Beauty and the Beast

Director(s): Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Starring: Paige O’ Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Angela Lansbury
Released: Oct 1992

Despite regarding 3D films in much the same way that I regard pink tracksuits and Damian Rice, I felt compelled to see Beauty and the Beast again, simply for the joy of seeing it plastered on the big screen. It marked the beginning of a golden age for Disney. Around this time, they would release classics such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. It also marks one of the few occasions in which Disney would tread some truly unfamiliar territory: The bleak yet exciting playground that is the Gothic.

The plot:
Belle (O’ Hara) is a beautiful but misunderstood young woman. Despite the love of her father, and the primitive affections of local egomaniac Gaston (White), she longs for a life of adventure and excitement. While searching for her father after he becomes lost in the woods, she finds her wishes unintentionally realised. She becomes a prisoner in an enchanted castle, held captive by live-to-please talking furniture items and the similarly misunderstood master of the castle: The Beast (Benson).

Despite taking material from often grim sources, Disney rarely tells a story in anything but a relentlessly cheerful light, full of disgustingly cute talking animals and happy endings. Beauty and the Beast is one of the few features that bucks the trend. The narrative itself is no less unsettling than other features. After all, The Lion King deals with murder and responsibility, while Aladdin examines the corrupting powers of greed. In contrast, Beauty and the Beasts’ tale of how true love conquers all is actually as light a story as one can imagine.

However, it is in the atmosphere created by the inspired art direction and haunting soundtrack that elicits a sense of the uncanny. Indulgent shots of the expansive castle sets the tone fantastically, accompanied with perfectly dreamlike melodies. The fairytale beginning echoes the fairy tales of Grimm, and doesn’t withhold from its obligatory unpleasantness. After all, what makes it the enchantress’ business that she feels she has the right to transform people just because they won’t let her stay the night?! Christianity metaphor right there…

Despite this unusually dark tone, the typical Disney elements are still incorporated seamlessly into the film. The village Belle lives in is brightly coloured, warm and inviting. We are introduced to her peaceful yet dull lifestyle with a memorable song and dance, just one of many. And while the Gothic mingles with fantasy in the Beasts’ castle, the directors are very careful not to lose their primarily child audience. It is still a love story and a fabulously told one at that.

It is a testament to the skill of the entire crew that they manage to encapsulate the relationship between Belle and the Beast in one utterly astounding ballroom scene. Whether it is color scheme, the sound of Angela Lansbury’s voice or just the utterly beautiful imagery, something about that ballroom scene cements it as one of those rare moments of cinematic perfection, that is just impossible to improve upon. Because, while the plot is simple, it is, as Mrs. Potts points out, utterly timeless.

It is more character driven than anything, and the characters themselves are an endearing bunch. Belle is one of the first genuinely strong female leads in Disney films. She has a taste for adventure and plunges into it willingly rather than being forced into it. And the Beast makes a terrific change from the typical male lead. If the story itself wasn’t widely known, the outcome might come as a surprise, considering the way in which the Beast is introduced.

Because one thing that is very easy to forget is how wonderfully sculpted a character the Beast is. It’s easy to dismiss him as an angry and shallow character that undergoes a transformation, but there is more to him than one might imagine. Despite his seemingly tyrannical demeanour at the beginning of the film, there is still a hint of propriety.

His little quirks make this clear, from his attempts at small talk to the moment he actually saves Belles’ life. And even when he has undergone his change to a more sensitive human being, he retains a certain degree of brutality. Despite how many times he roars and smashes throughout the film, there is no moment in which he is more terrifying than his quiet confrontation with Gaston, seen here.

Ah, and of course there is Gaston. He is just an interesting character as the Beast, in many ways the antithesis of that character. Interestingly, he isn’t a particularly evil character, just obnoxious. In any other film, he could have easily been simply a henchman with a smart mouth. Hell, he could all too easily be any of the princes from the earliest Disney movies, for all the depth there is to his character. Egotistical? Feels he is entitled to marry the most beautiful girl he knows despite not knowing her at all? Popularity and a winning smile? He is almost identical to the Prince in Snow White! It’s nice to see the way Disney addresses this issue, something they expand on much further in the oft underrated Enchanted. 

Overall:
Disney have a pretty expansive library, well over 50 animated features at the time of writing. Yet, only a small portion of these films manage to fully express the sense of wonder that Disney studios are well-known for. Who remembers Oliver and Company? Meet the Robinsons? Home on the Range? Not bad films by any means, but never classics. Beauty and the Beast is a classic. However, it paints such an enchanting world that, after 84 minutes, it feels like it’s over just a bit too soon. If it has a fault at all, it is that, like Belle, it leaves the audience wanting more.

Rating: 9/10

It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now, we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair, as the dining room proudly presents… your dinner. Be…our…guest.” – Lumiere

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • A song entitled ‘Human Again’ was scrapped before the film entered production, though this can be seen on the Platinum edition of the DVD. It doesn’t add an awful lot to the film.
  • This is the very, very first film I can remember going to see in the cinema.
  • The ballroom dance scene makes Beauty and the Beast the first Disney animated feature to use fully rendered and textured 3-D CGI moving backgrounds in combination with the traditionally animated character animation.
  • Belle reminds me of one of my aunts. A lot. I can never get past that when watching this film, and it makes me suspicious of all of her boyfriends.
  • The dance shared between Belle and the Prince in the finale is actually recycled from Sleeping Beauty, with one pair being simply drawn over the original pair.
  • Many scenes were storyboarded but never animated. Two particularly gruesome examples include Gaston visiting the Asylum and the Beast dragging the carcass of an animal he killed.
  • The first of only three Disney features to be nominated for best Picture at the Academy Awards. The other two are Up and Toy Story 3.
  • The 3D version also featured an epilogue to Tangled, entitled Tangled Ever After. Even if you really hate 3D, this short would actually make the trip worth it.

This film is kind of like:
  • A children’s storybook brought to life

or

  • Animated Stockholm Syndrome
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