“Beauty and the Beast” is a remarkable, musical masterpiece from the height of the Disney renaissance; one of the studio’s most polished and refined animated films with plenty of heart to it. Out of Disney’s big four, “Beauty and the Beast” is the movie that my opinion has changed on the most, in a positive way. As a young boy, I liked “Beauty and the Beast” but it was never one of my favorites (thanks to the Disney vault, I never got to see it more than twice and those horrible DTV sequels did a good job of tarnishing my opinion of the franchise). As an adult, it’s not only earned itself a spot in my top ten Disney canon films, but it’s also giving “The Little Mermaid” competition as my favorite Disney princess movie. “Beauty and the Beast” is tied with “The Lion King” as the most well-received film of the Disney renaissance, and it’s also notable for being the only film from that period to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Like the last Howard Ashman and Alan Menken film, it’s every bit as good as the hype makes it out to be, though I do have two problems with it.
Firstly, it feels like the pacing is a bit off in this movie, a bit lopsided. The first half is very slow, with the movie devoting a lot of time to Belle’s first night in the castle, and then the second half after the wolf chase moves very quickly, breezing through the rest of Belle’s days at the castle before sending her back to her village to fire up the climax. As a result, Belle and the Beast start to become affectionate towards each other a bit too quickly. They spend over half the film barking at each other, and then ten minutes later this hug happens. It is believable, but only just. It’s actually one of several reasons why I like the extended cut’s addition of “Human Again”, that extra Belle & the Beast bonding scene helps to make the progression of their relationship flow smoother. Secondly, the film implies Belle was at the Beast’s castle for anywhere between a week and a month, and her dad set out looking for her on the first day, so how the frick-frack did he survive that long in the wilderness without food, water and ample protection from the elements?! Especially since, as we all know, there are wolves in that forest! Everyone talks about the Beast’s name and age, but this is the real unsolved mystery of “Beauty and the Beast”.
The exact moment you know Belle is going to be something special as a protagonist is when she sits atop a village fountain, gushing passionately about how incredible her stories are and how strong the power of fiction is to some sheep because no one else is really interested. Belle is a sharp, opinionated young woman, an introverted bookworm, and a shameless daydreamer who’d love to see the world beyond her little village and have an adventure far away from her gossipy, small-minded neighbors, but she remains in her little town to look after her aging father. Belle treats her loved ones with great kindness, and pays others the same amount of respect they pay her. Throughout the film, she tries to stay true to herself and not give into bullying and peer pressure, rejecting the boorish Gaston and putting the Beast in his place when he behaves like a furry brat. She’s also very brave and loyal, willing to put herself in potential peril at one point for the sake of her father. So while Belle is far from the most physically capable character in this movie, she has a great deal of inner strength. There was an important theme running through “The Little Mermaid” – that part of loving someone means respecting their individuality and their emotional needs – and that theme carries over to “Beauty and the Beast” as well. Belle not only longs for excitement, she also craves acceptance. She’s not opposed to the idea of romance, but she wishes she could find someone who won’t shame her for being a woman who reads or try to change her. That person ironically turns out to be the Beast. By this point in the film, Beast is trying to turn over a new leaf and he’s taken an interest in Belle, he wants to do her a kindness, so he gives her his entire library so she can read to her heart’s content. She later repays the favor by helping him regain a piece of his humanity he had lost to the curse, his literacy, which officially makes them friends.
Belle is a compassionate woman and a big enough person to admit when she’s wrong; she may have judged the Beast a bit too quickly. As Belle becomes privy to the Beast’s softer side and his better qualities (acknowledging that while he may be a bit of a rough fellow, he’s also brave, loyal, and increasingly friendly), she starts to develop a crush on him. She gets to escape into a world of fantasy and magic, without judgment, and live out the adventure of her dreams. I appreciate that it’s actually Belle who takes most of the initiative during her dance with the Beast; she knows what she wants by now, and even if she’s a bit concerned about the propriety of it, she still sends out signals. When it comes to her personality flaws, Belle doesn’t always practice what she preaches (despite hating it when people disrespect her and her property, Belle has no problem sneaking into the Beast’s bedroom to riffle through his things) and she’s not above making rash and impulsive decisions (like running into a blizzard by herself or accidentally selling her friends out to an angry mob in a desperate attempt to save her dad). Belle can feel a bit too perfect at times but I think it’s partly because she’s the most well-adjusted character in this movie, especially compared to the Beast and Gaston. Lastly, it’s worth noting “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the last Disney princess films to play the ‘true love saves the day’ trope entirely straight. Starting around the renaissance era, Disney started to toy with the idea. Ariel didn’t get her kiss, but love still saved the day in the form of Eric killing Ursula. Anna’s sisterly love for Elsa saved them both. But in “Beauty and the Beast” it is indeed Belle’s romantic love for the Beast that breaks the curse and brings her man back from the dead, and she just barely beats the deadline too.
While Belle and the Beast are co-protagonists, Beast is the one who receives the lion’s share of character development, and undergoes a large transformation throughout the film, both literally and figuratively. If Anna and Elsa had one of the saddest backstories I’ve seen so far in the Disney canon, Beast and his servants take the prize for the backstory that’s the most messed-up. Prince Adam is a spoiled, selfish and unkind prince who manages to invoke the anger of an enchantress one day by trying to let her die in a blizzard. The prince is transformed into a beast at a young age and forced to spend ten long years, half his life, in that form (including puberty!) with only his servants to keep him company – unable to leave the castle for his own safety while gradually losing his mind and his memories of what it was like to ever be human. By the time Belle and Maurice stumble upon his castle, the prince who was already a bastard has started to become unhinged. Present day Beast proves to be brusque, aloof, self-deprecating, pessimistic, and grumpy. Apparently worried Maurice will bring others to the castle, Beast takes Maurice as his prisoner and accepts Belle’s subsequent offer to take her father’s place, in hopes of breaking the spell. Ten years as a beast have changed Adam in the sense that he’s depressed and less arrogant than he was before – the burly and imposing chimera now plagued by self-doubt and self-loathing – but he still has one hell of a short fuse and remains superficial. It takes him longer than it should to realize it’s his self-centered personality more than his looks that put people off him, and it’s not until Beast almost gets Belle and himself killed by wolves that he finally calms his crazy self down for the rest of this movie.
To the Beast’s credit, instead of taking the easy way out and continuing to feel sorry for himself, he acknowledges that Belle is right, takes her advice, and makes the effort to try to change and better himself as a person, while also taking a genuine interest in Belle, who secretly impresses him. As he does so, Beast improves his social skills and starts to live again for the first time in years. He starts to feel human. The film was always careful to undercut Beast’s earlier harshness with the odd bit of boyish behavior and naivety, and sure enough the Beast does have a soft side hidden underneath all that bluster that emerges the more time he spends being sincere and amiable with Belle. He becomes warmer, thoughtful and more considerate, as well as less pessimistic. He realizes that if he’s not defined by his looks, then it’s not too late for him to try to change, and he finds that knowledge rather freeing. He works to improve himself, and he does it for himself as much as he does it to impress Belle. Despite being a reformed bully – gruff and somewhat brutish – the Beast’s bark is also worse than his bite. Belle realizes this after he saves her from the wolves, and whatever fear she had had of the Beast before vanishes for good. The audience is shown this for certain later when the Beast, having tamed his temper and found just the right balance of tough and tender, has a chance to take revenge on Gaston for trying to murder him and doesn’t take it, letting him off with an icy warning instead. Belle becomes important to Beast, so much so that he gives up on trying to break the curse and lets himself be eternally damned, so Belle can rescue her father from certain death and be reunited with him. He finally learns the true meaning of love – putting others before one’s self – proves himself worthy of loving, and in the end it’s love that finally redeems Adam and rescues him from death.
Ever since “Snow White“, it’s been traditional for a Disney princess film to contain proactive comedy sidekicks who are so fun and charismatic that they sometimes threaten to overshadow the main couple. Usually they’re the princess’s sidekicks though. Enchanted alongside their master, the Beast’s servants have become talking, singing, anthropomorphic appliances who take constant action to try to become human again, even while their master has long since given up hope. Among their line-up you have Lumiere, a flirtatious French candelabra and a diehard romantic at heart. As the most brash and outspoken of the servants, Lumiere is a cheeky, impulsive man who loves their master as much as anyone, but is constantly rebelling against his authority and moving forward with his own plans about how to handle the curse (if Mrs. Potts is essentially the Beast’s mother figure, Lumiere can be seen as his older brother). Lumiere is quite the womanizer with an oily charm to him, but he’s nonetheless shown to have a happy, stable relationship with a featherduster named Babbette, so he’s done quite well for himself. Lumiere often butts heads with Cogsworth, a stuffy British butler who’s supposed to be in charge of all the other servants. Cogsworth is a neurotic, fretful and sardonic man who gets pushed around a lot during this movie, and his depressing life seems to have made him quite cynical. He fears the Beast’s temper the most, he’s constantly worried about his co-workers biting off more than they can chew, and he’s very grumpy about the fact that no one respects him or listens to him. Since Lumiere and Cogsworth are ideologically opposed when it comes to pretty much every problem, they have a rivalry not unlike Baloo and Bagheera’s, or Rabbit and Tigger’s, where the one who one complains the most is usually shown to be in the wrong.
Mrs. Potts is the most grounded of the servants by far, with wisdom gained from age and experience. She’s an efficient and no-nonsense teapot, but she’s also kind and compassionate towards her charges. While Cogsworth is meant to be one in the charge, it’s clear she is one the other servants respect, and she’s also the closest thing the Beast has had to a mother figure all these years. Other servants include Mrs. Potts’ precocious and innocent son, little Chip, and the theatrical Madam Le Grande Bouche (I’m glad Belle’s wardrobe got more screen-time in “Human Again” by the way, she deserves it). The servants who are given the most characterization have an entire subplot devoted to them matchmaking and squabbling amongst each other about the best way to handle Belle and the Beast. They also prove to be expert performers, as seen in “Be Our Guest”, where they clearly savor the chance to sing and dance again, since I imagine the Beast rarely let them break into spontaneous musical numbers. They get an entire sequence devoted to them at the end, defending the castle from a mob of crazy people from Belle’s village. It’s as comedic as it is brutal. The wardrobe crushes a dude to death, Mrs. Potts gives people third-degree burns and Cogsworth – after being the uptight one all movie – lets himself cut loose and enjoy the anarchy, stabbing people with scissors. You don’t mess with the servants, especially on the night they all know they’re going to be stuck as furniture forever.
Maurice is Belle’s quirky, inventor father and a single old guy who raised Belle on his own. He’s a bit of an underdog, and like Belle, he’s shown to have been ostracized and mocked by his neighbors for being weird and undesirable by the village’s standards. He has a very close, loving, mutually supportive relationship with his daughter, and Belle is notably one of the few Disney princesses to be on good terms with her parents from the beginning to end of her movie (especially during the renascence era). Honestly, as this film progresses, you will feel so bad for this man, because no matter where he turns in this movie, he just jumps right out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. He gets attacked by wolves, kidnapped and imprisoned by an angry Beast, separated from his daughter for who knows how long, tossed around by his neighbors, nearly freezes to death in the wilderness looking for Belle, and gets dragged off and almost thrown into an asylum so Gaston can blackmail Belle. It’s not until the climax that it’s finally someone else’s turn to have something terrible happen to them. Never let it be said Maurice isn’t a good father too. Beast puts him through hell in this movie, and the man very clearly does not like him, but when Belle becomes distraught about an angry mob going to kill her friend Maurice takes her word for it that the Beast dying is a bad thing, a very bad thing, and promises to do whatever he can to help her (which turns out to be shoving Belle out of the way so Chip won’t chop off her head).
“Beauty and the Beast” does some clever things with it’s antagonists. The whole point of this film is that beauty is more than skin deep, and to quote a later Disney film directed by the same men, “Beauty and the Beast” invites the audience to decide who is really the monster and who is the man. We’re initially introduced to Gaston and Lefou the same way Belle sees them – as a pair of simpletons and the town jocks. Gaston is a boastful, bombastic, manly, muscular and accomplished hunter, who always brings home big game for the village, while Lefou is his comparatively short, loyal, sycophantic sidekick, as well as his often abused best friend. Gaston may be the village’s admittedly handsome sex symbol, and LeFou may admire him for his strength and hyper-masculinity, but to Belle, he’s irritatingly vain. We get our first hint that the two of them might be something darker than dumb jocks or simple bullies when Gaston tries to randomly force himself on Belle in her own home, but it’s not until Belle’s away for most of the movie that we realize we’ve greatly underestimated them. Gaston is more than just an arrogant sexist and narcissist, he’s also a manipulative sociopath who doesn’t see people as people so much as tools there for his benefit. Belle makes for a lovely trophy wife to bolster his ego and reputation, Maurice is the perfect pawn to blackmail Belle with, and an angry mob of gullible people make for very effective weapons to kill a beast with. The more Gaston obsesses over getting what he wants, the more he shows his true colors as a treacherous snake.
I’ve sometimes seen people wonder why the Beast is treated as being redeemable and Gaston isn’t when they both treat Belle and Maurice terribly. The answer is that one of them has the capacity and desire to change and the other one doesn’t. Swallowing his pride, making an effort to improve himself, learning to see Belle as more than an object but her own person – these are all things Gaston could never do because he already sees himself as being perfect and flawless the way he is, and unlike the Beast, he has no one to take him to task (while the Beast’s servants chide him numerous times for his poorer actions, Gaston literally has a whole bar song of people singing his praises). In fact, the film contrasts the Beast sparing his life with Gaston promptly stabbing him in the back, because even now the prideful and obsessive hunter can’t bare to lose, and thus the fool seals his fate. With that much having been said, Gaston isn’t the most disturbing antagonist in this movie. Gaston may be evil, but it’s Belle’s neighbors who revere him – their admittedly sexy and brawny town hero – for shallow reasons. They’re as superficial, judgmental and close-minded as Gaston, they enable him and give him the power to do whatever he likes in town, and they even go so far as to help him commit blackmail and attempted murder. Because it’s not like they ever liked Belle and Maurice anyway, they had long since shunned them as outsiders in their community. The truly disturbing thing is that none of this is impossible or even implausible, especially for the time period. Everyone knows humans at their worst can be tribalistic bastards, particularly in small towns, and I’m afraid Belle discovers you don’t need to be a beast to be cruel.
The humor in “Beauty and the Beast” is a lot more silly and cartoony than your usual Disney movie, which feels like it ought to clash with all the darker and more violent elements of this film but somehow it rarely ever does. The production values for this film are sky high. “Beauty and the Beast” contains some of the most polished, fluid and meticulous 2-D animation you’ve ever going to find in the Disney Canon, rivaled only by “The Lion King” – giving the brutality of the wolf chase it’s sharp sting, the odd jump scare it’s power, and the tender, lingering touches Belle and the Beast share an almost haunting sort of intimacy. Not to mention, the Beast’s castle has a tremendous amount of depth and scale to it as a location (even the 3-D ballroom has aged well and looks extravagant). The animation quality reaches it apex during the Beast’s near-death experience and his following transformation, a scene that manages to be incredibly stirring despite there already being several variations on it in the canon (Disney really likes having one protagonist sob over the other one’s corpse in the climax of their movies). As far as animation details go, I like how clothing is a bit more meaningful than usual in this film. As Belle begins to enjoy herself at the castle, her usually reserved wardrobe becomes more tasteful and refined, and as the Beast begins to clean himself up and reconnect more with his forgotten humanity, he starts to wear more regal human clothes. The trend culminates in this bit of classiness from the pair during the famous ballroom scene.
The soundtrack is quite possibly the best aspect of “Beauty and the Beast”. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken step up their already impressive game from “The Little Mermaid”, with Howard penning more group songs this time around that contain choruses so empassioned you can’t help but get swept up into them, and Alan writing for a more lush and layered orchestra. “Belle” seamlessly does the hard job of introducing most of the major characters for the movie, while also establishing a trend for the film: whenever Paige O’Hara or Richard White get to sing with gusto they easily dominate the proceedings. “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are both rousing visual feasts and a tour-de-force of animation, though I am disappointed that the climax of “Gaston” got trimmed down slightly. “Something There” and “Beauty and Beast” are simple and elegant performances from the voice cast (Angela Lansbury is a treasure); they’re also the point where you realize Beast never got his own song, despite also being a main character in this movie. “The Mob Song” has an electrifying amount of energy and strength coursing through it (there’s also something pretty unsettling about how it ends with a group of insane, bloodthirsty people calling for the Beast’s head) and the final, soulful cover of “Beauty and the Beast”, by Celine Deon and Pea Frybo, is simply divine. A purely heartwarming cap to the film’s emotional journey. Alan Menken’s score is absolutely enchanting and endearing, especially during the second half of the film when he starts to weave together affectionate, instrumental variations of “Something There” and “Beauty and the Beast” to symbolize the protagonists’ growing bond.
I really love “Beauty and the Beast”. Some areas feel a bit rushed, and some of the internal logic doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but like “The Little Mermaid” before it, it’s a real powerhouse film and an accomplishment Disney is quite rightly proud of to this day (it’s also the closest thing to an animated Broadway musical that the studio has ever produced).
* “There must be more than this provincial life!” “Just watch, I’m going to make Belle my wife!” “Look there she goes, that girl is strange but special, a most peculiar mademoiselle! It’s a pity and a sin that she doesn’t quite fit in, cause she really is a funny girl, a beauty but a funny girl, she really is a funny girl…. that Belle!!!”
* “Belle, It’s not right for a woman to read. Pretty soon she starts getting ideas and thinking“.
* It’s so strange to think “Beauty and the Beast” was released only a few years after “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Oliver and Company” but the difference in animation quality is massive. Disney was rolling in that renaissance dough.
* “I just wanted a place to stay!” “I’ll give you a place to stay!” Inside the Beast’s belly. Maurice was delicious, by the way.
* Something that’s fun about Belle is that she has the independence of a 90’s heroine, but the theatricality of a 50’s heroine. “Belle (Reprise)” is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also the scene where she demands the Beast step into the light. Beast does so, and Belle gasps very dramatically when she sees his face.
* “The castle is your home now, so you can go wherever you like, except the west wing” “What’s in the west-” “IT”S FORBIDDEN!!!”.
* “Say it again! Who’s a man among men! Who’s a super success, don’t you know, can’t you guess, ask his friends and his five-hangers on! There’s just one guy in town who’s got all of it down! And his name’s GASTON!!!“.
* “Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking” “A dangerous pastime-” “I know”.
* “I’m just fooling myself. She’ll never see me as anything… but a monster” Emo Beast. Like Belle, the Beast can be rather dramatic.
* The Beast was freaking eleven when he was cursed (it’s even in the original screenplay). I do like the moral ambiguity present in the prologue. The Beast was a terrible person, but that doesn’t mean the Enchantress he pissed off was a saint either. In fact, she was kind of messed up.
* “Course by course, one by one, til you shout ‘enough I’m done!’ We’ll sing you off to sleep as you digest! Tonight you’ll prop your feet up, but for now let’s eat up! Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest, please be our guest!!!”
* You’ve got to love how Lumiere shoves Cogsworth out of the spotlight at the end of “Be Our Guest”. No one upstages Lumiere.
* The wolves finally manage to pin down Belle by one of them grabbing onto her sweet cape. Somewhere out there, Edna from “The Incredibles” is looking awfully smug.
* If you showed someone this frame out of context I wonder what they would think.
* “Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep”.
* “Ever just the same, ever a surprise! Ever as before and ever just as sure, as the sun will rise!”
* Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours, like not letting your would-be girlfriend’s dad die in a forest.
* “I let her go” “What?! How could you do that?!” “Well, I had to” “But, but, but, why?!” “Because… I love her”.
* Luckily for Belle, Maurice and the mob, the vicious, ravenous wolves only ever show up when it’s convenient for the plot.
* “He’s no monster Gaston, you are!” (ooooohhhh!) “She’s as crazy as the old man!”
* I don’t think the mob tossing Belle and Maurice in their basement was supposed to be amusing, but it wound up being that way.
* “Take whatever booty you can find, but remember, the Beast is mine!”
* After being everyone’s punching bag all movie, Lefou finally gets a chance to unleash his evil during the mob scene, and promptly gets his butt kicked.
* “It’s over, Beast! Belle is mine!” Gets bitch-slapped and grabbed by the throat a second later. Bitter loser.
* Even now, the Beast is still learning hard life lessons. In this case, it’s never turn your back on someone who just tried to kill you only a few seconds ago.
* “No! Don’t leave me! …I love you!”
* LeFou and the triplets are gonna cry their eyes out for days when they realize Gaston is never coming back from the forest.
* Celine Dion, Pea Frybo, Arianna Grande and John Legend have convinced me that “Beauty and Beast” sounds much better as a duet than it does as a solo song.
* Nostalgia Critic; AnimatedKid; The Animation Commendation I and II; Disney Odyssey; Tor; Katejohns619; Silver Petticoat; A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; Disney In Your Day; Jaysen Headley Writes; Author Quest; Roger Ebert; Disneyfied Or Disney Tried; Fairy Tale Critic; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Healed1337; From The Perspective Of An Old Soul; The Great Movie Debates; Jamie’s Film Thoughts; Evy Writes; Cut The Crap Movie Reviews; Movie Rob; The Movie Man; Upon The Shelf Reviews; Geeky Galaxy; LivLilly; Regulas314; Not Just Movies; Movies Ate My Life; Worthy Of Note; Merc With A Movie Blog; AV Club.
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