Original Release: November 13,1991
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Directed By: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Notable Actors: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury
The last few weeks here a the Vault Disney project have been pretty tough. I’m sure my most loyal of readers have noticed that I’ve been a bit down on our recent films. I criticized Oliver and his friends, put down Ariel and ranted and raved about the latest film in our side project, Vault Vader. Where has the positivity gone? You might be asking. Where is the happiness that used to frequent this blog? Today’s entry might feel a little different. We’re going to talk about a lot of history as this one has some pretty touching tales behind the scenes. There won’t be much in the way of a review or a critique here, and that’s for one very simple reason. Beauty and Beast is absolutely perfect.
As early as the success of Snow White, Walt Disney wanted to make a film based on Jeanne-Marie Leprince do Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast. An attempt was made to create the film early on in the Disney legacy but, sadly, the story continuously ran into road blocks and problems and was eventually shelved entirely. Beaut and the Beast would not be made within Walt’s lifetime. It wasn’t until during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that Disney studios re-optioned the film, setting it to be the next film crafted by the London studio that was knee deep in Roger Rabbit. Richard Purdam was brought on to direct a non-musical version of Beauty and the Beast and production began. Disney CEO Michael Eisner insisted that Beauty and the Beast be the first Disney animated film to have an actual script and not start as storyboards. This script was written by Linda Woolverton and it was immediately sent to storyboards, but upon his viewing of the project, Jeffery Katzenberg, Disney Studios Chairman, trashed the entire film and forced the team to start from scratch, this time making it into a musical.
Purdam retired from the project following this restart. Looking for a director, Disney studios asked Ron Clements and John Musker, who were just finishing up work on The Little Mermaid, but they declined the project. At last it fell into the hands of Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. Katzenberg also personally asked Mermaid song-writers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to create the music for the film.
Howard Ashman, a musical talent unlike any other, had been working on a project for some time called Aladdin and was reluctant to join Beauty and the Beast. Much of this was because his health was failing. Ashman was dying of AIDS. In order to accommodate Ashman, pre-production took place in New York near his home, instead of London. It was during this time that the household characters such as Lumiere and Cogsworth were created in order to give more life and personality to the film. Gaston was also created to give the story more of a true villain.
The team was flown back and forth between New York and California so that Ashman could approve the storyboards, but none of them were told why this had to happen or why Ashman couldn’t simply come to the studio. Ashamn never got to see the finished film, passing away eight months before its release. Before his death, however, members of the team came to his home after a successful test screening and told him, “The film will be a great success. Who’d have thought?” He responded simply, “I would.”
While we’re on the topic of the music of the film, another story that brings joy to my heart is that of Angela Lansbury. I’ve talked about adoring her before, and this film really cements that fact. Originally, the title song Beauty and the Beast, was going to be something of a rock song. This was later changed to be a ballad and Lansbury was asked to perform it. She declined though, saying that her voice wasn’t suited for the song. Menken and Ashman were persistent though, asking her to just perform one take, just to see how it would sound. She agreed and came into the studio. In a single take, Angela recorded the song we hear to this day in the film, causing several members of the team to break down in tears at its beauty. The song was later nominated for and won the Academy Award for best Original song.
Another song, which just so happens to by one of my favorites, Human Again, was initially dropped from the film as some of the lyrics didn’t make sense within the timeline of the film. When Beauty and the Beast became the first Disney film to get a Broadway version, Human Again was retooled and rewritten to be incorporated into the musical. Upon the Special Edition release of Beauty and the Beast in 2002, the song received the animated treatment and was added into the film. While the film definitely survives without this song, it is a very welcome addition, matching the pace and grandeur of Be Our Guest.
Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film ever to be nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. It received six nominations in total and holds the record for most Academy nominations for an animated film, a title it shares with Wall-E. It also won a handful of other awards and was a huge success. To this day, the film also sits as #1 on many “Best Disney films of all Time” lists.
Beauty and the Beast is absolutely stunning. From the rich music to characters that are incredibly fun and lovable to a story that’s equal parts romantic, funny and creepy, this film literally has it all. The relationship between Beast and Belle is easily the most complex relationship in a Disney film to date. Belle is such a strong heroin and knows what she wants. She’s great at standing up to Beast and she has a heart of gold. I also appreciate that she’d intelligent, a character who values learning and books, as opposed to just being beautiful all the time. She falls for Beast, not because he’s the prince or because she thinks he’s attractive, but because she gets to know him. Together, they bring out the best in each other and that is wonderful to see in a film.
The Beast is brilliantly written and animated. He’s terrifying, sure, but he’s also adorable at times and I love love love the insecurity he feels around Belle. He’s a bit like a child in the way he just wants things to go his way and it’s because of this that we really get to fall in love with him in the same way Belle does. He’s a character that’s so flawed, yet so fun to watch try to learn to be better. I love that he is animated in such a way that he can go from being this horrible monster, to being something of a teddy bear within seconds, keeping us always on our toes as to what flavor of Beast we’ll meet next.
And Gaston! Gaston is the perfect villain. He’s charming and hilarious but just so much fun to hate. I think he’s representative of a lot of guys though, who don’t really know how to treat people and are a bit self absorbed. He’s not even evil, just a big jerk and that is what makes him so memorable. He really just wants to get his way and get the girl and he’s so very bad at that mission. He has one of my all time favorite songs in this movie and it’s just great to see him finally fall, a death of his own doing.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I will say it once more. Beauty and the Beast is perfect. I literally have no bad things to say about it. It is my favorite Disney movie of all time (Not to be confused with my favorite MOVIE of all time, which we will get to at some point) and it was a joy and a pleasure to watch. To this day, it stands as a masterpiece that deserves every bit of fanfare and every award it’s ever received. Be it the great writing, or the perfect animation or the music which stays with us long after we leave it, this film is the culmination of a bunch of beautiful puzzle pieces fitting wonderfully together and creating something that transcends animation all together. Isn’t it so easy while watching this film to forget you are watching a cartoon? If you ask me, Beauty and the Beast is the cornerstone to which all animation will be judged from this point going forward. The Renaissance is looking pretty great so far.
Also, oh my goodness! We’ve been doing this now for 30 movies!!! More if you count all the extracurricular films we do here. Thank you all for coming along on this journey. It has been so much fun and there is still so much to go! You are all amazing, handsome, beautiful, cute, funny, intelligent and cool and I don’t tell you enough so there you go. Now, moving on.
Next Up: Aladdin
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!