Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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Have you ever watched a beloved movie from your childhood, only to realize that it doesn’t quite hold up the way you thought? It’s a bit depressing, because you want to cling to those memories you hold so dear, but know that now that you’ve seen it in a new light, it will never be the same. Well, Beauty and the Beast  is definitely NOT that type of movie. No, this film doesn’t only hold up to the test of time, it actually gets better with age.

We all know the basic story: young girl is held prisoner in an enchanted castle, where the prince has been transformed into a hideous beast and can only be changed back when someone can love him for who he is inside.  What sets this Disney film apart though is the way in which it tells this story.  Quite simply, Disney outdid themselves with this film, crafting a truly beautiful and magical world that you can’t help but envelop yourself in for an hour and a half.

A few of my favorite moments (a.k.a. a summation of the whole movie, because it’s just that good):

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  1. The opening image. Tell me that seeing this doesn’t still give you chills. Coupled with the lilting music that accompanied it, this image instantly transports me back to my childhood. This was a clear indicator that Disney had stepped up their game in terms of animation and storytelling. The amount of detail included in this brief image is awe-inspiring, and I still regard it as one of the most beautiful Disney animations I’ve ever seen.

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2. Belle reading in the opening number. The townspeople all sing about how “funny” or “odd” she is but she doesn’t notice; she’s too ensconced in the story (fun fact: the description she gives of the book here and earlier in the scene in the bookshop lines up with the plot for Disney’s next theatrical release, Aladdin).  Having lost myself for days at a time in books, I can relate to this feeling. What I don’t understand is why the townspeople think it’s odd that she’s reading. I mean, at this point she’s reading to a herd of sheep.  Isn’t that the main peculiarity?

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3. The Beast’s image is one that sometimes feels overlooked, yet is really what the entire film hinges on.  The animation depicts him as truly fearsome in the beginning, growling and roaring at intruders in his castle. A few scenes later, we see him looking sweet and innocent. The animator’s ability to switch the character from scary to endearing and back again is quite impressive, and adds an entirely new level to the film.  The story is built upon getting the viewer to believe that the Beast is terrifying and unloving, while still showing that he’s capable of being kind.  The film succeeds at walking this line perfectly, crafting a truly unique hero for its film.

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4. Lumiere and Cogsworth, clearly the star side-characters of the film. I always liked Lumiere better, thinking Cogsworth was a bit stuffy, but now I can appreciate Cogsworth’s more subtle brand of humor. My favorite line of his, and indeed one of my favorites in the movie, is easily overlooked. The Beast exclaims he wants to do something nice for Belle, to which Cogsworth replies, “Well there’s the usual sir. Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep”.  Lumiere was always more flashy (pun intended) but Cogsworth was every bit as funny.

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5. The Library. I wanted to move right in and never leave. I used to daydream as a child about what it would be like to have a library this vast, filled with more books than I could ever possibly read in a lifetime (though I’d be more than willing to try).  To this day I dream of having my own personal library (perhaps on a slightly smaller scale than this, though I’d still be perfectly happy with a home that’s 90% library).  Not only did this scene fuel my childhood fantasies of building a nest of books and never leaving, but the fact that Beast gifts this library to Belle proves that he understands her in a way none of the people in town do. He accepts and embraces her love of reading, rather than scoffing at his perceived absurdity of it. It’s a subtle inclusion that can be lost on a younger viewer, but as an adult I can recognize the significance of this scene, helping show that Beast understands Belle and wants to encourage her passions, as opposed to Gaston, who views her as another prize to be won.

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6. Speaking of Gaston. Man, I hate this guy. He’s so conceited and arrogant (the exact words Belle uses to describe him, actually) and he treats Belle like a trophy.  He has no interest in her, but merely believes they should be married because she’s “the most beautiful girl in town, and that makes her the best”.  Somebody punch this guy in the face, please.  In case his actions in the earliest scene aren’t enough to make you hate him, he also tries to have Belle’s father committed in order to blackmail her into marrying him, (who does that?!)  and then leads the townspeople to storm the Beast’s castle and kill him.  Like I said, Hate. This. Guy.  I could write an entire post about Gaston and how obnoxious he is, which speaks lengths to how great of a villain he is. He’s definitely different, showing that Disney is willing to branch out the storylines for its villains as well as its heroes.

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7. The dance scene. Ohmygosh how I love this scene. The music, the sweeping panoramic views of the ballroom, that dress.  Everything about this scene is absolutely beautiful, and certainly fueled plenty of my childhood daydreams of one day dancing in a massive ballroom like this in an incredibly fancy gown.  I still get chills watching this scene, and after all these years it hasn’t lost any of the magic. (Also, side note ladies: a quick google search will show that you can actually buy recreations of Belle’s dress in wedding gown form. You’re welcome).

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8. Beast’s transformation scene: Once again, just a truly beautiful piece of animation (although I always thought the light shooting out of his toes looked funny).  The timing of the scene is perfect, with Belle confessing her love and allowing just the right pause between that and the start of his transformation, to let the weight of her declaration sink in.  It’s a gorgeous climactic scene to an already gorgeous film.

This entire movie is beautifully done from start to finish. The animation is even better than I remembered, and even tops The Little Mermaid in terms of overall quality.  Couple that with truly wonderful songs and music (as Mistah J commented, it’s pretty clear they had Broadway writers on this one) and you get a triple threat of awesomeness that is completely unparalleled by any other Disney film (at least that I’ve seen).  Without a doubt I would rank this as the number one Disney film made up until this point, and while there are plenty of other movies still to come that I remember as being amazing, I have a feeling that this will be at the top for some time to come.

-Jess

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One thought on “Beauty and the Beast (1991)

  1. I tend to hold MY “golden age” of Disney to be Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Mermaid. The four kinda swap ranks within that. Over the years, this one’s won its way to the top of that list for me–perhaps because I see so much from BOTH perspectives: Belle, and the Beast.

    Most recently, the song between the two of them–“Something There (That Wasn’t There Before)” (or whatever its title is) has been my favorite. Despite surfacey/outward/stereotypical differences and assumptions/reasons the two characters would have or want nothing to do with each other, you see that just their interacting as people is enough to get to know each other/give one another a chance.

    And of course, as you said–great music in general with Broadway styling and such.

    (Ugh…I’m gushing?!?)

    Solidifying this as one of the top-notch films, to me, IS that they actually wound up with a Broadway show.

    Said show is probably my #1 “want to see” show (followed by Aladdin and Little Mermaid) (Saw the Lion King a number of years ago).

    As always…great review/coverage, and though not a comic book, absolutely just AS welcome as a topic!

    Like

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