Released: November 1991
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Run Time: 84 Minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Genre: Animation, Musical
Paige O’Hara: Belle
Robbie Benson: The Beast
Richard White: Gaston
Rex Everhart: Maurice
Jerry Orbach: Lumiere
David Ogden Stiers: Cogsworth/Narrator
Disney has a rich history of storytelling that goes all the way back to the late 1930s with Snow White And The Seven Dwarves. Colorful characters, catchy music and extraordinary animations are what Disney is known for. When it came to animated movies, there really was no one else in town. At least no one that animation the way Disney did. Some of Disney’s best works came out during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s with films like Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, and 101 Dalmations. These were some of the best movies ever made. Disney had a very long streak of really good movies up until the 1980’s. That particular decade was a bit of a rough patch for Disney, because they ended up some pretty dark movies like The Black Cauldron, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Return To Oz. While these movies weren’t awful by any stretch of the imagination, people were not overly receptive of Disney doing dark material. This was also the decade when famed animator Don Bluth left Disney and started making his own movies like An American Tale and The Land Before Time. Both of which ended up being better than what Disney was releasing that decade. In the 90’s, Disney was in a new Golden Age of animated films with movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. However, it was Beauty and the Beast that really gave Disney that push they desperately needed to stay relevant.
The film begins as we are told of a prince who lives in giant castle. This prince encounters a haggard old woman and drives her away, only to reveal a beautiful enchantress who curses the prince and his castle. Being turned into a horrendous beast, this prince is forced to live in seclusion until he can learn to love others. Meanwhile, at a nearby town, the arrogant and boisterous Gaston has declared that he will marry Belle, the daughter of an eccentric inventor. After being humiliated by Belle, Gaston still has his sights set on her. At the same time, Belle’s father Maurice is on his way to a fair for his newest invention when he gets lost. After being chased by wolves, he ends up at this mysterious castle where he becomes imprisoned by the beast. After Maurice’s horse comes back without him, Belle goes to look for her father when she happens upon the same castle. She encounters the beast and strikes a bargain with him to release her father. While this particular kind of story isn’t particularly original, it is still very compelling in its own right. While the original story may have originated about 4,000 years ago, it’s been adapted across the centuries into novels, poems, plays and more recently, movies. Beauty and the Beast is not just a love story, but it is also a story of redemption. While there was a TV series starring Ron Perlman in the 80s that was pretty good, it was Disney’s 1991 film that gave the story its clout. It’s exciting, funny and romantic.
What really sets this film apart from any other Disney movie is its characters. While there are elements of a damsel in distress in this film, Belle is not your typical damsel in distress. She’s beautiful, smart and funny. Yet she’s kind of looked down upon by other people because her father is a very eccentric but kind-hearted inventor. Belle carries herself with confidence and is willing to make sacrifices to protect the ones she loves. Gaston is clearly the villain of the picture, but his desires are not about global conquest, but rather to win Belle’s heart. He’s arrogant, callous, and he has a big chin. In the castle, we have some furniture and other objects that come to life because of this particular curse. The two that truly stand out are Lumiere and Cogsworth. Lumiere is a candlestick holder and Cogsworth is a clock. These guys are absolutely hilarious. They are the animated equivalent of Abbott and Costello. The way they bounce of each other is side-splittingly funny. You also have Mrs. Potts and Chip who were transformed into a teapot and cup respectively. The beast is at first terrifying because of his immensely bad temper and the way he looks. He’s absolutely monstrous. The more he interacts with Belle, the more he begins to change.
The animation quality of Beauty and the Beast is extraordinary. The characters are all uniquely designed with their own personalities. The background artwork is something to truly behold. The attention to detail on the forests and the castle are immensely impressive. When you have such uniquely animated characters set against such gorgeous backdrops, you have an exceptionally beautiful film. Visually, this movie is unlike any other that Disney had attempted before. One of the most interesting things about this particular movie is Pixar Entertainment’s involvement here. Yes, THAT Pixar. This was one of the first movies that Pixar had worked on while they were still a part of Disney’s animation studios. The one scene where this is really prevalent is the ballroom scene. The ballroom itself is CGI while Belle and the Beast are hand-drawn animated. It works so well, that the ballroom scene has become one of the most iconic shots in movie history. It’s grand and its spectacular.
The one thing that really made this movie special for me was the music. The music which was done by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman gives the film its emotional core. This isn’t the first that music was used to progress a story. It’s happened for decades. The way that Beauty and the Beast does it is beyond exceptional. The score by Alan Menken is absolutely astounding, but it’s the songs that are used that most people will remember. The opening song that Belle sings not only reveals facets about her personality, but is also funny at times, but incredibly charming. Be Our Guest that’s sung by Lumiere is definitely one for the history books as one of the most extravagant musical pieces I’ve ever seen in a Disney movie. But the one song that, even after 25 years, can still affect me on an emotional level is the film’s namesake, Beauty and the Beast. This song captures the spirit and essence of the film perfectly. These are songs that I just don’t get tired of listening to. In fact, Beauty and the Beast won not only two Oscars for the music, but two Golden Globes as well. That’s how good the music is.
Are there any downsides to the movie? Honestly, there isn’t any. I can usually pick out problems and issues right from the get-go, but Beauty and the Beast gets everything right. From the voice acting and music to the absolutely wonderful animations and character designs, Beauty and the Beast is, for the lack of a better word, perfect. I don’t go around calling movies perfect, because most don’t get everything right. Beauty and the Beast does. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the movies I grew up watching as a kid, but everything about this movie resonates with me on so many levels, both emotional and intellectual. The messages in this movie about not judging people on their appearance is not only NOT heavy-handed, but also done in a way that’s extremely entertaining. In my honest opinion, Beauty and the Beast belongs in everyone’s collection. It’s funny, exciting, scary and charming all at once. Beauty and the Beast is truly a tale as old as time.
Final Score: 10/10.