Ranking Disney: #3 – Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Tale as old as time.
Song as old as rhyme.
It’s Beauty and the Beast.
The film begins with a stained glass prologue, as our narrator tells us:
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.”
“But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold.”
“Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away.”
“But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.”
“And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress.”
“The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart.”
“And as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle and all who lived there.”
“Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world.”
“The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.”
“As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
Then we meet Belle, with perhaps the best princess introduction Disney’s ever given.
Is it weird that I know all the lyrics to “Belle” even though I’ve watched Beauty and the Beast only like four times since I was a kid?
Belle sings about how she doesn’t like living in her “poor provincial town,” where the same thing happens every day. She prefers to spend her time reading and using her imagination, which her “positively primeval” neighbors find abhorrent and strange. Especially Gaston, that wonderful putz, who is so narcissistic it’s incredible.
She then goes home to her father, Maurice, the wacky inventor, who is thought of as a crazy person. Though he’s more of an eccentric. He goes off to take his new woodcutting invention to the fair.
Can I just stop to say that I’d love to live in a town that looked like this?
Anyway, Maurice ends up getting lost in the woods (which look a lot like the woods from The Wizard of Oz. The only thing missing is a sign that says, “I’d turn back if I was you.” Actually, the more I think about it – they look a lot like the woods in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Which is funny, since Gaston looks a lot like Brom Bones), and is attacked by wolves.
Because apparently wolves only live in the creepy, fogged portion of the woods.
He then ends up at the Beast’s castle (you’d think people would know that it’s there), and meeting all the servants, who, as part of the curse, were turned into household objects. Beast doesn’t take kindly to strangers, so he locks Maurice up in his dungeon. (Not a euphemism.)
The next day, Gaston has made preparations to marry Belle, setting up an entire wedding and reception outside her house before he’s even proposed to her, on the assumption she’ll say yes. (You’d think she’d hear all this stuff happening outside.)
Thing don’t go – exactly as he’d planned.
Belle then reprises her song (which really is fucking incredible), and then sees her father’s horse Phillipe, rushing back (having ran away and left Maurice in the woods alone).
She goes to Beast’s castle (apparently wolves are selective in their attacks) and looks around for him. Lumière immediately sees her as the girl who can break the curse. They then lead her into the dungeon –
Let’s pause to reflect that I just typed that sentence. (Also, so I don’t have to do it again in the Motifs section — direct reference to Sleeping Beauty.)
And then, as she sees her father, Beast shows up. She agrees to take her father’s place as Beast’s prisoner if Beast lets him go. Beast makes her promise she’ll stay there forever. (The joke being that she will actually end up staying there forever at the end of the story.)
Beast sends Maurice back home, and comes back to see Belle, who is crying because he never let her say goodbye to her father, whom she’ll presumably never see again. Beast, who still has some humanity left, feels bad about this, and despite having growled at Lumière at the suggestion of giving Belle a room, brings her to one.
Thus begins all the scenes of Beast having absolutely no idea how to talk to a woman and the servants trying to hook the two of them up.
Beast takes her to her room and tells her she’s joining him for dinner. It’s not a request. She then cries in her room. Also, for some reason, it’s snowing outside. It only rained yesterday, and didn’t seem that cold outside during the day. My, how the weather is fickle.
We then cut to the tavern, where “Gaston” is performed.
Some songs wish they were this good.
Just to run down the Gaston checklist:
Not to mention, the coup de grace, one of the greatest lyrics in the history of music:
“When I was a lad, I ate four dozen eggs / Every morning to help me get large.”
“And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs / So I’m rougly the size of a barge!”
What a great drinking song.
After the song (right when it’s over, too. These people have impeccable timing), Maurice runs in, saying Beast has captured Belle. But they all assume he’s crazy, so they have a big laugh over it.
But the Gaston gets to thinking – check out this shot. They try to hide it, but he’s doing the creepy villain fingers (or as I like to call them, “Walken fingers”).
He comes up with a plan, and then reprises “Gaston” after he comes up with it. More things for the checklist:
My what a guy, Gaston.
Back at the palace, Belle is met by all the servants. Mostly the women servants. Mrs. Potts and the wardrobe. They try to befriend her and all that, but she says she won’t go down to dinner.
Beast comically attempts to be nice and ask her to come down, but she refuses. He declares that unless she eats with him, she’s not allowd to eat. Cogworth then has Lumière guard the room to see if she comes out.
Later that night, while Lumière is fucking the maid – no joke, he’s actually fucking the maid (he’s totally Maurice Chevalier, this candlestick) – Belle comes downstairs.
This then leads to the spectacular “Be Our Guest” sequence.
This sequence is a wet dream for any Busby Berkeley fan.
After the number, Belle wants to look around the castle. Specifically the west wing, where Beast has expressly forbidden her to go. (Lots of walk and talks happening there, I bet.)
She goes up to the west wing and sees the enchanted rose, and then Beast shows up and tells her to get the fuck out of there.
She then flees the palace, saying she can’t stay there anymore, despite her promise. And on her way out, she’s attacked by wolves. (Oh, so now they attack…)
Beast then shows up and fucks up some wolves, Neeson style. Though he does get injured in the process. Belle – having a heart, takes him back to the castle to nurse him.
Back at the palace, Belle shouts right back at Beast, getting the best of him too, which is nice. And he even says “you’re welcome” when she thanks him for saving her life.
We then cut to the tavern, where Gaston meets with Monsieur D’Arque, the head of the asylum.
He bribes D’Arque to throw Maurice in the asylum unless Belle agrees to marry him. Though as they get to the house, Maurice has already gone back to the castle to get Belle.
Back at the castle, Beast is starting to like Belle. He shows her his library, and we also have the “Something There” sequence.
Note: in the Special Edition, they include the song “Human Again,” after it, where the servants dance around, talking about what they’ll do when they’re human again while cleaning up the palace.
I’m glad they cut this out from the theatrical release. It’s unnecessary. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in current Disney that slows down the films.
Anyway, we then cut to Beast being bathed and them getting ready for the ballroom scene. And then we have that ballroom scene, with Angela Lansbury singing “Beauty and the Beast” over it… there are no words. Just look at the screenshots.
After they dance, and Beast is going to profess his love, Belle says she’d like to see her father, even for a moment.
And Beast takes her to his magic mirror, which can show him anything. So Belle asks to see her father, and it shows him, lost in the woods, looking for her, sick and alone. Beast, despite knowing he has very little time left, lets her go see him, releasing her from their agreement.
(Can someone make a GIF of her looking into the mirror like this and seeing something fucked up? That would be awesome.)
Belle leaves to go find her father, and brings him home. It’s at this point Gaston comes with Monsieur D’Arque to commit Maurice to the asylum. Gaston tries to coerce Belle into marriage like he planned, but she instead uses the magic mirror (which Beast gave her so she can look in on him) to show them Beast.
Gaston, still hurting from the rejection, riles them up into a mob to go kill Beast (which, again – a lot like Brom Bomes in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – but to different, yet oddly similar, ends). They march off to the castle (somehow knowing exactly where it is, for a group of people who didn’t even know of Beast’s existence ten minutes ago) to go kill him.
It’s a lot like the “Savages” sequence in Pocahontas (in fact, that’s probably directly referencing this).
The mob reaches the palace, and a big fight happens between all the servants and the mob.
Belle and Maurice, who were locked in the cellar by the mob, are freed by Chip, who uses Maurice’s woodcutting machine to bust through the cellar door. And they make their way back to the castle.
Gaston meanwhile fights with Beast up on the roof.
And Beast has the chance to kill Gaston, but doesn’t. And of course Gaston does what all villains do when spared – tries to kill Beast again.
And this then leads to the way all Disney fights must end – with the villain falling off the building.
Gaston also kind of goes out like Alan Rickman in Die Hard, doesn’t he?
Apparently no one dies like Gaston too. (Boom! Nailed it!)
Beast then lays, dying, in Belle’s arms, and right before he dies, says, “At least I got to see you one last time.” And this causes her to fall in love with him and profess her love. (Note to Tangled: See what I mean? Always bust the romantic line right there. It’s an automatic one-way ticket on the Pussy Express.)
And the flower wilts and everyone is sad, but then Beast transforms into a human. (Not sure how him transforming into a human has any bearing on whether or not he’s alive or dead. If you die in Beast mode, do you die in the real world, too?)
And then all the servants are made human again too, and for some inexplicable reason night becomes day. I understand the symbolism, but does magic also deal in metaphors?
And the film ends with Beauty and… well, the Prince, waltzing in the ballroom. (Note: They totally just reused this exact animation from Sleeping Beauty. There’s no way they didn’t.)
Also, holy shit, this motherfucker has a lot of servants. This ain’t exactly a kingdom, neither. It’s a castle outside a small town. What the fuck kind of business was his family in? What, did they steal gold from Jerusalem or something? Anyway, it’s all happy and shit. Let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on the happily ever after.
Let’s not even pretend like this didn’t belong here.
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Official Disney Number: #30
Run Time: 84 minutes
Release Date: November 13, 1991 (premiere)
November 22, 1991 (general release)
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $145.9 million in its initial run and $219 million all-time domestically, and $425 million all-time worldwide
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- “Belle,” performed by Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Alec Murphy, Mary Kay Bergman, Kath Soucie and Chorus
- “Gaston,” performed by Richard White, Jesse Corti and Chorus
- “Something There,” performed by Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers
- “Beauty and the Beast,” performed by Angela Lansbury
- “The Mob Song,” performed by Richard White and Chorus
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- This was the first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture (in a fucking stacked category to boot. It was this, Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Bugsy and The Prince of Tides. And replace Prince of Tides with Barton Fink, Boyz N the Hood or even Thelma and Louise and you have one of the top three or four strongest Best Picture categories of all time.) It lost to The Silence of the Lambs. (I should also mention that this was Disney’s second Best Picture nomination after Mary Poppins.)
- The film won the Oscars for Best Original Song for “Beauty and the Beast” as well as Best Original Score. (It lost Best Original Song for “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.”) It was also (aside from Best Picture, which I already mentioned) nominated for Best Sound, which it fittingly lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Duh duh duh duh duh.
- This was the first Disney animated film to have a fully developed script before they started animating the film. Usually they developed the story through storyboards, and they strengthened and tweaked it as they animated, but here, since the previous films of the studio went way over budget, they decided to just write the entire script first and then animate it.
- Walt attempted to make this film in the 30s and again in the 50s, but gave up because it was too difficult for his story team to adapt. (Plus, I’m sure the 1946 version gave them fits, it being so good.) Then, after the successes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid, they tried again.
- Angela Lansbury didn’t think her character should sing the title song. They recorded one version anyway, just as a backup. Good call on using it.
- And apparently they thought to cast Julie Andrews as Mrs. Potts, which would have been a cie choice, though her accent doesn’t have the flavor that Angela Lansbury’s has. I like their choice better.
- I like that Linda Woolverton (the screenwriter) used Katharine Hepburn from Little Women as inspiration for Belle and not the 1946 film version.
- Apparently songs take up 25 minutes of this film and only five minutes of it does not feature any musical score at all. (Now that’s a musical.)
- The film has — wow, really? — 1,295 painted backgrounds and 120,000 drawings.
- This was the first Disney film to have a pop version of the film’s main song play over the end credits.
- Also — just to point out — this is one of two songs that Celine Dion sang that won Best Original Song in the 90s. (Take a wild guess what the other one is.)
- This is too touching not to include: “The film is dedicated to Howard Ashman, the lyricist, who died before the movie’s completion. At the end of the final credits, you can read the dedication: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.””
- Patrick Stewart turned down the role of Cogsworth. (That’s two for him, isn’t it? Didn’t he also turn down Mermaid because of scheduling conflicts?)
- When the film was turned into the Broadway Musical, the opening night cast included Susan Egan, who went on to voice one of my favorite (and you’ll see just how much of a favorite in a few days) Disney characters — Meg, in Hercules.
- The prologue says that the rose will bloom until the prince is 21. And later on, Lumière says that they’ve been the way they are for ten years. So that means the woman who turned Beast into a beast did so to an 11-year old boy. (I know he was a dick, but — really? 11? Maybe he was like that because he didn’t have any parents to teach him anything. That’s kind of a fucked up thing to do to a person. Did she think it was the servants’ fault for not teaching him better? What’s that all about?)
- They wrote Cogsworth for John Cleese, but he turned it down. (And he wouldn’t provide a voice in a Disney film — DreamWorks, yes, but not Disney — until he was the narrator for Winnie the Pooh.)
- And finally, just to point out how big of a deal it was — no other Disney film before this had ever been nominated for Best Picture. None of them really got any kind of Oscar nomination better than Best Original Score or Best Original Song (or maybe the occasional Best Sound nomination). And, to boot, it’s the only animated film that got nominated for Best Picture in a category with only five nominees. You can say that Up and Toy Story 3 also got nominated for Best Picture, but they didn’t do it in a category of only five films. It’s much easier to get on when there are extra spots for things nobody would vote for. To get on in a category with only five nominees (and that year, to boot), that’s a really big accomplishment.
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1. Look at this opening shot. Classic Disney:
2. Object framed by foliage:
3. Look at that framing — the ivy — man, that’s gorgeous.
4. Character distorted in object. Usually they do it in bubbles or something. But they do this a lot.
5. Characters crossing a log/downed tree.
6. They’ve used this exact same shot a bunch. The first time I noticed it was in — Melody Time, I think. The Christmas segment. They’ve repeated it in other things, too.
7. This looks like The Shire:
8. Disney cliff shot:
9. Disney tower shot:
10. Negative coloring (oh, you knew it would be here):
11. Love me a good animated downpour:
12. Characters watching violence reflected in silhouette. Another thing they do. (See: Lady and the Tramp)
13. An exact same shot set up from one in Snow White. One of the most classic Disney shots you’ll ever see.
14. I love that they show the dialogue in silhouette. That’s so brilliant.
15. “Yeah, Gaston’s gonna have a fuckin’ rape party!”
16. “You ready? You ready? You ready, bitch?”
17. “The hills are alive, with the sound of music!”
18. Power ballad! (“You’re here! There’s nothing I fear!”)
19. Love this shot. Reminds me of that shot in Alice in Wonderland. (Not the same as it, but it reminds me of it. Even so, it’s a gorgeous shot.)
20. Looks just like the dungeon in The Black Cauldron.
21. Reverse window shot!
22. Disney princess crying on the bed. Classic Disney.
23. What the fuck is that guy in the coat doing?
24. Obvious Fantasia reference.
25. What is this, Triumph of the Will?
26. They do this shot a lot, too. Obviously most reminiscent of Cinderella, but they’ve used it in other stuff.
27. Different camera placement, but this is exactly like Gone With the Wind.
28. Just like the dancing flowers in Fantasia‘s “Nutcracker” sequence.
29. Disney princess running out of the room. They love this shot.
30. Running down the stairs with the cape — beautiful image.
31. Yes! Snow coming in! I love when this happens!
32. Oh man, look at her hair — all windswept like that — beautiful image.
33. This is the appropriate reaction to, “Close your eyes, I wanna show you something.”
34. Disney princess talking to animals.
35. This reminds me of the “Dance of the Hours” in Fantasia. Aside from that, it looks really terrific.
36. Just like the Cowardly Lion.
37. It’s a coatrack that plays violin!
38. Look at the silhouettes behind him. That’s great animation!
39. Characters reflected in the water. (They’re really running the entire gamut on these motifs, aren’t they? No wonder this got nominated for Best Picture.)
40. How often do you see characters framed by lightning?
41. Oh, you sly devils — I caught that Battleship Potemkin reference!
42. Holy shit, look at this image — it’s incredible.
43. Love me some fireworks. Just like Mermaid, only it adheres to the film’s color scheme — they use reds and blues, with Beast being a more peaceful blue, and Gaston and the villagers being red. So once Gaston is gone, they get rid of the red. It’s great continuity.
44. Is Lumière copping a feel?
45. Another beautiful image:
46. Look at ‘dem titties! Peasant titties!
48. UN-LIMITED POWERRRR!!!!!!!!!!
49. “Why the fuck did everybody start singing?”
50. These next few shots are simply going to be titled: “Framing.” Look at the framing of every single one of them. It’s either classic Disney framing, wonderful symmetrical framing, or quite simply a flat out gorgeous image (like the one in the library). The framing of this film is breathtaking.
51. And I’ll end with some beautiful images I didn’t get to post anywhere else.