Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia

Positive change comes from within…

PLOT –

A young woman, Belle, is searching for adventure in her life. Something new and exciting. She finds it when she stumbles upon a castle in the woods where her father is being kept prisoner, and trades his life for hers. Now she is forever captive to the master of the castle: a monstrous beast, whose beauty can faintly be seen from within.

One of the best plotted films so far. Disney has finally perfected their Broadway formula: no moment lasts too long, but plenty beg to stay. The tone of the film is especially good, managing to even swing wildly from gags to drama and back without breaking stride. As I type, I find it difficult to reiterate why this plot is so well done. As far as highs, there are many, many highs (basically everything). As far as lows, some moments of slapstick get annoying at points but taper off as the film goes on (the fight scene agains the villagers, and LeFou in general), and some cartoony violence does not mesh well at all with the dramatic subject matter at hand. A few minor character choices to make the plot points shift into place fall somewhat flat, (Maurice wanting a shortcut through the dark scary woods comes to mind) but other than those scarce moments, the film is perfectly plotted.

The film is an allegory for several social issues: the pressures of marriage and social status, dealing with being something you truly aren’t, breaking from life’s monotonous spiral, how to express complex feelings, living apart from loved ones, and welcoming people back into your life after being shut inside for so long (but we’ve all dealt with that last issue as of this writing).

The film is dedicated to Howard Ashman who passed away from AIDS in 1991, and his fingerprints are all over the plot. Like The Little Mermaid before, both protagonists (Ariel and the Beast) struggle with wanting more out of their lives, being trapped in social confines that do not conform to who they truly are, so instead they are ‘social outcasts’ that stay on the fringe of their societies to cope. Both films allow these characters to change in their own over the course of the film instead of what society wants them to be. This ‘choose your own destiny’ plotting comes up a lot in the Disney Renaissance, emboldening the burgeoning Millennial Generation (or as I’d like to refer to us, 90’s Kids) to shoot for the stars and live out their dreams.

My PLOT RATING is 9 / 10.

CHARACTERS –

Belle (Paige O’Hara) is excellent. She has a compassion and care for others that is unparalleled, and a zest for life that is boundless. She exudes warmth, and always tries to find the good in everyone she meets. She’s also a quick thinker, very intelligent, and has a curious streak that sometimes overrides safety. Belle is brave, and stands up for her beliefs, not swaying for anyone. Her name means ‘beauty’, and while that very aptly describes her, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. She isn’t just ‘beauty’, she’s well-rounded in all aspects, but not boring at all. She just wants more in life and unhesitatingly sets out to get it. She’s quite possibly the best Disney female protagonist so far, if not in the whole Canon.

The Beast (Robby Benson) is somewhat the opposite. He’s selfish, cruel, violent, angry, and bitter… … … But he changes for the better. Having been locked in a monstrous form for years and not having anyone show him love and compassion but instead, fear, the Beast’s personality takes a while to thaw to the human within, and he’s lucky that Belle is the fire to melt it. His character goes through several changes throughout, from terrifying monster to grumbling annoyed teenager, to compassionate, caring man, to depressed, hopeless furball, switching every so often as the situation dictates. He really is a nuanced character, and his relationship with others improves as the film goes on, making him one of the most changed characters (physically and mentally) in the Canon. His appearance is an amalgamation of several animals together, but still has that look of ‘cool’ and ‘cuddly’ but he never crosses over to ‘creepy’ or ‘disturbing’.

Gaston (Richard White) is the polar opposite of the Beast. He’s conventionally attractive, has a heroic set of muscles, lantern jaw, and wears bold colors (red, yellow, and black), and is the hero of and adored by everyone in town (no, literally everyone. Seriously.).

He’s the heroic protagonist here, right?

In any other film, normally, he would be, but in this he’s the villain, which is a really interesting twist on the formula. He’s also different from most villains in that, instead of being an outcast, he’s the star of the show, and the main characters are the outcasts. The townspeople are sheep, and Gaston is their shepherd, leading them blindly into agreeing with his increasingly insane plots and demands.

Gaston’s main goal is getting Belle to marry him, and this is no easy feat, as Belle has the wherewithal to reject him in clever ways at every turn. Gaston stalks and harasses her throughout the film, and is also most likely the poster boy for toxic masculinity and more of a ‘realistic’ villain in the vein of Lady Tremaine or the human villains from Pinocchio (and later, more recent Disney Villains of the 2000’s): Villains that use society for their own selfish gains instead of bettering society as a whole without the use of magic or fantastic skills. That being said, he does not seem to use intelligence to sway anyone (he’s really a social idiot), preferring to let his muscles and actions do the talking, as well as drawing upon primal fears in “The Mob Song” instead of any logical conclusions or facts.

LeFou (Jesse Corti) is Gaston’s sidekick. He provides comic relief, and is barely stupider than his friend, but honestly, I don’t think the film really needs him. He serves a narrative purpose that would be better served if he was a different random townsperson every time. It would strengthen Gaston’s hold over the town, and let the audience know that no one is safe from Gaston’s grasp. Having LeFou’s role be relegated to singing “Gaston” instead of being more prominent would help strengthen Gaston’s character instead of having a sole person be his permanent sidekick. He also has a lot of violence and cartoony slapstick dealt to him, and thankfully that type of comedy gets phased out over the course of the next few films.

Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) and Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers, also playing the Narrator) have all the hallmarks of being those two annoying time-wasting sidekicks, but they aren’t that at all. For one, they are sincere. They are part of the main plot instead of having a side plot, and their bickering is humorous and never gets old. They are truly support characters, both in their roles in the castle, and in the film, helping Belle and the Beast get together, not only to break the spell but to see true love bloom. They are also balanced out by Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce), who allow for some more loving emotion and kindness throughout the film. While these four aren’t the most rounded characters, they do have some of the best songs in the film and help round out the cast doing their jobs of support and humor excellently.

There are many, many great side characters in the film (some that can cross over to main characters) like Belle’s loving but bumbling and stubborn father Maurice (Rex Everhart), the creepy and awesome insane asylum owner Monsieur D’Arque (TONY JAY!!!), the comical and sweet Wardrobe (Jo Anne Worley), and the cute and fun Footstool that acts like a dog (Frank Welker).

My CHARACTERS RATING is 9 / 10.

DIALOGUE –

The dialogue in this film is modern without setting a date. It properly conveys the emotions and weight of every line said, and the emotions are powerful in this film. Trust, care, love, hope, sadness – all subtly engrained in every word. The dialogue doesn’t feel forced, expository, or extraneous, it just is.

AND DID I MENTION THE MEMES.

So many quotable lines. So many memorable moments. So many memes, particularly from Gaston. That man has more memes about him than he is “covered with hair”. This film is where the dialogue becomes something truly special, going above and beyond the boundaries of itself and into immortality. There is so much care and love by the actors who have put their hearts and souls into each line read. It’s commendable.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 10 / 10.

EFFECTS –

The effects in this are beautiful. The first shot of the film is gorgeous (one of my favorite Disney opening sequences). A babbling brook next to a small cliffside, then we get closer to reveal the iconic castle. The use of lighting to show emotion is excellent, especially the lighting effects at the end of the film post-final battle. When we first see Belle, the lighting brightens up and that transition is stunning. Maurice’s choice of path is also the introduction of fog effects and more mood lighting that is differently colored within the same shot, showing the safe path and the dangerous path within the camera’s pan.

The camera movements are stellar here, particularly in the “Beauty and the Beast” portion, sweeping throughout the room, showing off the architecture that looks in-place enough to be traditionally animated, but is actually CGI. What CGI may be used otherwise blends well and isn’t noticed, at least while watching the film. The multitude of plates, dishes, and mops moving in sequence and interacting is also a feat to behold. The digital CAPS animation system seems better here, and the painted backgrounds and foreground characters look more like they are from the same film rather than popping out of the background. The use of shadow is also a huge plus here, with realistic shading and depth to the characters. The facial expressions and acting is also subtle, and conveys more emotion than outwardly seen (a common running theme with the film).

My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.

MUSIC –

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are at it again, with a mystical, magical score that fits the film perfectly. For once, I can picture the score in my head without having to go and listen to it or put on the film. A mix of orchestra with a french twist (teased in The Little Mermaid with Chef Louie at times) now able to give its all. The choir is excellent too, changing from bombastic to somber at the drop of a hat. Oh yeah, and one more thing:

THIS FILM WON AN OSCAR FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCORE.

THAT… Is how good the music is here.

“Belle” – A wonderful introduction song to the characters and setting. Peppy and full of life, with a lot of fun lines. The reprise is also great, pulling out a lot of Belle’s inner emotions and unspoken feelings.

“Gaston” – Sung by Le Fou, Gaston, and the Bar Patrons, Gaston is a fun romp. It’s not sung as well or as professionally as the rest, but it sure is memorable, and still pretty great. The amount of memes that come from this song alone… Oh boy…

“Be Our Guest” – The showstopper, and let me say that again: the showstopper. Filled with tens of moving objects, beautiful lighting, and more Broadway atmosphere than you can shake a spoon at, Jerry Orbach gives this his all.

“Something There” – A nice duet between Belle and the Beast that slowly grows their relationship, showing that it takes time to get to know someone, and is nice to see in a Disney film, where usually the romantic leads would be married within a week. This film instead takes the time (most likely months) to grow that relationship. Good progress, Disney, good progress.

“Human Again” – A cut song from the film that helps expand the time period of the titular relationship, as well as gives some perspective from the castle staff, containing a cute scene where Belle and the Beast read Shakespeare, showing his willingness to learn and her patience with his growth. Available to watch with the 2002 DVD Release of the film.

“Beauty and the Beast” – Perfect, and makes me want more of it every time I listen to it. Some may say the song is too short, but that only makes listening to it again that much sweeter. If you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye….

“The Mob Song” – Similar to “The Headless Horseman” from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this song is a tale of fright not meant to discourage the listener, but embolden and empower them. It’s a cry for reform, but in this case, involving violent mob justice instead of peaceful resolution, another running theme of the film.

“Beauty and the Beast (Duet)” – Céline Dion and Peabo Bryson give the song a different meaning, similar to the duet from “Something There”, but with a more romantic connection. Beautiful.

My MUSIC RATING is 10 / 10.

OVERALL –

Going into this film, Beauty and the Beast was not my favorite Disney film. Now it’s probably somewhere in my Top 15, maybe even Top 10. This film is basically perfect, and I never saw it because I was so much more interested in the insane humor of Aladdin or the deep drama of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but now I find this film to be a perfect balance between those two extremes. Mostly dramatic and heartfelt, with some comedic and slapstick moments in-between.

The plot is an excellent allegory for being outside of the norm, and has so many great lessons to take away from it. The characters are wonderful and serve their purpose well, becoming iconic role models for generations to come. The dialogue is top-notch, being endlessly quotable and memorable, with varied and different inflections mixing together. The animation and effects are perfection, focusing on the tiniest of details and employing some amazing fog and rain that ups the ante (as always). The music is perfect, and may even cause you to tear up.

What a powerful film, and one of the best in the Renaissance. Also one of the last that Howard Ashman worked on before his death in 1991. This film rings with those who feel like they’re trapped in the world with no one to turn to, people who feel lost, people that feel broken.

Let me tell you right now: You’re Perfect.

To all else: Call someone you love, someone you haven’t seen in a while, a friend, coworker, neighbor, family member. Tell them you love them and that they matter.

We all deserve love. Every day. Especially you.

Image: Disney, Mickeyblog.com

My OVERALL RATING for Beauty and the Beast is 96%.

Next time:

YOU AIN’T

NEVER

HAD A

FRIEND

LIKE

MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me!

HA!

Stay tuned!

 

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