It’s a tale as old as time, but in 1991 Disney told it anew, enticing us all into the magical, enchanted world of Beauty and the Beast. Singing teapots, romantic French candelabra, a stiff, tightly wound English clock and a fearsome, grumpy beast with a heart of pure love- this film seemed to have it all. Add to that Belle- a beautiful girl from the local village who you just know would make a fabulous Princess, her father who is a completely loveable dotty inventor and Gaston- a giant of a moron who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Sprinkle over some songs that seem to belong on the Broadway stage and a sweet, charming tale of falling in love with a person’s inner beauty, and you have all the makings of a true Disney classic.
Somewhere in France, an elderly beggar woman offers a Prince a rose in exchange for food and shelter in his chateau. The Prince is an arrogant sort of chap, and he refuses. Well. Never cross a woman when she’s hungry should be the lesson here, because in response, the beggar woman turns him into a beast and his servants into household items. She leaves him with a magic mirror which enables him to see faraway events, and an enchanted rose. To break the curse put on him, the beast must fall in love before the last petal on the rose falls. If he doesn’t, he will remain a beast forever.
No pressure there then.
Fast forward ten years, and after the credits as the film opens we see Belle walking through her “Little town” singing about how it is full of “little people, waking up to say….Bonjour!” The film suddenly bursts into life, a bright, vibrant catchy number which is one of my favourite musical songs of all time. I know all the words- which is not that unusual for me with Disney songs, but gosh, I really do love this number. In fact, let it be known from the very start, all the music in Beauty and the Beast is incredible. I don’t think any Disney film can top it for entire musical score. Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Frozen…they all have their strong numbers but Beauty and the Beast has the whole package.
So Belle lives in a small village and, we learn, loves to read books and float away to far off dream worlds which makes the other village inhabitants think her strange- but no one says anything because Gaston- the village idiot, I mean, lothario, thinks her the most beautiful girl in the whole village, and decides she will become his wife.
Yes, that’s right, he decides. Belle isn’t keen, because she’s a feisty young thing and also because Gaston laughs at her father, who is regarded as a crazy inventor. But Maurice- Belle’s beloved dad- has invented a wood chopping machine and takes it to the fair in a neighbouring village. On his way home he becomes lost and after being chased by wolves, he and his horse make it to the beast’s castle, where Lumiere, the candlestick, Cogsworth the clock and Mrs Potts the teapot take him in and offer him shelter. The beast is a little protective over his domain, and doesn’t take kindly to visitors, locking Maurice in a dungeon. When the horse returns to Belle she realises her father is in trouble and sets off to find him.
When she finds the castle, and the beast, she offers to take her father’s place and the beast accepts despite Maurice’s objections. He returns to the village and begs for help, but he is laughed out of town.
Meanwhile, up at the castle, the beast has refused to give Belle any dinner on account of her being upset, so Lumiere kindly shows her to the dining room and invites her to “Be Our Guest.” Plates are spinning, mops are singing and Lumiere is in his element as the elegant emcee- the song is simply divine and I defy anyone not to watch it more than once.
After dinner comes a tour of the castle, and the beast gets angry when she tries to enter the forbidden west wing, where the enchanted rose is encased in a glass shell. Belle tries to run away and gets deep into the forest where the beast saves her from a pack of wolves and becomes injured in the process. Back at the castle, Belle gently cleans his wounds, and the beast starts to develop feelings for her.
Time moves on by way of song, and we see Belle and the beast slowly start to fall in love with each other. It’s sweet, it’s charming and it should be sickeningly OTT and cliché, but it just…isn’t. It works so well, and their tale is told so beautifully that you can’t help but feel so upset and hurt when things go wrong.
After a perfectly romantic evening, including dancing in a starlit ballroom, Belle asks the mirror to show her Maurice, and she sees him dying in the woods trying to rescue her. The beast decides to let her go, and in doing so, loses the only chance he had to break the curse. He gives Belle the mirror to remember him by. Once Belle has rescued her father and taken him home, Gaston arrives to have Maurice carted off to the insane asylum for talking too much about the beast. Thinking she is being helpful, Belle uses the mirror to show the crowds the beast, but it shows him angry, upset and roaring his pain. Gaston and his crew then set off to kill the beast, complete with pitchforks and torches.
Gaston confronts the beast while the servants fend off the rest of the villagers, and the beast realises that Belle has come back for him so finding his inner strength, he starts to fight back. The fight continues out onto the castle roof, where Gaston fatally stabs the beast before falling to his death. As Belle cradles his head tenderly in her arms and the last petal on the rose falls, she confesses her love for him and the curse is lifted. One more thing…guess what?
They live happily ever after.
Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991 to critical acclaim, and became (at the time) the most successful animated Disney release. The third in the much revered ‘Disney renaissance’ period, Beauty and the Beast was based on the traditional French fairy tale of the same name. Disney himself had first tried to adapt the story into an animated feature back in the 1930’s and again in the 50’s, but was unsuccessful each time.
Following the success of The Little Mermaid, Disney decided to try for a non musical release, but Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg discontinued that idea and ordered that the film be a musical similar to The Little Mermaid. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken wrote the songs. Sadly Ashman died of an AIDS related illness eight months before the film’s release, and the movie is dedicated to his memory.
Famously, Beauty and the Beast became the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. The film was also nominated for five other Oscars, including Best Original Score, Best Sound and three separate nominations for Best Song. (I told you the music was good!) It won Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its title song.
In 1994 Beauty and the Beast became the first of Disney’s animated films to be successfully adapted into a Broadway musical. It received great commercial success, but the critics were not as kind. Even so, it ran for 13 years and won a Tony, and paved the way for a whole host of Disney films to transfer to the stage.
When this film was released I was initially reluctant to watch it. Then my sister got the sing along video (yes, one of those) and the music played constantly. That was what drew me in, and there I stayed. As I said at the top of the piece, the music for this film is incredible. The storyline, the animation, the humour and the romance are all perfectly played out, but it’s the musical score which lifts the entire piece.
It could be, given the rather staid storyline, cheesy and boring but it’s not. It’s beautiful, heart warming and it really gives a lovely message, which is that you should fall in love with a person’s heart and not form preconceived ideas based on looks alone.
I haven’t seen the Broadway musical, and I never will. Those who know me will know I have HUGE problems with humans dressed up pretending to be either animals, mythological beasts or inanimate objects, which is why I’m keeping everything crossed for the news that Disney are set to make a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. I’m telling you, they’d better tread carefully with it or they’ll have one angry Disney fan on their doorstep. If I get one whiff of a human head poking out of a gold candlestick, I’m out.
I hold this film very dear in my heart, as does my entire family- especially my husband who, as a grown man, has chased Belle around Disneyland Paris for a picture on numerous occasions. And now I’ve publically shamed him.
Ah well. Until next week!
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