take much work to adapt the film for the stage, considering that Menken and Ashman structured the film like a classic Broadway production.  Tim Rice would expand on what Ashman had started, even fitting Ashman’s favorite song, “Human Again,” back into the story after it had been cut from the final film.  In fact, it was because of the success the song had on Broadway that the filmmaker’s were inspired to re-release Beauty and the Beast in theaters, this time with a fully animated “Human Again” sequence inserted properly into the film.  All of the principals of the cast returned to perform and the Special Edition of Beauty and the Beast was released to Imax Theaters in 2002.  Both the original theatrical and special edition versions are available on DVD, but if I had to name my preference, I would have to give it to the special edition cut of the film.  The additional scene adds depth to the castle staff as well as adding a layer to Belle and the Beast’s relationship.  I also think it’s closer to the original vision that Howard Ashman had in mind when he helped craft this Broadway infused film. 
            The seventh longest running production in Broadway history (only recently usurped from that title by another Disney theatrical production, The Lion King), the stage show featured quite a few soon to be well known and already famous names: Susan Egan, who would later go on to voice her own Disney heroine in the form of Meg in Hercules, originated the role of Belle, and would be succeeded by the likes of singer Toni Braxton, Sopranos Jamie-Lynn Sigler, as well Disney Channel favorites like Christy Carlson Romano and Anneliese van der Pol.  TV legend Tom Bosley originated the role of Maurice, Donny Osmond had a memorable stint as Gaston, and over in the land down under, a then unknown Hugh Jackman would also assume the role of Gaston.  The show closed in 2007, after over five thousand performances, a testament to the relevance the film still holds almost twenty years after its release.

             Beauty and the Beast is such a strong film in terms of music, characterization, and story that it almost pains me to say aloud the one area the film is lacking in: animation.  If the film has any flaws, I would say that it would be the animation in the film itself.  Overall, all of the characters are fantastic to watch and their acting is so ridiculously convincing, but some pieces are not as refined as they could have been.  I notice this in particularly with the lady herself, Belle.  There are some inconsistencies with her facially that become really obvious when her face is shown at different angles.  The reason?  Belle actually had two supervising animators: James Baxter and Mark Henn down at the Florida animation studio.  Which makes sense, considering that Belle’s face looks the most noticeably different during the ballroom dance scene, which was the main scene the Florida animation unit assisted with.
            Now before anyone jumps down my throat for treading on sacred ground, let me point out this excerpt from an interview with Beauty and the Beast producer, Don Hahn, from Charles Solomon’s book, Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast: ‘“The odd thing is, it's not the best drawn movie.  Aladdin is probably the best in terms of draftsmanship and design," he concludes thoughtfully. "It's not the best-painted movie.”’  There.  Proof I’m not crazy.  That isn’t to say that I think the animation is bad.  The animation of the Beast and Gaston in particular are in top form.
            One more thing: there are people out there who prefer the Beast as opposed to Prince Adam, because they think that the Beast’s prince form is not as appealing as his bestial appearance, going so far to say that Adam is ugly.  First of all, those who think that way have missed the whole moral of the story; beauty is found within people!  Second of all, I can’t for the life of me figure out what is supposedly ugly about Adam, because I find him pretty cute.  He’s tall, with long strawberry blonde hair, has a really striking bone structure, blue eyes, full lips, and actually looks like he has some muscle on him. 
            Granted, he does look a little weird in that initial establishing shot after his transformation but I blame that more on the lighting.  He looks ridiculously hot when he and Belle finally kiss.  His clothes are ripped from his fight with Gaston and his hair is down and messy.  And that look that he gives Belle right before he leans down for that long-awaited kiss… well, I think I speak for many women (and some men) who dream of getting that look before a curtain closing kiss.  For those who are still not convinced of his attractiveness, I offer this picture found on DeviantART.com done by the awesome digital artist, davidkawena (if you want to see the rest of his ridiculously awesome Disney art, check out his gallery at http://davidkawena.deviantart.com/gallery/).
            Is there anyone out there who still wishes that he was covered in fur?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.
            It’s fitting that we’re reviewing Disney’s greatest romance film at the start of February, the month that celebrates love and romance in all of its forms.  Since the love portrayed in Disney films is the kind of love we all aspire to have, I thought that we should celebrate with a series of polls that have a romance theme.  Let’s kick things off with our very favorite Disney couples.  Readers, it’s time to nominate your favorites.  I’d love to hear who your OTPs (One True Pairing) are and why.  Name one or name ten, they’ll all be put in the poll.  I’ll start with mine: Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet from Make Mine Music because their story is creatively told and Johnnie never gives up on finding the love of his life, the ballet dancing hippopotamus and alligator from Fantasia because they are so freakin’ adorable, and Jane and Tarzan from Tarzan because their interactions together are realistic and kind of hot.  Your thoughts and comments are always welcomed and appreciated.


  1. I didn't see Beauty and the Beast until it's original VHS release. It's a wonderful movie, and I love the music. The way it's done like a classic musical is brilliant, and Ashman is at his best here.

    I actually played the Beast in a local production of the musical, and I was very conscious of trying to emulate some of the animation. Moments like "if she doesn't eat with me, then she doesn't eat at all" I wanted to really reflect the animation.

    Minor correction: this was not the first Disney film to have a screenplay. Bill Peet did one for The Sword in the Stone.

    I like the Mob Song a lot for it's sort of frenetic lyric. The "fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong" line may be a reference to an old song called Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.

    The movie is so good and you nailed so many of its great points. It's one of the few to show open wounds on someone (the wolf scratch on his arm, the knife wound). I also totally agree though about Belle being off-model. It drives me crazy now every time I see it. Belle in town generally just doesn't look like Belle in the castle.

    I hate that the DVD seems to have overly brightened the image. on VHS, when the Beast is in the shadows, he's IN the shadows. It's mysterious and scary. But on DVD, you can clearly see him. Also, the transition where they spliced in "Human Again" doesn't quite play correct in "theactrical" mode. I don't know if this has been fixed for the Diamond Edition. Also, on my Platinum Edition DVD, the Beast's slight stutter on "you wanna stay in the tower?" is gone.

    I liked "Human Again" in the film when I first saw it, but looking at it again I'm not sure I do. The song is good, but I'm not sure the animation does it justice. There's also that awkward moment at the start with Cogsworth and the Rose on a walking table. NO WAY would the rose be out of the West Wing! That thing is FRAGILE! It's an interesting alternate version of the movie, but doesn't replace the original for me. It's better than the "morning report" version of Lion King, but not quite the "If I Never Knew You" version of Pocahontas.

    Thus begins the reign of David Ogden Stiers!!

    No need to reiterate all that your 37 pages detailed. Suffice it to say, Beauty and the Beast is a magical movie, and lots of fun.

    Great Disney couples choices by the way! I second Tarzan and Jane, and add Pocahontas and John Smith. Oh, and Rapunzel and Flynn.

  2. Thank you for the awesome article, I learned a lot from it.

    Personally, I haven't seen BatB til I was about twelve. I have no idea if it was even in theatres in Czech republic, but anyway - I first saw it on VHS as Platinum edition with added Human Again sequence. I was amazed and it quickly became my favorite Disney movie (followed by Hercules and The Little Mermaid and maybe Tangked ;).

    The main reason why I loved it so much when I was a child was Belle. It was - well it still is - easy for me to identify with her as I am also bookish girl waiting for her big adventure. I must also admit that I hated human form of Beast for years. Me and my brother always laughed when he appeared, said ten words and movie ended.
    I learned to appreciate him with years - when I started to pay more attention to animation and I realized that he really IS Beast (funny discovery after all those years, isn't it?). My brother still doesn't believe me when I tell him that especially in "I let her go" scene Beast really looks like his human self.

    I don't want to bother anyone with a long comment in "the best Disney film ever" lines. Let me just say few more things...

    I really really love the musical BatB on Broadway. Never seen it live, but well, internet is mighty ;). I love the extended screenplay which, I think, really made BatB whole. Just the extended scene in the Belle's bedroom is priceless: "Why are you being so difficult?" - "And why are you being such a bully?" - "Because I want you to come down to dinner!!!" - "So you admit you're being a bully?"
    And by the way - Susan Egan was gorgeous as Belle. I've read somewhere that they didn't want to consider her as Meg because they still saw Belle of Broadway in her...I am glad they changed opinion ;).

    I've always thought that Belle looks different in ballroom scene. I thought it was my own imagination or lightning of that scene...so thank you for confirming that it wasn't just that XD.

    For Human Again sequence - I knew that it was added later because on VHS Platinum Ed. was a document "Making of" and they explained the adding of scene in it. Funny they started to consider it after new edition of Star Wars came out. I am not big fan of this particular sequence, since I also feel strange when the enchanted objects plant flowers into the half-frozen ground or when Cogsworth almost destroys the glass with the rose...But, recently the film ran on TV and they bought (for some mysterious reason) the version without Human Again sequence. And it was really, really strange. And suddenly I missed the funny exchanges between Lumiere and Cogsworth, the dancing brooms cleaning the ballroom and most of all - the cute reading scene (in which Belle looks kinda different too btw).

    Thanks for mentioning DevArt and David Kawena - that guy really knows what he's doing.
    My favorite comic piece: http://johnsu.deviantart.com/art/Beauty-and-a-Beast-55635672?q=boost%3Apopular%20by%3Ajohnsu%20beast&qo=0

    And my nominees for a cannon couple poll are:
    1) Belle and Adam. And I am depply sorry that I have neglected him for so long.
    btw - I've heard that fans invented the name Adam and it was never approved as cannon from producers...but nevermind, it suits him!

    2) Meg and Hercules - oh come on! The strong kid and his damsel in distress!

    3) Rapunzel and Flynn.
    And because I am so excited about Tangled, let me say: I had very high expectations from it. Maybe even higher than I had for Princess and the Frog (which failed my hopes in few ways, but it still was ok movie). I didn't belive that Tangled could fulfill my so-high expactations - and it did. XD Disney can still surprise!

  3. I'm glad that you are back in blogging on these movies :). That being said, Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites and you expounded on all that is beautiful and special about it in this post. I remember seeing this movie in the theater and I thought that the beast looked strange and ugly looking when he transformed back into a human. Now that I have seen it again on blu-ray, its definitely due to the lightening. Its casts some strange shadows on him.

    As for as favorite couples, Belle and Adam are probably the best because they actually grow to love each other. Also, I'm a bookworm like Belle however, I have to concur with the previous commenter on Rapunzel and Flynn, I loved watching their relationship develop and I like how it ends by showing that its a relationship that is still growing and developing.

  4. Just one more thing. I am not really a fan of fanfiction, but this one is great: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2831327/1/Picture_This
    It actually develops believable relationship between Belle and Gaston. Don't freak out! Read the author's comment and remeber that in this fanfic, the Prince never became the Beast and Gaston really fell in love with Belle.

  5. I was hoping you were going to get to this one! Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie, followed by Hunchback of Notre Dame. So glad you were able to blog about it :)

    I actually found a video comparing the original 1991 version and the "enhanced" 2002 Imax version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sniAbH4XF3g&feature=related

    At around minute mark 6:35, they put the ballroom scene side by side to compare it. After watching it, I must say that I like the 1991's darker tone better. I haven't seen the Diamond version so I can't really compare either of them to that. It just seems in the 2002 version, they installed electricity in the castle or something and splashed not-so-subtle brightly colored paints on everything. It doesn't have the same depth and the shadows are almost nonexistent. It just looks... off.

    Anyways, I loved this section. My favorite Disney couples... Hmm... I'd have to say Beast and Belle (of course!), Eric and Ariel, and Philip and Aurora.

    Keep up the awesome work. :)

  6. Thank you SO much for posting that link to the comparison!! I haven't watched the VHS in awhile, but the difference is even more pronounced than I remembered. It's a shame because all of the flaws are more apparent in the remaster, and the beauty of the shadows and contrast is GONE. I pity those who have only seen this version. The artistry is stronger in its original version, and more evident why it got its Oscar nomination.

  7. I must thank for the comparision link too. I've seen only 2002 version til now and the original is SO MUCH BETTER. I wonder how it is on diamond edition...

  8. This movie was excellent and I enjoyed reading your recap. I agree the Human Again version is the best, and makes the most sense.

    Most of the changes that were made to the original story for the better, seriously in the original the man AGREED to give his daughter to the Beast in exchange for his life which would have really made Maurice pretty hard to care about.

    There are a few story-telling problems with this movie, the most obvious being time period. When is this happening? Gaston's shotgun looks like a blunderbuss, which was a firearm used between 1750 and 1850 in Europe and the United States. Maurice is experimenting with steam power, which puts it closer to 1780 - 1820. The availability of a bookshop in a "poor" provincial town and the his willingness to give away a book indicates printing technology had made books widely available, something not achieved really until closer to 1850. So I'd put this move, technology-wise, about 1800, the proximity of a dedicated insane asylum reinforces this time period as earlier insane people were simply called the village idiot and outcast.

    Yet the rest of the movie is medieval in feel and appearance. There are no schools and learning is frowned on, they have a feudal lord and clear master/servant relationships, wandering enchanters, etc. This is at odds with what was happening in France during that period, when school systems were beginning to be normal even in the country (although often parochial) and the Reign of Terror/Revolution had decimated the noble class. It's like they wanted the world to feel of Ichabod Crane and the society to be like Sleeping Beauty and created a country France that never quite existed.

    The other small gripes are simple things with the story. Why did Gaston leave his gun at home when as an experienced hunter he had to know it would have been much more devastating against a large animal? Why would a powerful enchantress curse a 12 year old boy who had been spoiled by authority figures? How did Maurice know nothing about where the castle was yet every villager did?

  9. You're back! Oh, I'm so glad!

    Beauty and the Beast...I vividly remember seeing this one in the theatre. It's funny, while the Old Peddler Woman scared the bejeezus out of me as a little girl, the Beast didn't really scare me at all. I think it's because he looked a lot like our dog, believe it or not! Strange, I know. It was the asylum guy who scared the crap out of me. Now HE was truly creepy.

    Well, it's true that so many of these movies have connections to people and this one is no exception. I have a friend who absolutely worships BatB. Worships. Seriously, she hopes to get married at Be Our Guest when it finally opens. Forget Casablanca, as far as she's concerned...BatB is no less than the most epic romance of all time.

    I definitely agree that this is one of those movies it's easier to appreciate over time. So many of those little details that escaped me as a kid are now my favorite parts as an adult (I crack up at "Flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep..."). The battle scene never fails to make me laugh, especially Cogsworth's maniacal laugh as he slides down the banister in that absurd Napoleon hat. I absolutely love the stained-glass window prologue; not only is the narration awesome, but the animation itself is breathtaking.

    The seasons thing always confused me, especially as the climactic ballroom scene approached: the preceding scenes clearly take place in the winter, "Human Again" seems to transition from winter to spring, as they're planting the garden and gearing up the fountains, then Belle and the Beast promenade out onto the verandah, which seems like something you'd do in the summer. About six months pass in a couple of scenes! The young Prince from the prologue makes no mention of his parents, the permanently-absent King and Queen, and just who is running the kingdom when the Beast is being all...beastly. I never gave the time period itself much thought outside of the fact that it seemed vaguely 19th century, but even that's unclear. At least the setting is clear; I've been trying to figure out where the land-based sequences of The Little Mermaid take place for the better part of the past two decades.

    Nice job, as usual, and I can't wait to see what you've got for us next.

  10. ACK!! HOW DID I MISS THAT THIS WAS HERE?! I have been waiting for this one since the day I started reading this blog!

    I love that Belle isn't just your regular beauty. She's this intelligent young woman who loves her father enough to switch places. I also love that she doesn't judge by outward appearances. It shows just how mature she is, even though she's only 17. However, I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt something was off with her "I love you," line near the end.

    Then as for the Beast. He's learning how to relate to people. I agree with what you said 100%. He's a bit socially awkward. It's cute at the same time though. I love the moment he waves his hand in her face.

    I applaud the movie for having Gaston be so...good looking? I know he's supposed to be, but I never thought he was attractive.He's dumb and at the same time so cruel. His song is great though! And I'm so glad you mentioned that he actually was modeled after Brom!

    Cogsworth coming down the stairs with the scissors and the Napoleon hat is probably one of my favorite moments in the movie. That and the scene where Lumiere kisses Belle's hand and puts his little candlestick butt right in Cogsworth's face. Ah friendship shown in it's purest form.

    The music just takes my breath away every time. It's so beautiful.My favorite song is probably Beauty and the Beast and I was so excited when I read in the Beauty and the Beast artbook that she did it in one take. Angela Lansbury is just amazing!

    The love and magic in this story just always blow me away and it will probably my favorite for the rest of my life. This is what first really made me want to try voice acting.
    1) Belle and Adam. Their relationship is so warm and you can see that it's honestly developed over the course of the movie.
    2) Rapunzel and Flynn. New movie, but the relationship is so natural. It's not always warm and fuzzy. They like to be witty with each other and take little jabs at each other. It's super cute and makes them perfect for each other.
    3) Aladdin and Jasmine.
    4) Cordy and Angie. Okay, so it's not animated, but the Happiest Millionaire is probably one of my favorite Disney movies ever.

    Awesome as always!! I look forward to the next one!

  11. I skimmed through this for the first time awhile ago, and quite a few bits of the analysis stuck in my brain, so just now I read through it in more depth. I can't say I agree with everything you say, but most of it just makes my heart sing. This is my favorite Disney film and has been for years, so any honest look at it pleases me. :)

  12. I could wish you would have covered a common criticism I have heard made about this film excusing abusive behavior, and of Belle being a victim of Stockholm syndrome. Personally I find the complaint ludicrous, seeing as how Belle had NO problems calling Beast out on his bad behavior, and that she did not start falling in love with him until he genuinely began to change.