Beauty and the Beast is the first ever animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. An impressive feat that it absolutely deserved. As Beauty and the Beast is one of the greatest Disney animated movies ever made. Although it didn’t win the Oscar, it was the first to win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. After The Little Mermaid became an instant hit that sparked the Disney Renaissance, the studio decided to continue adapting classic fairy tales. At least they did when The Rescuers Down Under failed to make a significant impact. The only carryover was the impressive use of CAPS animation.
The thirtieth Disney animated film is based on the 1756 French fairy tale as old as time. Beauty and the Beast is a fairly simple story about true love and inner beauty. The book has been adapted many times in the past, but it still wasn’t incredibly well known in its original form. Walt Disney wanted to tell the story as early as 1937. It was shelved for many years until the Disney Princess format was successful again. Although its original director thought it should be a serious non-musical French retelling, Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t feel right without music. Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman returned to write such Broadway caliber music that the animated film became the first adapted for Broadway…
Beauty and the Beast is likely the first Best Picture nominated film I saw. My brother and I watched it numerous times on VHS when we were very young. It was the last Disney movie to come out before either of us were born, but our parents still saw it due to all the attention it was getting. I fell in love with the unconventional romance, enchanting songs, multilayered characters, and gorgeous animation. Beauty and the Beast is Disney at their storytelling best. We open on stain glass instead of the usual book. Once upon a time, there was a Prince that lived in a magnificent French castle. The nameless Prince was so selfish that he didn’t accept a haggard beggars rose in exchange for shelter. She transformed into a beautiful enchantress and cursed the young Prince with a beastly appearance. Although his age doesn’t make much sense, his struggle to find love before the age of 21 is a tragedy. “For who could ever learn to love a Beast.”
Belle was the most modern Disney Princess the studio made at the time. Ariel was a pleasant revival, but she was a bit young to make the decisions she did. Belle is a smart, more independent woman with a deep love of books. Stage actress Paige O’Hara helped bring a strong-willed sarcastic wit that hadn’t been seen before in Disney heroines. Like her titular description, Belle is a true beauty. Something that her modest French dress and sensible ponytail can’t hide. Belle is also the first brunette Disney Princess and the only one in her village to wear blue. Which better represents the odd reputation her provincial village has given her. That’s why Belle longs for adventure with someone who understands her.
Her beauty gains the unwanted attention of Gaston. A sexist blowhard hunter who only wants Belle for her looks. Unlike every single Disney villain that preceded him, Gaston is both handsome and physically fit. It’s a clever contrast that better represents inner beauty over outward appearance. His bumbling sidekick Lefou is his hype man that makes them a fun comic duo before Gaston becomes more sinister. Another reason for Belle’s reputation is her kooky inventor father Maurice. He takes their horse Philippe to a fair, but they get lost in the woods. Maurice seeks shelter from the wolves in the mysterious castle surrounded by an endless winter.
One of the best changes made from the book was the addition of enchanted inanimate objects. I’m not sure what the Prince’s servants did to deserve it, but they do add much needed levity to the story. Lumière is a true romantic candelabra (who’s strangely the only character with a thick French accent). His rebellious attitude is in hilarious contrast to the straight-laced pendulum clock Cogsworth. Rounding out the staff is motherly teapot Mrs. Potts and her chipped cup son Chip. Angela Lansbury is a Disney veteran who brings a genuine warmth to Mrs. Potts. It’s hard to say exactly how many servants are enchanted objects, but other notable characters include Lumière’s beloved feather duster, a caring wardrobe, and canine footstool. Maurice’s presence brings out the Beast, who angrily locks him in his dungeon. Belle goes to rescue her father and bravely takes his place in the castle.
As the title suggests, this is the most depth a Disney Prince has ever had. The Beast is a nice amalgamation of animals that isn’t too monstrous for children. His temper is understandable considering how long he’s lived with his appearance. Sure Belle and the Beast argue at first, but things change when he bravely rescues her from wolves. Belle is the only one who stands up to him and is able to bring out his inner humanity. Their relationship progression is one of the best in Disney history. The Beast gives Belle his grand library, they spend time in the snow, and he learns to be more refined. The most genuinely romantic act is the dance they share. While dressed in their now iconic yellow frilly dress and French blue suit. Beast truly shows his love when he lets Belle go when she sees her father in his enchanted mirror. It’s not enough to break the spell and Beast falls back into despair.
When Belle returns, Gaston reveals his despicable plan to institutionalize her father if she doesn’t marry him. When she refuses, Gaston starts an angry mob that plans to raid the castle and kill the Beast. The rough fight against the enchanted objects is fun, but Gaston vs. the Beast is all too serious. The Beast shows his true colors by sparing the villain. Then the cowardly Gaston shows his true colors by stabbing the Beast in the back before falling to his much deserved death. I get emotional every time the Beast dies in Belle’s arms, but I cry tears of joy when she finally proclaims her love before the last petal falls. Belle and the now human Prince (Adam?) kiss and break the spell at last. Returning beauty to the castle, making the enchanted objects human again, and giving Beauty and the Beast a chance to live happily ever after.
No matter what anyone says, I’ll never consider their romance to be stockholm syndrome. It’s far more complex than that. Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, but its animation still astounds me today. The traditional animation shines through in each character and French environment. I’m glad a hand drawn film received the Best Picture nod before computer animation took over. One of the most beautiful animated sequences in Disney history is the ballroom dance. The CGI background and simulated crane shot brings unprecedented life to the medium. In ways live-action simply can’t achieve. Although their final dance had to be recycled from Sleeping Beauty.
Every single song in Beauty and the Beast is a winner. Three of which got Oscar attention. Same with the Oscar winning score. “Belle” is a delightfully French bonjour to Belle’s life in the village that doesn’t understand her. “Belle” (Reprise) is the perfect Sound of Music longing song for Belle. “Gaston” is one of my personal favorite Disney villain songs. It’s just so ridiculously manly and fittingly boastful. Gaston’s “Mob Song” is way more villainous. “Be Our Guest” is a high energy number with impressive spectacle and showmanship from Lumière as he presents Belle’s dinner. “Something There” is brief, but a sweet way to develop the blossoming romance. “Human Again” is fine, if a little unnecessary in the final cut. Of course it’s the title song “Beauty and the Beast” sung by the comforting Mrs. Potts that truly deserved the Oscar win. I tear up anytime I hear the awe-inspiring love song. Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful masterpiece inside and out.