I know at the end of this project people will want me to rank all 54 in order from greatest to worst and I don’t know how I am going to do it. It feels impossible. Take The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast . Both are masterpieces. Perfection. Little Mermaid probably means more to me personally, where Beauty and the Beast is probably more of a universal story but they are both sensational. I said it with Winnie the Pooh and immediately a chorus of detractors surfaced, but who cannot like Beauty and the Beast?
Who knows but I love it!
Here’s how I know it is a great movie. The other day I was thinking about it and it occurred to me there are some major plot holes. For instance, we know the Beast has till 21 to break the spell but he has 10 years so he was rude at 11? If time stood still in castle and he is 21 forever (which would seem to be the case given Chip who is probably 7ish?) than how does he know he is 21 yet and if he is 21 wouldn’t that still make him very young when the spell was given? Or has he been 21, 10 times?
Also when you think about Be Our Guest, all the flatware and napkins and everything else, if each of those things is a person that is a lot of servants at the castle? Thousands! Finally, is the whole kingdom under the spell? Is that why there are so many items? Because wouldn’t people notice their prince is gone? Also how long are Belle and the Beast together because Lefoux and Maurice are outside the whole time but their courtship seems like many months?
So plot holes, yes? But here’s the thing…None of that matters AT ALL! Even a little bit! The characters are so rich, the writing is so sharp, animation stunning and the music- oh is it perfect. To me it is like Up in that regard. Yes you can nitpick plot points but all the pieces are so strong it carries the viewer away with it if they will allow it to.
Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture and it sure deserved it.
It’s hard writing this blog because I have tons of information on this and it is all very interesting stuff. The audio commentary has so many great tidbits from Allan Menken, Gary Trousdale, and Kirk Wise.
Like Little Mermaid, this film was treated like a traditional Broadway musical and much of that emphasis came from lyricist Howard Ashman who I have grown to have such immense respect for when doing my research for this project. He tragically died from AIDS before Beauty and the Beast could be released but this was not simply a song writer. This was a man who acted out the characters and had definite opinions about casting, dialogue and everything else. They said on the Gaston number Ashman had sheets and sheets of lines of funny prose that had to be trimmed out. He could have gone on for days.
He was so crucial to Beauty and the Beast that they moved production to an upstate New York Radisson Inn so they could be near him as he was sick. What a creative gift to give the world as you are on your death bed. Quite touching really.
I think we forget how bold the traditional musical structure was in 1991. Even with The Little Mermaid precedent, to do a Broadway musical was basically unheard of. We are more used to it now because we get a musical release every year or so but that would not have happened if Menken and Ashman and Disney had not kept the medium alive in the 90s.
They said in the audio commentary that the New York Film Festival gave a standing ovation to a rough draft version of Beauty and the Beast and part of that is because it is so great but another is because it hits every nostalgic musical button without being corny.
The casting went a long way with the film’s success. Jodi Benson, from Little Mermaid was considered for Belle, but they decided to go with an older, more mature sounding voice of Paige O’hara. The Little Mermaid needed a girl who is uncomfortable in her own skin. Beauty and the Beast needed a woman. Belle has already figured out what she wants and it is not just a thing like legs or a man. She wants adventure and a spiritual belonging.
What takes Ariel probably 40 minutes to realize when she sings on the rock, Belle has announced in the first 15 minutes. Both are important characters but just at different phases and ages. I love that.
All the other casting is brilliant with Richard White as Gaston, Robby Benson as Beast, Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, and Angela Lansbury as Mrs Potts. I went to a concert of Angela Lansbury and she felt great ownership over playing Mrs Potts. She said after 9/11 she would talk with kids and her voice was a comfort to them because of Mrs Potts. You can feel that kind of connection in all the performances. Mrs Potts is a great example of how perfect the characters are developed. With her we have a character with no arms or legs and yet she is warm and maternal. Pretty remarkable.
What amazed me this time around is how every character in Beauty and the Beast is established in the first 30 seconds of them talking. The Beast is the only one we don’t understand and have to see change. Usually this wouldn’t work but when the writing is this sharp it does. It is kind of like the Justice League of animation. Individually they may be a boring character but together they work great.
Allan Menken’s score contributes so much too. The way scenes build to crescendos and the way storytelling is done within songs is amazing. this is not a action, stop and sing, and more action type of musical. The music tells the story and introduces us to the characters flawlessly.
Think of The Mob Song. We start out with Gaston proposing to Belle and by the end they are practically at the castle and that all happens convincingly with the lyrics, vocals and music. (And each reaction totally makes sense when given the behavior of the Beast at the beginning and what little we know about each of the townspeople and Gaston).
It also took the CAPS work of Rescuers Down Under and combined it with special effects in a new way. Remember in my Rescuers review I said the computer graphic sequences like the Sydney Opera House didn’t really hold up for modern audiences? These do. The ballroom scene is just as beautiful now and sweeping as it was then. There isn’t a moment of the film that feels antiquated or tired to me.
There is personal value to Beauty and the Beast for me as well. I responded to the story of course but I have always loved Broadway since I was in High School. When I was in college my dear cousin Lisa and I conceived of a plan to take a trip out to New York with our Grandma. While we were there we saw Beauty and the Beast and were blown away. We also saw Music Man and the Rockettes (it was a Christmas trip). 4 months later Lisa passed away of a long-term illness, so I can’t help but watch it and think of her.
I’m sorry if that seems sentimental but it’s true. For me movie-going is not just images on the screen but stories and stories matter in my life.
Normally in my reviews I go over the story talking about what I like in one character or another, what songs I like, how the story moves and flows. I literally have found that to be impossible for Beauty and the Beast. I’ve tried 4 times and each time ended up with so much material nobody would ever read it. My last attempt at keeping it simple had 10 pages and I had only gotten to Something There. I know some people enjoy my writing but 20 pages on Beauty and the Beast might be a little much.
So, basically it’s a story about a girl who feels out of place named Belle
The town jock Gaston is in love with her because she’s pretty but she wants more
Her father gets lost and finds an enchanted castle where he is imprisoned by a beast
She agrees to go in the place of her father so that he can be free
The house is full of enchanted objects created by the spell changing not only the beast but all in the household
They do their best to make Belle happy
Gaston is depressed about Belle’s rejection and his pubmates try to cheer him up
Belle’s father tries to get help, everyone thinks he is nuts and that gives Gaston an idea to manipulate Belle into marrying him
Meanwhile in some amount of time Belle starts to see a softer side to the Beast and he indulges her love of reading
Beast and Belle have a night dancing where he is ready to tell her he is in love with her
But she learns her father is in trouble and despite the enchanted rose wilting Beast allows her to go
When home Gaston tries to have Belle’s father committed unless she will marry him, she refuses
Gaston and the townsfolk learn about the Beast and storm to the castle to kill him
The household objects defend themselves but Gaston finds his way to the Beast
At first the Beast doesn’t care because Belle is gone and let’s Gaston win at the fight
Then he see’s Belle and Gaston and Beast fight, with the Beast letting him go. Then in return Gaston literally backstabs the Beast and then falls to his death
Beast dies in Belle’s arms but just before the pedal drops Belle tells him she loves him. This love is enough to reverse the curse and bring Beast back
All the household objects are returned to their pre-curse state and Belle and Beast are happy forever.
Phew! I’m exhausted. I must have written that 5 times and I’m not entirely happy with a clip show summary (I have so much I could tell you!) it was the best way I could come up with to simply let the story talk about itself.
Like I said at the beginning Little Mermaid has more personal meaning to me but Beauty and the Beast is a close 2nd. It had great impact and is one of only 3 movies I remember seeing as a little girl and loving. So, if I could give a co-champion of my youth it would be Beauty and the Beast.
Every aspect is perfect. Villain? Perfect. Heroine? Perfect. Animation? Perfect and still looks great in 2014. Backgrounds? Stunning works of art. Side Characters? Perfect. Humor? Perfect. Musical score? One of best ever written. Songs? Perfection. It really has the feel of someone’s master work and that is probably because it was. Thinking of Howard Ashman working on the lyrics when he was on his deathbed had to give special meaning to the whole project for all who worked on it. I have a feeling that is what made it so special.
I have seen the stage musical probably 15 times and it is a delight. Whenever they do it at local theaters by me it is sold out quickly. They had so much interest a few years ago they had like 6 performances on Saturday.
It has lessons of redemption, forgiveness, vanity, pride, ambition, dreaming, and fun but it doesn’t beat you over the head with any of them. It has us so attached to every character including the Beast that when they transition to humans it feels like a bit of a letdown. We are so used to them as candlesticks and clocks.
I honestly had forgotten how great this movie was until it was released in 3D (and I could do without the added scene for the 3D release) last year and I saw it on IMAX and sat in my chair for about 10 minutes after and marveled.
I would say it is not only one of Disney’s best but it is one of the great movies ever made.
Overall Grade- A+
No wonder it was the first animated movie to be nominated for Beast Picture and won for best score and song for Beauty and the Beast.
Hey, and it also introduced us all to Celine Dion so there’s that 😉
Oh and the other great thing is for most viewers we want to be Belle because she’s smart, kind and beautiful, but we also want to be the beast because we hope someone will love us even with all our flaws. To have that kind of relatability with one character is hard for a writer, but to do it with two is really hard. Perfection!