Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast is yet another historically significant film for Disney, being the first animated feature film to get a Best Picture nomination (something really special, seeing as the Best Animated Feature category did not exist and all animated films could get nominated for were music), and it was essentially what cemented the Disney Renaissance, perfecting what had been established by The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid had established the Disney formula of belligerent sexual tension, consistently great musical numbers (in the age of Menken, which still exists to this day), and memorable characters. Plus, there's just a sweetness to this movie that is near impossible to resist. Watching Beauty and the Beast for the first time in so many years also brought back a wave of nostalgia for me, as my school did this musical in my grade nine year. I would be lying if I said I didn't adore this movie, but I do have a few problems with it. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives in this timeless classic, and we'll talk about them now. Like I have said in my reviews of the other Disney movies, most everyone has heard this story one way or another so a spoiler warning would be pointless.
Beauty and the Beast starts with a stained-glass prologue about a vain and cruel young prince, who encounters an old woman who offers him a rose in exchange for shelter from the cold. He scoffs at her and she reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress. The prince tries to apologize, now that he's aware that she's hot, but the witch instead turns him into a hideous beast and says that he will stay that way if he does not learn to love and be loved in return by his twenty-first birthday. The enchanted rose serves as a timer of sorts, as when the last petal falls, it will signify that he will be a beast forever. The witch also places a curse on all inhabitants of the castle, turning them into house objects like a candelabra or a clock. The beast lives in exile, horrified by his appearance, and has fallen into a deep depression.
This brings us to one of the best introductory musical numbers in all of Disney-dom, where we meet an intelligent young woman named Belle. We learn that she is looked upon as 'weird' by the townspeople, because even though she's good-looking, she's smart and she likes to read (seen as unusual because she's female and the town seems to abhor reading, which leads to a question I have that I will mention later). She is also being chased after by the brutish town hero Gaston, who wants to claim her for his wife. Belle lives with her father Maurice, an eccentric adventure who heads off for an inventing fair and gets lost in the woods, which is where the two stories intertwine.
We are introduced then to Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip, the main sentient houseware characters and easily the most fun in the movie. They delight at having a guest in the castle, but the Beast is not so happy about it, and he imprisons Maurice in the tower. After rejecting Gaston's proposal, Belle realizes something's up after her father's horse comes back without her father and she rides to the castle. In an encounter with the Beast, she agrees to take her father's place and stay in the castle forever. The housewares are delighted to have a guest in the castle, and when Belle comes down to get some food (priorly refusing to eat dinner with the Beast), they lavish her with a full extravagant meal (and one of the most recognizable songs of the last twenty years).
The game-changer in the relationship between Belle and the Beast happens when Belle wanders into the west wing of the castle (the one place the Beast told her not to go), and discovers the enchanted rose. The beast frightens her into running away and she promptly gets chased by wolves. The Beast chases off the wolves, and Belle finally stands up to the Beast about his temper issues. What follows is the gradual softening of the beast, and the realization that there may be "something there that wasn't there before" (to quote a song from the movie). This leads to an interesting parallel between the Beast and Gaston (we'll talk about that later though). The romantic climax of the movie is the ballroom scene (the signature scene of the movie, and one of the best staged scenes in the company's entire animated oeuvre). After the ballroom scene, Belle uses the magic mirror to see her father, and she finds out that he is sick. The beast willingly lets her go, and he sinks into a deep depression knowing that he will remain a beast forever and not have his one true love.
Meanwhile, Gaston has been formulating a plan, simply because he won't take no for an answer. He plans to get Belle's father thrown in the nuthouse for his yammering about the beast, and only offers to clear it up if Belle marries him. When Belle corroberates her father's stories, Gaston denounces her as crazy and when shown the grim image of the Beast, Gaston gathers the townspeople, who seem to hang on his every word, to lay siege to the castle and kill the Beast. The objects successfully fight off the villagers, but the Beast is far too depressed to fight Gaston. However, when he sees that Belle has come back, and she tells him to fight, the Beast gains enough strength to fight Gaston, but does not kill him. However, this gives Gaston an opportunity to stab the beast before falling to his demise.
The Beast is on the brink of death and Belle finally admits her love for him (whereas he had admitted it after she left). The Beast is resurrected by the Power of Love, and he is also turned back into his normal human self. Cue the objects turning into their human selves and Belle and the Prince living happily ever after. I enjoy the love story in this movie, and this is coming from someone who doesn't really like romance-based movies (spare for a few). Some think that this has a bad message, in that a guy may start out an asshole but it's your love that changes him, and if he doesn't change, then you're not working hard enough. I disagree, because the Beast only starts to come around when Belle stands up to him and Belle only starts coming around when the Beast calms his temper and doesn't act like an asshole to her.
The calming of the Beast leads to an interesting parallel between him and Gaston. The Beast starts out angry and violent, whereas Gaston starts out as a jerk. However, as the Beast grows nicer and more loving, Gaston grows more and more crazy, culminating in the fight between him and the Beast where he plummets to his death. This is what I think makes Gaston one of the more interesting Disney villains, the fact that he's not inherently evil, and he doesn't have supernatural powers or legions of minions. He has one minion, a beaten-down little schmoe named LeFou, but he just starts out as a jackass who is used to getting what he wants, and he goes crazy when he can't get it. Therefore, in my opinion, Gaston is one of the best Disney villains.
Moving on to the romantic leads, we have Belle and the Beast (another Disney Prince without a name). Belle is a decent enough character, and one of the better characters Disney had produced in that time. She was intelligent, but looked upon as an outcast because she loved reading and she didn't think her father was crazy. The one thing that really annoys me about her character though is her typical "I Want" Disney Princess motivation. By that, I mean Belle expresses that she wants something, but that want is annoyingly vague and never really accomplished. Her song just says that she wants "more", but the perameters of more are never defined. It's not really a big deal, the vagueness of Belle's desires just kind of bugs me.
Next, we have The Beast, easily the most nuanced character in the movie. We see three shades of him: the angry and violent side that was the result of his grotesque appearance and his priorly 'beastly' personality before that whole incident with the witch, the kinder and softer beast that is the result of Belle standing up to him, and the depressed beast that lies at the bottom of angry beast and becomes more visible when Belle leaves. All three shades are portrayed excellently and the Beast is one of the most well-rounded characters that Disney has ever produced. The last characters that I want to talk about are the Objects, easily the most fun characters. The interplay between Lumiere and Cogsworth is fantastic, and they themselves are excellent and hilarious characters on their own. Never mind that only Lumiere has a French accent, they're all just awesome characters. I have one question about Mrs Potts though. Why would she let anyone drink out of Chip. I mean, he is a teacup, but he's still her kid. But all in all, this film has some of the most memorable characters of all time, and some of my personal favourites as well.
The film also has some of the best songs that Disney has ever written, and some of the most recognizable songs of the last two decades. There's nary anyone who hasn't heard the song "Be Our Guest" and even the titular "Beauty and the Beast" (especially considering that one has been redone so many times by so many different pop artists that it's impossible not to come across in some form). Both of those songs are impeccably staged, and easily the most lavishly staged out of all the songs, but they aren't my favourites of the bunch. My favourite is the opening number, titled "Belle". I like how it is staged, I like the multi-layered approach to the song, I just love everything about it. The mob song is my second favourite of the bunch, also an excellently staged affair. Needless to say, the songs are fantastic and deserve to be listened to and remembered for years to come.
Another thing this movie has going in its favour is the lush animation. This has some of the best scenery in any Disney movie, and it shows in the lush castles, beautiful landscapes, and excellent character design. You can tell that Disney was starting to experiment with CGI with this movie, especially in the ballroom scene (with an obvious CG chandelier) but it's mostly hand-drawn, and the details of the castle are just amazing. I know I have lavished undying praise on this movie without giving it a perfect score, so I figure I should explain myself. There are several holes in the story that don't entirely detract, but are certainly noticeable. First of all, the terms of the curse affecting all living things in the castle must have applied to every flea, rat, and dust mite on the premises due to all the talking housewares. I guess this because no way would a spoiled brat like the Prince let all of those people live in his castle. Secondly, why would a town that abhors reading have a reasonably successful bookstore. Belle's patronage can't be enough, I mean, where would she get the money to pay for the books, she doesn't have a job. Those plot holes really aren't that big, but they are noticeable and detract from the movie a little.
All in all, there is one word to describe Beauty and the Beast, and that word is timeless. This is an absolutely timeless movie, and it should be shown to all future generations. Anybody who has not seen this movie should see it now and anyone who hasn't in a long while should see it again. Minor flaws aside, this is an excellent movie and deserves its place as the cementer of the Disney Renaissance and one of the best Disney films of all time. I didn't remember loving this movie as much as I do, as it had been years since I had last viewed it. Lush visuals, excellent characters (including a complex villain), a compelling romance, and an all-around sweetness that doesn't take away from the film like it could. Other than what I have said, there really isn't much more to say, so I guess we'll end the review on this awkward ending.
P.S. I'm really enjoying this Disney marathon, kind of contradicting to the horror theme that this month has. To keep the balance between old and new age Disney, I have to watch one more film in the renaissance before I can watch any more of the old ones.