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“…For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
All right, let me level with you –
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Beauty and the Beast, and you can only imagine how much I’ve been looking forward to reviewing it. Beauty and the Beast was one of the very first Disney movies I ever saw; hell, it was one of the first movies I ever saw (my mom goes back and forth on whether or not this or a re-release of 101 Dalmatians was my first moviegoing experience). It was also my first Broadway musical, my first Disney on Ice show, I would walk around the basement with a decorative wicker basket acting the part of Belle while the movie played in the family VCR, you get the idea. It’s a movie that was a big part of my childhood as well as my adulthood. This is tied with Fantasia as my favorite Disney movie, and depending on my mood it jockeys between that and one other movie that I’m keeping secret as my favorite film of all time.
…Which means it’s going to be VERY hard for me to give it a fair and unbiased review.
All nostalgia and fan gushing aside though, it would be easy to say that the stars were aligned from the very beginning and the experience of crafting such a masterpiece was lightning in a bottle, but nothing could be further from the truth. Production on Beauty and the Beast went as far back as Walt Disney’s time; however, he and his best story men had a difficult time working out the kinks in the second act. For anyone not familiar with the original fairy tale this is based on, most of the story is just Belle and the Beast having dinner together every night with him asking her to marry him over and over, which doesn’t make for a compelling film. Jean Cocteau’s adaptation got around that by focusing more on atmosphere and mood and inner conflict, but as much as I enjoy his take, I still don’t quite buy his couple’s relationship. Their love is the heart of this story, and if you can’t be invested in their romance, then the film falls flat.
Disney dropped the idea and it wasn’t glanced at again until the new regime that would be responsible for the Disney Renaissance in the 90’s came in. They started flipping through the archives for potential new films and came across this one. Jeffrey Katzenburg commissioned British animator Richard Purdhum to storyboard and direct an early version of the film but wasn’t a big fan of what he came up with, mostly because it was too similar to Cocteau’s.
And then, like two musical angels descending from on high, THEY entered the picture.
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, fresh off their Oscar-winning hit The Little Mermaid, were brought on board to liven things up and turn this dreary set of drawings into an animated musical fit for Broadway (of course, neither of them would know at the time that this movie would eventually become a stage musical, but it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?) Richard Purdhum was given the boot and the director’s reins were handed over to Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, whose only directing experience at the time was an animated pre-show for Cranium Command, an animatronics show at Epcot. What’s more, The Little Mermaid’s success prompted the studio executives to announce that there would be one new animated film released every year, which meant nearly every animator, storyboard artist, effect/layout/background/etc. artist had to kick it into high gear to get this movie done on time.
Now it’s hard to give all the credit of the film’s success to just one person since there were so many who labored on it, but if I had to, I’d have to say Howard Ashman was the one who contributed the most into shaping it into the movie we have today. Howard was a lifelong Disney fan with a great musical background (his most well-known contribution to theater being the most beloved musical in existence about a flesh-eating plant based on a Roger Corman film) but knew that animation was his true calling. He leaped at the chance of helping shape an animated film, and you need only look at the bonus features on The Little Mermaid DVD where they discuss him to see how much his ideas and words and even vocal inflections influenced the actors and animators. Beauty and the Beast is no exception. He was the one who suggested the formerly mute enchanted objects should be given voices. He was the one who turned Gaston from aristocratic fop to comically masculine but homicidal hunter. He was the one who said the story should be the Beast’s journey to humanity as well as Belle’s journey to love (and if you haven’t seen Waking Sleeping Beauty
then why the hell are you reading this go watch it now there’s only three words I can say: “little Beast boy”.)
The results did not go unrewarded. As much as we get oversaturated with so much Disney in the media today, whether it’s memes, god-awful direct-to-video sequels, and toy brands that suck any heart or meaning from the movies they originated from, we forget how great some of their movies are, especially upon their release. A rough cut of the film mixing storyboards and unfinished animation that was shown at the New York Film Festival was met with nearly twenty minutes of standing ovation when it was done. It won the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Musical/Comedy (and this was before they made a separate category for animation) and was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It came surprisingly close to winning but lost to The Silence of the Lambs, which could also be considered a Beauty and the Beast tale…of sorts, and after finally seeing that movie after years of griping that Beauty and the Beast should have won…
…nope. Sorry-not-sorry. Great film, but Beauty and the Beast is still better. Shows how little you know about animation, Hollywood.
And seeing as how I’m over a thousand words in and have yet to actually review the film itself, it’s best we finally get started.
We open not on the traditional Disney storybook that magically opens by itself but on a view of a majestic castle rising high above a lush forest. God I love the music in this scene. So mysterious, so magical, so- wait a minute. In the corner, is that…
As we zoom into the castle, we get our opening narration over a set of beautifully illustrated stained glass windows. A handsome young prince, who has everything he wants but is spoiled and selfish, has a late night visitor in the form of an old hag who offers him a gift in exchange for shelter one cold winter night.
Disgusted by her appearance, the prince turns her away, ignoring her warning that true beauty is only found within. Tired of being dissed by the prince one too many times, the hag reveals her true form, a beautiful enchantress. Despite the prince’s pleas for forgiveness, she sees there is no love in his heart and punishes him by changing him into a beast and placing a powerful curse on his castle. The beast, ashamed of his appearance, sequesters himself away, but is left two gifts by the Enchantress – one, a magic mirror that serves as his window to the world beyond his castle, and the other, the rose, which is his countdown until the curse becomes permanent. If he can learn to love another and earn their love before the last petal falls, then the spell is broken.
Now here’s something that people who have seen this film have nitpicked time and again – according to the narration, the rose will bloom until the prince’s twenty-first year. All well and good, but in the song “Be Our Guest”, the servants mention they have been cursed for ten years…meaning the prince was most likely cursed when he was an eleven-year old boy. Isn’t that punishment a bit harsh? He’s just a spoiled brat with no adult supervision other than servants who are forced to bow to his every demand (no wonder Howard Ashman was so keen on making sure we never see “the little Beast boy”). The Broadway version amends this by being more vague with the narration, saying the rose would bloom for “many years”. Better, but still a problem if you stop to think about it (and the first person who so much as DARES to mention The Enchanted Christmas will get that Paul Reubens piccolo shoved down their throat).
From there we go into our first song, “Belle”. It’s a great example of that Broadway sensibility that Ashman and Menken brought with them to the feature. It introduces our main characters and their motivations while getting the story off the ground, like a good musical number should. It starts out small and quiet as dawn comes over the sleepy little town that our protagonist calls home and she sets out for the day.
This is Belle, who is, for my money, the best heroine Disney has ever created. She’s smart, kind to others, an absolute bookworm, and is beautiful but doesn’t show off. Instead of looking for a husband and dreaming of settling down, she has fantasies of adventures and visiting places right from her favorite books. This confuses a very gossipy and narrow-minded town, who see her brains and love of reading as something to be pitied in a girl so lovely (A brainy brunette having to deal with the isolation and rumors of shallow fools and escaping them by jumping into books…no wonder I loved this movie during high school!)
Also, I cannot profess enough adoration for Paige O’Hara’s voice. When casting Belle, Disney execs seriously considered asking Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, to return to play her, but Ashman wisely talked them out of it by saying they need more of a European, theatrical quality. O’Hara gives Belle a great amount of strength and enthusiasm but also some underlying vulnerability to her outspokenness.
Also in this village is Gaston (Richard White). He’s a boastful hunter and something of the town hero, admired by men for his brawn and fawned over by women for his attractiveness, which even someone as thick as he is aware of.
Gaston has his eyes on one more trophy to add to his prize collection – Belle. He thinks it’s only fair that since she’s the only one in town who’s as gorgeous as he is, they belong together (yep, this is definitely high school). Unfortunately, in addition to being a braggart, he’s also a bully and a jerk, even to his own lackey, LeFou, and his ideas on a woman’s place would give him and Donald Trump something to bond over (“It’s not right for a woman to read; soon she starts getting ideas…and thinking…”) This, of course, is a turn off for Belle, especially when he and LeFou start cracking jokes about her father, an inventor named Maurice (hey, who’d have thought I’d be reviewing a musical featuring a crackpot inventor twice in a row?) Belle tells them to quit it and insists that her father is brilliant…which Hollywood law dictates the ironic immediately follows.
Luckily, Maurice is unharmed, but he’s ready to give up on his latest invention which caused the explosion, an automatic woodchopper. Belle insists that he can’t give up now as he’s due to show it off at a big fair tomorrow (and not to the French Revolution is right around the corner; those monarchs ain’t gonna behead themselves!) Her words inspire Maurice to continue and she tells him about her day while he works. She pauses, and asks him if he thinks that she’s odd, to which he answers no. She confesses that she feels she doesn’t fit in here and is a little bit lonely.
Now this is a pivotal moment that is overlooked far too often. I wasn’t kidding when I said I loved this movie in high school. Put Belle in a Catholic school uniform, give her braces and take away her self-esteem and you got fifteen year old me. Critics of this movie and of Belle in particular think that Belle is too perfect, that she doesn’t have any real problems or flaws – in other words, she’s not so much a character than she is a role model. I never got that, and this scene is one of the reasons why. For all her supposed obliviousness and shrugging to what the villagers are saying about her while she’s walking through town, this scene shows that those comments do in fact get to her and have her wondering if there’s something wrong with her for being the way she is.
This leads into another one of Belle’s strongest traits – her relationship with her father. For a Disney princess a father is usually either a source of conflict and teenage angst (Ariel and King Triton, Jasmine and the Sultan) or a motivation for them to go do something (Mulan and Fa Zhou, Tiana and James). Belle and Maurice are the first realistic but healthy father-daughter relationship in a Disney movie. He’s a scatterbrained old inventor (like there’s any other kind) but his reason for living is his daughter. She’s an outspoken and enlightened woman but she loves him dearly and together they see the brilliant minds they have that few others can. Maurice listens to her worries and reassures her that she is in no way odd. When he suggests maybe spending time with Gaston and Belle says no, he doesn’t force her to go with it. The way this scene goes in the stage version builds on this with the addition of “No Matter What”, a wonderful song that’s an affirmation and reassurance of their bond. Speaking as a bit of a daddy’s girl myself, it always gets to me.
Maurice gets the machine gets up and running and is off to the fair with his horse Philippe. After a scenic trek, they come to a crossroads.
Maurice chooses the “shortcut” which of course is the dark and dangerous path that anyone in their right minds would avoid, his own horse included.
Philippe is temporarily spooked by the sound of wolves nearby, but thankfully he’s the kind of horse that keeps his cool around danger.
Maurice is chased by wolves, but he discovers the gates of a massive shadowy castle and gets himself to safety in the nick of time. And God, I LOVE the reveal of the castle here; everything from the musical stinger (which is not unlike one from the previously referenced film) to the sweeping shot from the ground up to the cloud-piercing towers shows that Maurice is caught between a rock and a hard place. An abrupt thunderstorm prompts him to choose the castle, which seems abandoned until he hears voices whispering in worried tones.
It’s here we learn what became of the Beast’s servants, and we’re introduced to one of the strongest supporting casts out of any of the Disney films. They have been transformed into sentient objects that more or less reflect their personality. Among them are Lumiere, a flamboyant candelabra (Jerry Orbach), a stuffy clock named Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers, who also doubles as the narrator) and a warm teapot named Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). Lumiere and Cogsworth in particular are a lot of fun to watch; their friendship is the kind that constantly puts themselves at odds with each other, and it takes little to get them to start fighting. It’s actually very similar to the relationship between their animators Nik Ranieri and Will Finn.
Lumiere is all for letting Maurice stay the night in spite of Cogsworth telling him the master will be far from happy that they’re letting a stranger in the castle. The other servants are just so happy at seeing another human being, however, that they don’t care, and let him warm up by the fire and sit in their master’s chair.
I can tell this is going to work out just fine.
Going back to what I said earlier about the possibility of the Enchantress cursing a young boy, it might seem equally harsh that the entire castle staff is cursed as well, but the Broadway show adds a few lines that give it more context – the servants are just as responsible for making the prince grow up the way he is. By failing to raise him better he’s grown up into nothing but a Beast (also there’s the possibility the Enchantress changed them so that way the Beast wouldn’t try to break the spell by forcing them into loving him, which kind of makes sense). It also goes even further by making it so that they become gradually more like the objects they’re turning into as the enchantment progresses, with the possibility of being completely lifeless once the rose dies all too real. Still, it should be a tolerable existence as long as you’re stuck as something mobile and useful and nothing like…No, NOOOOO!!!
Mrs. Potts gives Maurice some tea and we’re also introduced to her son (one of many, though we only see them a few times), a chipped teacup named Chip (Bradley Pierce). Chip was originally going to appear in one scene, but after casting Pierce, the directors loved him so much that they started to give him more dialogue and presence in the story. His popularity eclipsed a character that was originally planned, a mute music box that only spoke in Tinkerbell-like chimes, until they decided to scrap him altogether and let Chip take his place. The music box does briefly appear in the film, though.
I’m going to assume that the spell also keeps them at their original ages from when it was placed, because the only other explanation a young boy would be here is that Mrs. Potts somehow gave birth while still enchanted, and I don’t want anyone to explain how the heck THAT would work. Also that would mean there would have been a Mr. Potts involved and –
And then, just as Maurice is getting comfortable, THE BEAST ENTERS.
Where do I begin to talk about how amazing the Beast is? One of the challenges in designing him was to make something that didn’t look like a man in a fancy suit wearing an animal head (which is how most children’s books and Cocteau’s version often depicted the character) and make him unique. My God did they succeed. He’s a hybrid of a number of animals including gorilla, wolf, boar, buffalo, and lion, with the only hint of his humanity being his human eyes. And Glen Keane’s animation…
…when I told you to kiss Alan and Howard’s toes before, I should have included Glen’s as well.
Glen Keane is one of the most celebrated animators of all time, and for good reason. He’s able to bring something to every drawing that’s artistic and clearly fabricated but also very, very real. Each of his characters, human and otherwise, all have a very human touch to them. His range includes big animals like the bear in The Fox & The Hound, Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective and Marahute the eagle from The Rescuers Down Under, to wide-eyed idealistic heroes like Ariel, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Tarzan. He always strives to do something different with every character or new work he creates; when Disney chose to make Tangled a CGI film, rather than griping about not being able to draw in 2D, he applied hand-drawn aesthetics to the digital animation, bridging the gap between the two mediums and making the film even stronger. He had his work cut out for him in making Duet, an interactive hand-drawn short you can play with on your phone, but the result is an absolute masterpiece. He’s currently experimenting with virtual reality animation, which could be a real gamechanger. Rather than stick with the old ways and scorn the new, he’s embraced the possibilities and limitations of both and found away to make them work together. Not bad for the kid who inspired Billy from Family Circus.
…I was reviewing a movie, wasn’t I?
Anyway, the Beast, who Glen Keane makes scary and awesome in the dark like a wolf on the prowl and did I mention he studied the animals at the Los Angeles Zoo and even asked to go in the gorilla enclosure so he could…sorry. The Beast isn’t happy that someone is trespassing and accuses Maurice of “coming to stare at the Beast” before throwing him in the dungeon.
The following day, Gaston and LeFou are putting the final touches on his big wedding ceremony. Everyone in town is there to witness them him take his vows. There’s only one thing Gaston has left to do – propose to the bride. He goes to her house to pop the question.
Now there’s something disturbing underlying in the set-up (and not just the fact this jerk thinks this plan will work). Belle’s dislike of Gaston is plain to see, and yet the entire town is ok with helping Gaston set up this impromptu wedding. Not only do they raise him on a pedestal and follow him unquestioningly (as we’ll see later), but they think BELLE is the crazy one for turning a bachelor like him down. There’s a group of blonde triplets that follow Gaston around for most of the film fighting for his attention and they flat out say there’s something wrong with her for not falling for him like they have. It could easily be seen as jealousy, but that mindset is shared by the village. In their eyes, this pairing is right. So no, Belle, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s THEM.
Gaston’s proposal goes about as well as you can expect – him promising a rustic hunting lodge with her massaging his feet every night and six or seven miniature clones of him for sons all the while checking his reflection and getting mud on her favorite book do little to sway Belle. It’s pretty comical, but then he starts trying to corner her for a kiss – or at least that’s all I HOPE he’s cornering for – and Belle gets the drop on him by having him fall through the door into the mud. Add LeFou orchestrating a polka version of “Here Comes the Bride” expecting them both to exit and the scene goes back to being funny again.
As the wedding party clears out, Belle goes out and sings a reprise of…Belle. And just when it looks like it’s going to be a cute little solo sung to the farm animals, it suddenly takes a turn for the EPIC.
This song, brief though it is, is often cited as the prime example of the “I Want” song, a trope featured in most musicals but popularized after they became a staple of nearly every Disney Renaissance movie (it doesn’t help that its big hook starts with the words “I want“).
Another complaint some people have is from this point on, Belle’s arc, which is summed up in this entire song, is dropped from the story…
…And if you’re thinking that, then you’re not paying attention to the movie.
Belle going to the castle and spending time there IS her grand adventure she’s always dreamed of; she just doesn’t know it or expect it because it comes from the last place she’d ever look. Also, look carefully and you’ll find Tolkien-esque shades of “be careful what you wish for” throughout this and the following twenty minutes. Belle yearns for a journey like the ones she reads of in her books, but doesn’t consider the dangerous aspects or consequences of them until it’s impossible to turn back, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings.
To drive this particular point home, the song ends with Belle playing with a dandelion puff. She sings the last of her desires and lets the seeds float away on the breeze. Immediately, Philippe returns, pushing Belle to go find her father.
You know what dandelion puffs are commonly associated with?
Her deepest wish, to find adventure and someone to understand her, is about to come true in the most unexpected of ways.
Belle leaves the chopper behind and heads into the woods with Philippe (and I have to say Philippe must really love Belle to go back down the spooky dangerous path to find the man who led him down there in the first place for her). He ends up leading her right to the castle because horses have amazing tracking skills (see? Definitely related to Maximus) and Belle goes in to investigate. Cogsworth is chewing out Lumiere for going over his head when they discover Belle wandering around. They’re both ecstatic to find a girl here and word of her quickly spreads.
Thinking that perhaps the old man in the dungeon and the woman wandering around calling out “Papa?” may be somehow related, Lumiere and Cogsworth lead her to Maurice while carefully managing to stay out of sight. The Beast was smart enough to not throw him in the same cell with a former employee and a box of spare parts, so unfortunately Maurice was unable to build a robot suit and escape his imprisonment and is quickly falling ill. He urges her to go, but too late, the Beast finds her.
Now this scene is one of my personal favorites. The drama, the lighting, the music is all perfect. Beast remains hidden in the shadows, moving around so Belle can never get a good look at him. The most she can make out are his massive form and piercing blue eyes. Belle pleads with him to release her father, which he refuses. Belle then offers herself up in his place, to Maurice’s horror and Beast’s intrigue (though not so much intrigue as scoffing, processing her words, then daring to hope in a matter of seconds; thank you Glen Keane’s animation.)
Actually, the more I think about it, this might be the only version of Beauty and the Beast where Belle is the one who suggests the exchange. In all other versions it’s the Beast who brings up trading places and Belle and her father just go with it. I wonder if the decision to switch it and make Belle seem more noble was deliberate or not.
Beast says he will set him free if he promises to stay forever, but Belle wants to see exactly who she’s dealing with first. Slowly, Beast steps into a shaft of light, revealing his true form.
The reveal of the Beast is amazing. If you have it on VHS it’s the best way to watch it because the Beast up to that point is barely visible and even more terrifying, making his reveal more shocking. On the DVD and blu-ray they mess with the contrast so you can see him more clearly in the dark, which takes away some of the edge.
Belle is understandably terrified, but in spite of her father’s begging, she stands up to the Beast, looks him straight in the eye, and tells him it’s a deal. She only falls to her knees once Beast leaves to unlock the cell and doesn’t even fully break down in tears until she’s left alone in the tower.
Beast drags Maurice away so quickly that they don’t even get to share a heartfelt farewell and throws him into some…spidery carriage-thing that we never see again to take him to the village. On returning, Lumiere suggests that the dungeon isn’t exactly the best place to house a young lady he’s trying to woo and maybe she’d like something a little more comfortable like a stable or a broom closet or maybe, heaven forbid, a bedroom. The Beast scowls at this idea, but softens – and I mean his character design literally softens – on seeing Belle so upset and takes her to a better room.
Lumiere has him strike up a conversation with Belle, and I always wondered how Belle could NOT hear Lumiere whispering to him while they walked through those empty hallways, was she just so caught up in her grief that she wasn’t listening?
Have I mentioned yet how amazing this castle looks inside and out? How foolish of me. Please allow me to go into great detail about the time took to create such a unique –
All right, fine.
Beast tells her she is allowed to go anywhere in the castle except for the West Wing because IT’S FORBIDDEN (and the President will have a fit if another tourist wanders in after-hours). When they reach the room, Beast insists that she will join him for dinner tonight with the quiet grace and subtlety of a freight train before slamming the door, leaving Belle to fall on the bed weeping.
We zoom out a window and I realize that I forgot to bring up how the window motif plays throughout the film. We open and close on shots of windows, there are various views through windows framed the way they would in a live-action film (and the animators and storyboard artists took a lot from how live-action movies are shot in making this film) and with the Beast, his eyes are a window to his humanity and you’re not even paying attention, are you? You’re just skimming through this until I finally get to the one thing I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear me talk about…
Okay, no more beating around the bush. It’s time to address the elephant in the room regarding any adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, especially this one – the accusations of Stockholm Syndrome.
No, I got it, thanks.
For those who don’t know, Stockholm Syndrome is where a captive falls in love with their captor and confuses their lack of abuse for affection*. Maybe past versions of the story have that mindset (I know for a fact the direct-to-video ripoffs of this one do), but I am willing to fight with my very last breath that THIS Beauty and the Beast does not promote Stockholm Syndrome or abusive relationships in general. Apart from what I previously said about Belle choosing to offer herself up rather than be a pawn moved by her father or the Beast, she, as we’ll see later, refuses to put up with any of the Beast’s bull and gets up and leaves when she feels threatened. There’s nothing here that teaches little girls about staying with the abusive boyfriend because “they can be changed with love”. It’s only when Beast starts realizing how much of a beast he is and he gets his act together that Belle starts to like him.
Back in the village, Gaston is moping in the tavern over Belle’s rejection, leading LeFou to cheer him up by leading the rest of the patrons in an ego-stroking ode to their hero titled…”Gaston”. It’s a fun song with lots of great wordplay (though I don’t understand how Gaston hates reading but can use big words like “expectorating” instead of “spitting” at the drop of a hat. Maybe it’s just an innate rhyming thing that all characters in a musical have). When composing the song, Alan and Howard created “dummy” lyrics intending to replace them with more thought-out ones later, but ended up liking the dummy lyrics so much that they’re the ones we hear in the final film. The result is one of the lighter villainous numbers in the Disney canon but also one of the catchiest (and one hell of a go-to YTP meme).
Maurice then bursts in on the scene begging for help. When he tells them that Belle is being held captive by a monstrous Beast, nobody believes him (shocker) and they mock him (double shocker). Gaston tells them to “help him out”, which they take literally. It’s only when he hears one of his buddies mention how “crazy ol’ Maurice” is always good for a laugh does he come up with a fiendish plan.
At the castle Belle’s sobbing time is interrupted by a visit from Mrs. Potts and Chip which hammers it in that she’s really not in Kansas anymore. Also making herself known to Belle is the Wardrobe (or Madame de la Grande Bouche if you’re familiar with the musical), who quite frankly does not get enough screen time. Her dry “yeah, but what are you gonna do?” attitude to Belle’s incredulity at them being alive is great. They let her know that she was incredibly brave to stand up to the master and everything will work out for her in the end. The Wardrobe then tries to dress Belle for dinner with the Beast, but she politely insists that she’s not going.
Downstairs, Beast is pacing like, well, an animal, waiting for Belle to arrive. Lumiere shows that he’s well-versed in then-traditional Disney romances by stating the plan for the evening:
Step 1. Beast falls in love with Belle
Step 2. Belle falls in love with Beast
Step 3. Spell is immediately broken – Profit!
Mrs. Potts tells him that these things have to take time (she’s schooled in modern-day Disney romances, as well as real-life ones) but the rose has started wilting so they don’t really have that luxury. Beast isn’t very confident in himself due to his looks and also not knowing how to talk to anyone in a tone less than a roar. Lumiere and Mrs. Potts’ attempts to school him in being a gentleman in under two minutes doesn’t go as well as they hoped.
Cogsworth enters and unfortunately for him, he’s the one who has to spill the bad news that Belle won’t be joining him. Beast takes this as well as you’d imagine. We only hear Belle’s side of their conversation through her door but her argument with Beast as he demands she come out is where Glen Keane’s animation shines once again. His barely contained rage, shown through his bristling hair and clenched teeth as he tries to act cordial, is equal parts scary and hilarious, not to mention he does one hell of a Jackie Gleason impression.
Beast eventually dispels the niceties and shouts that if she’s not going to eat with him, then she’s not eating at all. Then he barges off to his room in the West Wing to presumably listen to Linkin Park on full blast while writing some angsty poetry. Cogsworth has Lumiere stand guard outside of Belle’s room and inform him if she changes her mind. Later, Belle sneaks out to the kitchen, Lumiere having stranded his post to romance a feather duster. She comes in and almost overhears the objects talking about the spell, but Cogsworth notices her and switches gears in time. Mrs. Potts doesn’t want to starve Belle and insists over Cogsworth’s objections that they give her something. Lumiere takes going behind his master’s back even further by throwing her a “welcome to the castle!” banquet with the wonderful splashy musical number “Be Our Guest”.
I know I’ve been saying this for about all of the songs in this movie so far, but it’s hard not to get swept up in how fun this song is. Just try not to sing along or get in the mood for something to eat afterwards. Every object goes above and beyond to entertain Belle, and even Cogsworth joins in by the end (but not before some great physical comedy between him and Lumiere as he tries to drop the curtain on him early). With its bright Broadway colors and great tune, it’s a visual and audio feast.
And fun fact, this number was originally intended for Maurice when he arrived at the castle. Animation was almost completed when someone pointed out that such a huge celebratory number shouldn’t be wasted on a secondary character, and after much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the animators, Belle was drawn in instead. This made it all the more funnier when I found one of the low-budget animated knockoffs of Beauty and the Beast did a Be Our Guest-style song for when Beauty’s father found the castle, and it’s just as bizarre and awkward as you can imagine. I mean, who knows what could have happened if they had followed through with Maurice being the important guest they spent years waiting for…
Belle enjoys the show (even though we don’t see her actually eat anything except a taste of one or two different dishes so she’s still probably starving) and wants to see more of the enchanted castle. Cogsworth is alarmed at her learning the castle is magic and immediately tries to pin the blame on Lumiere. Belle dryly states in the middle of their fight that she figured it out for herself (Belle, never fucking change. Ever.) Keeping with her ability to read people like a book, she coaxes Cogsworth into giving her a tour by saying how he must know every important thing there is to know about her new home, leading to one of my favorite lines from Cogsworth: “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!” Lame, but the utter sincerity and the fact that it was improvised makes me chuckle every time.
Belle stumbles across the stairwell to the West Wing, and of course, she wants to see what exactly makes it so forbidden. Lumiere and Cogsworth nearly persuade her to not go exploring when they mention the castle has a library, but the moment they turn their backs, Belle can’t resist and sneaks on up.
Her journey through the West Wing is one of the most eerie and well-staged scenes in the film. Not a word is spoken except for the occasional gasp from Belle; all the expression is done through the animation and Alan Menken’s score. The hallway is littered with broken mirrors and statues of monsters (some early designs of the Beast himself). Belle bravely (or foolishly) chooses to keep gong and finds the Beast’s room – it’s dark, dreary, the furniture is smashed (I’m fairly certain they’re not enchanted so you don’t have to worry about Beast being a murderer) and if you look carefully you’ll find some bones on the floor. Those are the remnants of a story idea where as the rose loses its petals, the Beast loses his humanity and becomes more animal-like. There was even a brief sequence planned where Belle catches him bringing back his kill from the woods to eat. This was deemed too dark for obvious reasons and it was cut, though the bones and the fact that the Beast goes half the movie walking on all fours and only partially clothed remain (though I wouldn’t mind if my guy went around shirtless all the time, am I right ladies?)
Belle also finds an unusual ripped up portrait, one of a man with hauntingly familiar eyes. Before she can investigate further, her attention is drawn to the glowing rose, floating beneath a bell jar. Her going to touch it activates the silent Beast alarm and he pounces in, not unreasonably P.O.’d. The moment he starts ripping up more furniture and screaming at her to get out, Belle does exactly that. It’s not until after she’s long gone that Beast realizes that he’s cost himself and his castle their only chance at being set free.
Of course, because she’s clearly suffering Stockholm Syndrome, Belle regroups and comes up with a new plan to make the Beast happy and apologize for making him upset – nah, just kidding! She gets the hell out of the castle, promises to him be damned. Unfortunately, no sooner is she through the gates than the wolf pack attacks her. After a brief thrilling chase, she and Philippe are cornered. It seems as though they’re wolf chow…until the Beast shows up.
I am not even exaggerating here, the fight between the Beast and the wolves is BADASS. It gets your blood pumping and you feel every bite and gash they inflict on each other. Beast may be outnumbered, but he makes up for it in raw strength and the desire to protect his woman. He makes quick work of them, but not without sustaining some nasty injuries himself. It’s so bad that by the end he simply collapses.
Of course, being a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, Belle cries over his body and laments that this was all her fault – nah, just kidding! She stops and considers leaving him so she can make her escape. You can see it in her face; all she has to do is jump in the saddle and go. But that would mean leaving the one who just saved her to most likely die. So she does the right thing and takes him back to the castle.
Belle tends to the Beast’s wounds much to his discomfort, and they get their problems out by shouting them in each other’s faces (the way all healthy couples do). I love how Belle manages to silence Beast for a moment by telling him he wouldn’t be in this position if he hadn’t scared her off in the first place; he looks genuinely stumped there. Beast reminds her she wasn’t supposed to go in the West Wing, but for the first time in his life, Belle stands up to him and tells him he has to learn to control his temper. Hearing this coming from her causes a change in the Beast. It’s one thing hearing it from your servants/guardians as a mild suggestion, but from the person who saved your life and is your possible love interest? That’s something you can no longer ignore. Belle thanks Beast for saving her and in another first, Beast shows some polite gratitude towards her as well. As the song goes, “Barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly.”
Things are less cozy down at the tavern. Gaston has invited the owner of the local insane asylum, an imposing man of a sinister nature appropriately named Monsieur D’Arque (veteran voice actor Tony Jay), to ingratiate him in his newest plan to wed Belle. And how do I feel about Tony Jay in just about any Disney role?
As short as his appearance is, he was so good that Disney would later ask him to play one of their A-list villains, Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In a way, this scene is a glorified audition. An EFFECTIVE glorified audition. It’s hard to not hear Tony Jay’s voice and not think pure malevolent evil.
Gaston tells D’Arque that the whole town is aware of Maurice’s eccentricities and at least half of them were there to witness him raving about his supposed beast. Since Belle would do anything to keep him from being locked away, it stands to reason that marrying Gaston would be among those things. D’Arque knows Maurice is harmless, but he’s too villainous to pass up this scheme (the huge bribe from Gaston may also factor in somewhat).
D’Arque, Gaston and LeFou go to Belle’s house to arrest Maurice but only just miss him, Maurice having decided to go rescue Belle on his own. Gaston orders LeFou to stay and keep watch until Belle and Maurice return. Alone. In the freezing snow. For God knows how long.
Back at the castle, Beast is starting to grow more affectionate towards Belle but doesn’t know how to show it. Cogsworth gives another great line (also improvised by Stiers) “There’s the usual things, flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…” but it’s Lumiere who comes up with the perfect idea. Later, Beast leads Belle to a dark room and tells her to close her eyes. He opens the curtains and reveals –
Also, this is one of the scenes that I remember the most vividly from my first time seeing the Broadway version. Staring up from the orchestra at that amazing library right there before me was nothing short of pure magic.
This gesture not only works, but it serves as a great counterpoint to Gaston’s attempt at courting. While Gaston made it all about himself, Beast shows a genuine interest in what Belle likes. It doesn’t take a genius to know which idea is the better one (I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for my guy to give me an entire library as a token of his affection. Tick tock, puddin’.)
This is followed by the song “Something There”, where we see Belle and the Beast’s relationship blossom and they begin to question what it is they feel for each other. It’s a song that’s often overlooked but sweet, if not for the adorable imagery of them playing in the snow together then hearing the one and only time Beast sings in the movie (note to self – if I ever get Robby Benson to voice a character in some kind of project, I am NOT passing up the opportunity for him to sing!) “Something There” is also clever in not only showing Belle and Beast falling in love without that pesky second-act Stockholm Syndrome drag, but in showing the passage of time. The film never explicitly says how long Belle has been staying in the castle. It could be weeks or months (and I’m not counting The Enchanted Christmas for obvious reasons), but it’s long enough to warrant them falling without it feeling forced.
It’s also the source of one of the film’s most oft-repeated behind-the-scenes stories. Howard Ashman had to listen to Paige O’Hara record her part via conference call because he was very sick at the time but didn’t want a lot of people to know (what he was sick with, well, there’s a good reason why I haven’t brought it up until now…and I’m not going to break the momentum by going into it just yet). Howard could barely talk but at the part of the song where Paige sings “New and a bit alarming”, he managed to give one word of advice – “Tell Paige, “Streisand”.” She immediately picked up on it and gave that line the vocal touch it needed. Howard knew it’s the little details that can add to something great, and he was right.
Now it’s time to go into a big change in the film that came about as a result of the Broadway musical. One of the songs Alan and Howard originally wrote for the movie was one for the enchanted objects titled “Human Again” where they rejoiced in the prospect of being, well, title drop (I just realized how many of the song titles are so unabashedly straightforward). The song itself was decent, but it stopped the movie and focused away from where it should be (on Belle and the Beast) to see the other characters’ point of view (Alan also joked on the audio commentary that there were storyboards of Maurice wandering the world searching places like the Eiffel Tower and the pyramids for Belle intercut with the song. Now THAT I would have liked to see!). The song was cut, but they found a perfect place it as a big Act 2 ensemble number in the Broadway show. Then in 2002, after the success of the musical and Fantasia 2000’s IMAX release, Beauty and the Beast was re-released in IMAX with “Human Again” fully animated and almost seamlessly integrated into the film. Sadly I did not see it during this run (though I did see it in 3D twice) but this version of the movie has been included on every DVD release since then and…it’s ok.
You read that correctly. There is a part of Beauty and the Beast that I think is merely ok.
No, Hell has not frozen over, it’s just February.
The song is one of the weaker ones, it doesn’t add all that much to the story that we don’t already know, and there are times when the animation looks like it was done by a different studio. Still, it’s not without its merits. It’s wonderful to hear the original cast return to their roles. They sound as though they’ve barely changed in the past ten years. We get more of the Wardrobe hamming it up (awesome), we see the castle receive a good cleaning and there’s a tender moment almost straight from the musical where Belle reads to Beast and then teaches him when he confesses he doesn’t know how (d’aawww). Also, Ballroom Brooms. BA-ROOMS. (Or would that make them ROOM-BAs?)
Regardless, you can watch the movie with or without the scene and be fine either way. Unlike the Star Wars trilogy, the original version of Beauty and the Beast hasn’t been put under lock and key, so the Special Edition remains what it always should be on the DVD, an option.
Soon (or immediately after if you’ve come from watching “Human Again”), the night arrives where Beast intends to confess his love to Belle. He’s not sure if he can go through with it, but Lumiere tells him him that he just needs to work up the courage.
And then we get the romantic scene the movie has been building up to, the famous ballroom dance. Everything about it is perfect; from Belle and the Beast showing how far they have come in trusting one another through their body language, to the music (the titular song, not “Tale As Old as Time” as many erroneously call it, more than deserved the Oscar), to the groundbreaking 3D animation of the ballroom itself. I don’t care what anyone says, it still feels real to me (the fact that it IS a real place now in Disney World, even if it is part of a restaurant, makes it even better). I’m sorry I don’t have that much to say about it, but there’s very little I can. It’s the most iconic scene in the movie for a good reason, it’s just that beautiful.
Afterwards, they sit out under the stars and Beast asks Belle if she’s happy here, hoping to lead into his admission. Belle says she is, but Beast notices that she appears sad. She confesses that she misses her father and Beast takes her to the West Wing and gives her the mirror to show her Maurice. She finds him sick, alone and lost in the woods. Beast sees how heartbroken she is and has to make the difficult choice of keeping her here and letting her go with the chance that he will most likely never see her again. And once again, it is all done through Glen Keane’s amazing animation in only ten seconds.
The Broadway version one-ups this, however, by adding this line to it: “You’re no longer my prisoner. You haven’t been for a long time.” The fact that he was willing to let her go before if she asked shows how far he has come in learning to care for others.
Beast gives her the mirror so she can always look back and remember him. Belle looks like she wants to say something too, but can only manage a thank you before running out. Cogsworth pops in assuming everything is going as planned and in an inversion from the scene before, Beast is now the bearer of bad news. When asked why, he can only say he had to because he loves her. Lumiere hopes that it will be enough to break the spell, but Mrs. Potts reminds him that she has to love him as well. They’re too busy brooding their fate to notice Chip sneaking off.
Belle searches the woods until she finds Maurice, unconscious in the snow. She takes him home and after he comes to, they have a touching reunion and she catches him up on what happened in his absence. She also remarks that he’s changed but can’t put her finger on how. Chip appears, having stowed away and asks in that endearing childlike way if she left because she didn’t like them anymore (aww). Before she can answer, D’Arque appears at the door to take Maurice away, along with a mob that’s not so much angry as slightly irritable from having to come out in the middle of the night and do this.
LeFou gets Maurice to tell them more about the big bad Beast which gives D’Arque and his goons enough grounds to drive him to the nuthouse (literally). Gaston “conveniently” shows up to pity Belle and tells her he can clear this up for her if she agrees to marry him. Belle doesn’t even dignify that by stopping to consider the offer. Gaston is perfectly fine with letting Maurice get hauled away, but Belle has an ace in the hole- the magic mirror. She reveals the Beast to the horrified crowd.
This, unfortunately, has the side effect of people being absolutely terrified by him, so much so that they don’t listen to Belle when she says he’s not as vicious as he appears. Gaston insinuates that she has feeling for this monster, to which she spits back, “He’s no monster, Gaston! You are!” Humiliated and rejected for the last time, Gaston takes advantage of the crowd’s fear and whips them into a frenzy, telling them the Beast will come for them and their children, and they have to kill him before he kills them.
I have a…weird opinion regarding “The Mob Song”. It’s not my favorite, though I enjoy the building intensity and Howard’s great lyrics (Great musical timing allows the illiterate Gaston to randomly quote Shakespeare, and how can 50 Frenchmen be wrong? They CAN’T.) I’ve noticed, however, that most people who don’t like Beauty and the Beast claim THIS song is their favorite. Maybe because it’s the last one barring a reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” at the end, maybe it’s because the whole thing is a great analogy for the Bush/Cheney administration regarding Iraq that manages to predate it by nearly a decade (Gaston does claim “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!” when Belle tries to stand up to him; remember that mindset going around after 9/11?), I have yet to figure it out. Or maybe it’s simply because the townsfolk state the obvious about themselves and people in general: “We don’t like what we don’t understand/In fact it scares us”.
Gaston sets their haystack on fire (am I the only one who felt sorry for that poor haystack? What if there was someone or something burrowing in there? What if Belle’s house caught on fire because of it? Belle’s right, you ARE a Monster, Gaston!!) and then he throws Maurice and Belle into the cellar to stop them from warning the Beast. The enchanted objects at the castle look out the window hoping to see Belle returning only to find the mob outside their door.
Something I like about this was even though seconds ago they were debating whether or not it was a good thing for Belle to even come at all and get their hopes up AND they see Gaston is clearly using the mirror to reach the castle, not once do the objects think Belle has betrayed them. Mrs. Potts goes to warn the Beast and the rest prepare to meet the mob head-on. Unfortunately there are no wolves around or girlfriends to protect, so Beast isn’t in an ass-kicking mood right now.
The mob breaks in to find the hall littered with seemingly inanimate objects which then surprise them and attack. The huge fight they have is one that cracks me up every time, but then I started looking a little bit closer into it. Beating a villager over the head with spoons or getting their head slammed between two drawers is funny, but if you look carefully in one shot you can see a guillotine being lowered and we see someone get EATEN ALIVE BY A TRUNK (it licked his lips and burped afterwards, and we never see that poor sucker again. Don’t tell me he wasn’t eaten!)
If you think that’s bad, wait until the Wardrobe joins the fray. She starts by leaping off a balcony screaming and landing on someone. Ok, very funny. But then when we see her again…
Yep. It’s official. The Wardrobe is a stone cold killer. She ranks among Prince Phillip, Eric, Thomas, and Mulan as one of the rare Disney characters on the side of good with a body count. No wonder the actors in the Fantasy Faire panic when Belle threatens them with her presence. In fact, when you think about it, this whole scene is a bloodbath! Lumiere , Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts get funny moments taking out the interlopers but I’m not even going into one of the villagers grabbing a featherduster and ripping out her feathers because I have no idea if that would qualify as dismemberment or-
The battle is won, but Gaston has eluded the objects and made his way to the West Wing. The Beast sees him there, ready to kill him, but is so heartbroken that he doesn’t even care. He’s ready to let Gaston end him. It’s a small but sad moment…
…unless there’s something else going on here we’re unaware of.
Gaston pushes the Beast out on to the roof and pushes him to fight back, taunting him. Beast, however, refuses to fight. Throughout the film we’ve been getting flashes of Gaston’s darker side, and all of them have been leading up to this moment. The Beast and Gaston’s arcs are perfect inversions of each other; one is beastly on the outside, the other beastly on the inside, and it’s by this point that their true natures are plain to see.
Gaston breaks off a gargoyle and is about to smash Beast’s head in but Beast sees Belle and Maurice arrive. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Chip broke them out of the cellar using the wood chopper. It’s too late to question how he did it with no hands, I’ve got a review to finish!)
Seeing his true love return rekindles Beast’s will to live and you guessed it!
It’s intense, even more so than the wolf fight, with Gaston and the Beast going from rooftop to rooftop of the castle as a storm rages around them. Both are an even match for each other, but Beast has one thing that Gaston doesn’t – Belle. When Gaston yells that Belle is his, Beast curbstomps him and holds him by his neck over a huge drop. Gaston immediately loses all bravado and tearfully pleads for mercy. You can see Beast wants to take his request to let him go all too literally, but his cries are similar to Belle’s when he first met her. Beast realizes he’s a changed person. He’s too human now.
He slowly brings Gaston back in and says “GET OUT.”
Beast climbs up to the balcony where Belle is and they reunite. Unfortunately that means turning his back on the villain for two seconds allowing him to sneak up and stab him in the back. Karma strikes immediately after as Gaston goes in for a second stab, loses his balance, and plummets to his death.
Belle pulls Beast on to the balcony but there’s nothing she or anyone can do to save him. Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson nail this scene. The heartbreak is so real that I often have a hard time not tearing up a little every time I see it. Beast is able to tell her he’s happy he got to see her one last time before dying in her arms. Belle sobs and tells him she loves him just as the last petal falls from the rose.
The rain turns into a sparkling colored shower and before her eyes, the Beast is lifted into the air, and changes into his human form, underscored by some of Alan Menken’s best music.
And I’m sorry, but I just have to say it –
I think this is the greatest cinematic transformation scene of all time. Not just from an animated movie, but from ANY movie.
Sorry Rick Baker, your Oscar for An American Werewolf in London is well-deserved (heck, your transformation the only reason anyone remembers that movie), but not only has this whole film been building up to its transformation both emotionally and in terms of plot, but it pays off in numbers. Everything from Alan Menken’s soaring score to Glen Keane’s magical masterful animation is nothing short of PERFECT. It’s not a stage trick where he’s enveloped in a cloak and then poof, he’s human; we are seeing a man being reborn before our very eyes. The Beast’s journey has come full circle.
Granted, animation does have the advantage of being limitless in design and execution. Practical transformations like one from the aforementioned movie or something like John Carpenter’s The Thing come to life through master craftmanship and hours of hard work. They’re amazing (and terrifying) to behold, but in the end, it all comes down to personal taste. You may have noticed that something those two films have in common is that their famous metamorphoses feature a man becoming a monster. They hinge around that fact; it’s so expected you that you don’t feel as invested because you know it’s coming.
Here, in Beauty and the Beast, it’s not a man becoming a monster.
It’s a monster becoming a man, and it happens at the movie’s emotional peak.
I’ve seen this movie more than a few times with an audience, and I can tell you during at least one of those screenings, I’ve seen people moved to tears at this part. It is that beautiful.
…And I WISH I could have said all this as eloquently to Glen Keane when I actually got to meet him last year instead of running my mouth off like a jabbering fangirl.
Still, my words do no justice. The only way you can fully understand it is if you experience it yourself. I prefer if you watch the whole movie yourself to avoid copyright issues, but here, have a freebie for Valentine’s Day.
And while I’m on the topic of blunt if opinionated honesty, I admit I don’t hate the Beast’s human form. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but A – he’s designed very classically, like something done by Michaelangelo or Raphael –
-and having seen Glen Keane’s life studies done in that particular style, he rocks the HELL out of it.
And B – no matter what the prince turns into, there’s always going to be someone who won’t be satisfied with how he looks. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise even say that on the commentary. Some of you may recall Greta Garbo’s famous reaction to the transformation in Cocteau’s film. In the middle of its premiere, she cried out, “Give me back my beautiful Beast!” It’s a testament to how well Beast is designed and how we grow to love him that way that we don’t like how he looks upon changing to his original form…
…but in a way, it takes the challenge of Belle learning to love someone beyond their appearances and hands it over to us, the audience. If we care about the Beast that much, then we should know he’s the same character even when he looks different have changed. Why should it change how we feel about him? Why do we hold his new look in such disregard if the story teaches us appearances shouldn’t even matter at all? Is it because we consider this prince a completely different person from the Beast we got to know? If you’re disappointed we don’t get to know this supposed new character it’s because we’ve reached the end of his story. If anything else were added it would be padding. Well, almost anything…
Once again, thanks to Glen Keane, it’s the eyes, the window to the soul that tell Belle who he is. She’s confused until she looks into them, and sees not only the eyes belonging to the mysterious portrait, but to her beloved Beast.
The transformation and Belle and Adam’s kiss (and yes I’m calling him that because every die-hard Disney fan knows that’s his real name) sets off changes around the castle starting with sparkling fireworks (the usual form of Disney magic) morphing the gargoyles into angelic statues and making everything bright and sunny. The servants regain their human form, everyone goes to the ballroom and watches the happy couple dance
using recycled Sleeping Beauty animation because they were too short on time to animate new dancing, we get a potential shiptease between Maurice and Mrs. Potts (am I the only one who always saw that?) and we end on a reprise of the title song overlooking a new stained glass window depicting this happily ever after.
Is there anything else I can say at this point? I love Beauty and the Beast. As a traditional Disney fairy tale there can not possibly be anything more perfect than this retelling. Gorgeous artwork and animation, memorable characters, unforgettable songs, it has it all.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what my thoughts are concerning the upcoming live-action remake starring Emma Watson and that one guy from Downton Abbey in the title roles, but before I do that I have to talk about my thoughts on Disney remaking their animated classics in general. I admit that I kind of liked Kenneth Branaugh’s take on Cinderella that came out last year. It’s not perfect, but compared to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful and (ugh) Maleficent, it’s Citizen freaking Kane. I confess that I’m not all that big on Disney’s original Jungle Book, but I’m curious to see how they pull the new one off when it’s released in April. It’s got a good director and cast behind it, so hey, maybe third time’s the charm. As for Beauty and the Beast, I’m…very cautiously optimistic. The reception at D23 has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ve only seen a few pictures of Luke Evans and Josh Gad together but I already buy their bromance. Whether or not anyone besides Gad and Audra McDonald (who’s playing the Wardrobe) can really sing as they are bringing Alan and Howard’s songs to this one is anyone’s guess. I’ll be ecstatic if they manage to translate everything to live-action well.
But please Disney, if you’re reading this, draw the line here. We all remember what happened the last time you tried to make a whole movie based on a Fantasia segment and I don’t recall anyone ever asking for a live-action Dumbo.
Still, there is a legacy to this movie that I hope Disney will continue to respect. I’ve given a lot of praise to Howard Ashman and I’m sure some of you are wondering “Why the heck hasn’t he blown up about this remake yet?” There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a happy one.
While developing Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman was dying from AIDS.
As his condition worsened, he knew he wouldn’t live to see the film be finished, but he put his all into it. If you look at Beauty and the Beast from a different angle, it’s a very personal story about him – a loner ostracized for being the monster the world perceives him as finding love and acceptance. His influence made the movie what it is, and maybe if life wasn’t so cruel, he could have lived on to eventually direct an animated feature at Disney. Even to this day, people who worked with him get emotional remembering him.
Howard passed away March 14, 1991, eight months before Beauty and the Beast premiered, and even though his influence on the film earned him the credit of Executive Producer, they knew they had to do more to honor him than just put his name in the credits twice, which is why the movie ends with this:
“To our friend Howard,
Who gave a mermaid her voice
And a Beast his soul.
We will be forever grateful.”
Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.
If you want a better comparison between Disney and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast than I could ever come up with, I highly recommend Oancitizen and Some Jerk With a Camera’s crossover review of both films. Jerk is as massive a Disney fan as I am if not more so and Oancitizen (aka Kyle Kallgren) has the ability to take the most classical, artsy and more often than not pretentious films and give them a comic spin while dissecting them, and the two work wonderfully off each other. Add the fact that they filmed it largely at Disneyland and you’ve got an amazing review.
*-There’s also the opposite of this known as Lima Syndrome where the captor falls for the captive, but it’s lesser-known and also doesn’t apply here because Beast HAS to love Belle in order to be freed, and he’s willing to let her go to prove that.