#30 Beauty and the Beast

#30 Beauty and the Beast

So Belle & Beast did lockdown before it was cool?

It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I welcome you to this blog post. After a holiday halfway hiatus (say that three times fast) I’m back to blogging, and (re)starting off with one of my all-time favorite Disney films, Beauty and the Beast. The film, like the classic fairy tale, tells the story of a young woman who sacrifices her freedom for her father, finding herself imprisoned by a fearsome beast. As a reminder of format: the first half will be the production backstory and legacy of the film, and the second half is my live-blogging notes (with memes).

Walt Disney had been trying to adapt the story to a feature film since the 1930’s, and even tried again in the 50’s, but the team could never get it right. Decades later, in the late 80’s, they decided to try again. Production started in London, where the first director was based in. After seeing the first twenty minutes of storyboard reels, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to start the film from scratch. A few months after that, the initial director left the project, production moved back to Burbank, and leadership was handed over to Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, two young story animators- this would be the first time feature directing for both of them. Because of these development changes, the production schedule was shortened to two years, as opposed to the traditional four-year schedule that Disney had used for past films. Once again, the CAPS software was used to animate the film, though a dance sequence from Sleeping Beauty was reused for the final scene in the ballroom.

Katzenberg decided to bring back Alan Menken and Howard Ashman to do the music, having to convince the latter who was hesitant. Ashman was dealing with intense and personal difficulties; he had revealed to Menken after the 1990 Oscars that he was HIV/AIDS positive. Though reluctant to work on Beauty and the Beast due to both his health and his focus on the upcoming Aladdin (which was a passion project of his), Ashman brought life and soul to the story not only through his lyrics. He focused deeply on the characters, especially Beast. There was actually an instance where one of the directors had been making jokes about Beast and Ashman blew up at him.

With the story under revision, and hard work being put into the songs, it was time to choose a cast to that would properly bring the words and music to life. Broadway actress Paige O’Hara was chosen to play the lead, Belle, and Robby Benson beat out Laurence Fishburne, Val Kilmer, and Mandy Patimkin. Jerry Orbach was cast as Lumiere and Angela Lansbury voiced the sweet Mrs. Potts.

Due to Ashman battling AIDS, the pre-production team moved out to upstate New York, close to his home. There the duo began working on the many memorable songs in the film. For the most part, the voice actors recorded live along with the orchestral performance, rather than singing over an orchestral recording. Several changes were made throughout the course of production. The famous song “Be Our Guest” was originally supposed to be sung to Belle’s father Maurice, instead of Belle herself. One of the songs, “Human Again” was cut from the film, though Menken later rewrote the song and it’s scene was included in the 2002 release, as well as the Broadway show. Perhaps the most surprising change had to do with the tile song: Angela Lansbury was actually not planning on performing it as she didn’t think her voice was right. Ashman and Menken asked her to do one take, which she of course did and “reduced everyone in the studio to tears.”

As work on the film progressed, Ashman’s health unfortunately deteriorated, and eventually he was moved to the hospital full time. In March of 1991, eight months before Beauty and the Beast’s eventual premiere, some clips were shown and songs were played at a press presentation. After the presentation (at which extremely positive feedback was received) some of the crew visited Howard in his hospital room. Producer Don Hahn told him that it looked like the movie was going to “be a great success. Who’dve thought?”. Ashman answered, “I would have.” And on March 14th, the gifted and legendary lyricist passed away. Just last May, co-director Kirk Wise remarked “If you had to point to one person responsible for the ‘Disney Renaissance’, I would say it was Howard.” Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to Howard Ashman, with the full dedication reading: “To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

Six months later in September of 1991, Disney decided to take a risk and do something completely out of the box: they wanted to show the film at the prestigious New York Film Festival. It was an unorthodox request for the company to make of the festival scheduling committee. The festival was known to show serious films and introduce groundbreaking directors, not animated kids films, and to make things worse, Beauty and the Beast was only about 70% complete and still consisted of rough sketches. However, Disney’s marketing brass thought it could be a good way to drum up publicity – after all, the rough times of 80’s were still recent and The Rescuers: Down Under had just flopped. The studio had to prove that The Little Mermaid wasn’t an outlier. On the night of the festival, the team was apprehensive about how the showing would go. But, they soon learned there was nothing to worry about as after “Belle”, the opening number, “they burst into wild applause just as though they were seeing a show on Broadway live,” according to Kirk Wise. And at the end of the screening, there apparently was a moment’s pause, and then an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Beauty and the Beast premiered to rave reviews and high acclaim from critics and audiences alike. At the time, the film was the best performing Disney animated film. Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect four star review, comparing it to some of Disney’s earliest work. One review called it “the finest animated movie ever made” while another said it was “a near masterpiece.” Critics praised the music, the writing, and the animation, particularly the computer animation in the ballroom scene. The movie also cemented that Disney had reached a peak in creation and was fully in what is now known as it’s “Renaissance”. This year marks it’s 30th anniversary and it is still regarded as one of Disney’s greatest achievements.

Academy Award history was also made several times over by Beauty and the Beast. It was the first film to receive three nominations for Best Original Song; “Belle”, “Be Our Guest”, and “Beauty and the Beast” were all nominated with the latter winning. Menken also won for Best Original Score. This was also the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. While animated films have since been nominated for this award post-2009 when the category widened to ten nominees, Beauty and the Beast is the only animated film to receive acknowledgment with a five nominee slate. It was also the first musical to receive a Best Picture nod since 1979’s All That Jazz. And though it lost to The Silence of the Lambs (that darn Anthony Hopkins), it still remains the most nominated animated film (tied with WALL-E). It did, however, win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy and was the first animated film to do so.

In 1994, a Broadway show based on the film premiered, becoming the first of many subsequent Disney Broadway projects. There have been three direct-to-video films that were released in the 90’s, all of which take place during the timeline of the original movie. A live-action remake was released in 2017 starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Audra McDonald, and Stanley Tucci, with new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most beloved and critically adored Disney films ever, and it would be impossible to sum up it’s legacy in a few paragraphs. Belle and Gaston are both available for meet and greets, and the other characters are frequently seen in shows and parades. In Hollywood Studios in Orlando, there is a stage show, covering most of the film and musical numbers. In Magic Kingdom, there is an attraction where you go to Belle’s cottage and hear her recount the film’s story, with audience participation! Magic Kingdom also has an area in Fantasyland dedicated to the movie with dining locations Gaston’s Tavern and Be Our Guest restaurant, in which you can choose from three different dining rooms inside the Beast’s castle: the library, the west wing, and, of course, the ballroom. In Tokyo Disneyland, a dark ride just opened in which you join Belle on an adventure through the castle (the animatronics in this ride are supposed to be phenomenal!)

This was a long intro – there is just so much to cover about this film. The production story is interesting, it’s had so much success, and it’s one of Disney’s biggest films, so there is a lot of presence in the parks. But, without further ado, it’s time to get to the film. Again, this was my favorite Disney movie growing up and I would still rank it as my personal …#2, maybe still #1, can I have ties for #1, idk it’s hard to choose and depends on the day…anyway, I’m biased, but I think this is an especially great one to watch along as you read along with the blog. So, I invite you to relax, pull up a chair (or, ya know, sit where ever you want), as I proudly present: my film notes.

My thoughts on Beauty and the Beast:

  • Oh my god I’m so excited, this might be the most excited I’ve been all watch
  • Ugh when that score comes in
  • That shot of the forest and the castle in the distance *chefs kiss*
  • The beast has my favorite castle in all of the Disney movies
  • Is it because of the library?? Mostly, but check out those turrets yo!
  • Helping others is important, but do you think any kids got the wrong message form this story and invited strangers into their house??
  • What a power move on the Enchantress’ part disrupting the prince’s life just by changing her fit
  • I feel bad for the other innocent people in the castle
  • So the spell is made permanent if he doesn’t find love by his “21st year” and we see the end of the spell, but they say it’s been 10 years, so that means he was 11 when the curse was enacted? If time is frozen, then 10 years wouldn’t put him at 21, so…basically she cursed a child? A bratty child, but still…Where were his parents?
  • Does time work differently under the curse? Did 10 years pass in our time but the prince aged to 21 in beast years?
  • BIG SHOUT OUT to Beauty and the Beast for having the spell/curse be broken by love (both feeling love and being loved in return) and NOT a first kiss, just pure, selfless love 
  • “Who could ever learn to love a beast?” *belle has entered the chat*
  • Best Disney entrance ever? I think so
  • How long did Belle take to write her song?
  • Did she practice a few days to get her opening part to end just as the townsfolk came out to do their (what I assume is daily) bonjour calls?
  • Did the townspeople practice their responses to Belle?
  • Does Belle walk around singing her song every morning and this day the townspeople were like “okay we gotta sing back” or vice versa??
  • For the record, all these people are much ruder than Belle. True, she’s calling them boring, but they’re calling her crazy and implying that she’s not well
  • Who is the town vocal director and choreographer because they are amazing!!
  • I love the bookshop owner! He’s so nice!
  • Ahh I’ve done the old read and walk before
  • The sheepies!!
  • I love that Belle talks to the sheep
  • What…is Le Fou holding? It looks like a deer carcass…it has antlers but also a racoon tail??
  • I love the hustle and bustle scene with everyone talking over each other
  • You call this BAcon? WHAT LOVELY GRAPES
  • Ten yards! (excuse me) I’ll get the knife (please let me thROUGH)
  • THIs brEAD….is STALE! MaDAm’s misTAKEen
  • The amount of times I wanted to stand in the middle of the park of my small town and sing out “I want much more than this provincial life!”
  • Belle being so absorbed in her book that she doesn’t realize the 500 people singing behind her isn’t even fantasy, that’s just bookworm culture
  • Meanwhile, Gaston does parkour on some guys roof
  • I think it’s important for everyone reading this to know (because you can’t see it) that I animatedly lipsync everyone’s lines in that song. What a fantastic opening number.
  • You know, if it weren’t for the “bonjour’s” used in the song, there would be NOTHING to indicate that this movie takes place in france
  • Or..is it even supposed to take place in France? Or a fictional French-speaking kingdom? Because France has a monarchy…one that is quite infamous, located in Paris, and going through their own stuff during the time period of this movie
  •  I would be so mad if someone threw my book in the mud
  • I once saw someone make a point online about how Gaston is a great villain because he’s depicted as clearly bad and also says things like “women shouldn’t read” and that it’s bad if they get ideas, so kids watching associate sexism with the villain
  • I kinda feel bad for the triplet girls? Like we’ve all had unrequited crushes but ladies, he aint worth it! Drink some wine, do a face mask, and find someone better than this dude who can’t read but matches his gloves to his collar!
  • Belle is so supportive of her dad!
  • One of my favorite Disney parent dynamics
  • Listen to Phillippe!
  • Disney animals that can’t talk are always the wisest
  • “Where have you taken us Phillippe?” Phillippe said to go the other way Maurice!
  • Poor Phillipe
  • Maurice can’t possibly be the first person to stumble upon the castle, could he? Maybe no one else ever approached it but no one ever mentioned the creepy castle in the woods?
  • Maurice is taking well to the talking household items
  • The Beast’s entrance is so scary!!!
  • Run Maurice! Just run!
  • I wonder why Beast locks up Maurice and doesn’t just throw him out? What’s he gonna do with him? He seems more like the “leave me alone” type than the “you sit in there and think about what you’ve done” type
  • Maybe he’s just jonesing to throw someone in the dungeon 
  • I get that Gaston is super conceited and that the whole town loves him, but, no one thinks it’s even a bit strange that he wants to propose to and marry Belle on the SAME DAY
  • Even if they think she’ll say yes, won’t she want time to plan?
  • Her letting him fall out the door is such a boss move
  • I quoted this reprise on my graduation cap
  • How does Phillippe know Maurice is in the castle? He had run away already
  • Maurice hung around the entrance but Belle just traipses up the stairs, uh, hello Belle? Bit rude?
  • In this whole big castle she just winds up finding the dungeon?
  • Ah!! BEast!
  • “The master of this castle” the beast is so dramatic, with his cape flourish, drama king
  • Belle, queen of bravery and self-sacrifice!!
  • Did Lumiere ask the beast to give Maurice a room? 
  • Is Beast relenting so Belle rates him favorably on Yelp?
  • “You wanna stay in the tower?” “No.” “Then follow me” hahahaha
  • It’s nice that he lets her go anywhere in the castle
  • Poor Belle
  • Gaston just wasted two beers!!!
  • I like to think that LeFou just stayed home one night and stayed up writing all the things he thought was great about Gaston and made it into this song
  • I don’t think I eat 48 eggs in a year…is that why I’m so short?!
  • Aww there isn’t ONE person in town willing to help Maurice?
  • The village constable??
  • I like the detail that the dresses in the closet are the same dresses that Belle wears later in the movie
  • Man, they just LEAP onto the idea that because Belle is a girl she can break the spell
  • What if she was married?
  • I know Beast is impatient but dude it’s only the first night!
  • I think it’s so weird that Chip apparently has “brothers and sisters” but they’re never acknowledged
  • Belle is so bold, I’d be hiding in my room
  • Here we go!!
  • All this food looks so good!
  • This song is so fun, the lyrics are great, the visuals are wonderful
  • It’s so good even Cogsworth can’t help but get into it!
  • Okay, how long do you think they spent rehearsing that?
  • “If it’s not Baroque don’t fix it” LOL Cogsworth got jokes
  •  Belle! There is literally one rule!!
  • This part always bothers me because while Belle is curious, she’s also really smart and WHY would she do this? If it were a few more days in and at the part where her and Beast had become friends/were on better speaking terms, I’d get it. But right now? When all he’s done is yell at her?
  • Does she want to be locked up in the dungeon again? Or worse, what if he attacks her?!
  • The score again, so lovely, that little hint of the “beauty and the beast” melody, that’s the good stuff

Beast finding Belle wandering around his room:

  • See Belle?!! You could have gotten hurt? Just stay in your lane!
  • Belle takes on these wolves admirably
  • I know she’s definitely a Ravenclaw, but she has a little Gryffindor in her
  • Also once again, poor Phillippe
  • Did the beast hear the wolves howling and come out to help her? Or did he chase after her to drag her back to the castle and then went “oh, I guess I gotta help now”
  • I LOVE the moment where Belle almost gets on Phillippe because it’s so human and real and shows that she does have a bit of self-interest
  • I would maybe help him back to the castle but would NOT take care of him. Belle, he literally imprisoned your dad, then imprisoned you, yelled at you, got violent
  • I’m sure there’s a walking, talking first aid kit somewhere in the castle that can help
  • Eh, sorry Belle, gotta side with the Beast on this one. You’re right that he def needs to control his temper, but he wouldn’t have had a temper to control if you just followed the ONE RULE
  • I also love that they’re arguing, goes against the Disney formula, and there’s never been another couple that really disliked each other at first
  • How long is Belle at the castle for? Is this the next morning?
  • “I’ve never felt this way about anyone” have you ever….known anyone?? Other than family and close servants?
  • Again, how long has it been?
  • He’s so excited to make her happy
  • This library is the best!!!!
  • My happily ever after would be having that library
  • Lmfaoo the beast eating is so funny
  • I love that Belle slurps from the bowl to compromise and help him out
  • Haha here’s the “am I falling in love with an animal?” song
  • I do like that they establish a friendship – snowball fight, reading together
  • Belle and Beast have major Lizzie/Darcy Pride and Prejudice vibes, my two faves
  • There’s a deleted scene where she’s helping to reteach him how to read and I wish they’d kept it in
  • Belle’s ballgown is so pretty!!!
  • And this song is so pretty
  • Okay, my happily ever after will also include a ballroom
  • This ballroom is animated EXQUISITELY!! The details of the floor, the columns, the painted ceiling, the chandelier, gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous
  • My favorite bit of animation in ANY Disney movie is the pan down from the ceiling to the dancing
  • I love how her dress twirls with her
  • The stars in the nightsky behind them
  • This scene is perfect. Literal perfection.
  • Can they hear Mrs. Potts?
  • I really really wish that there was some kind of indication of how long it’s been. I feel like it’s gotta be a few weeks, but you never know in Disney time? It could literally be three days
  • It would be so nice if he was like “Have you been happy here for the last [insert time here]” or if she said “These last few [days/weeks/months] have been nice but…”
  • I wonder why she never asked him to leave? I guess because she’s noble and true to her word
  • Okay, so we see Maurice stumbling through the woods. He left on the night that Belle was taken. So, it’s gotta be only a few days, Maurice couldn’t have survived more than that, he probably couldn’t even survive til a week!
  • Urg, I’m sorry, but you can’t fall in love after three days, not a deep love, not “this person is the most important thing in the world to me” love 
  • I like that the beast changes, but I don’t believe that a complete 180 in character would happen after only a few days
  • Disney, do the “let your love interests fall in love over more than a few days” challenge!!!
  • I know this is not a hot take, it’s just the, like, only thing to really complain about when it comes to this movie
  • The fact that he lets her go really shows the change in his character
  • “He’s different now, Papa! It’s been three days, that’s enough for someone to become a completely different person!!”
  • “He’d never hurt anyone” girl he rampaged at you two days ago
  • But does the mirror give directions?? I thought it just showed the beast, but is it a GPS as well?
  • Is the basement not connected to the rest of the house?
  • “Take whatever booty you can find” hahahaha
  • I LOVE watching the townspeople get their butts kicked by the household items
  • It’s like IKEA attacks
  • Good job Chip!
  • Aww poor Beast
  • Belle! Great timing!
  • Aw yeah time of the Beast to rally!
  • The fact that he lets Gaston go is very admirable, for that alone he should be able to change back
  • Get out”
  • Why did he never tell Belle his real name?? Like….she was really just calling him Beast?
  • Ugh Gaston you slimy coward
  • Bye bye bye, enjoy the fall!
  • What…*sniffles* an emotional death scene
  • So, I know the whole point of the story is that it’s on the inside that counts but…what did Belle mean by “we’re together now” like….was she really going to make out with an animal????
  • Belle would probably do very well on Love Is Blind
  • Man, good thing that she said “I love you” out loud and didn’t just think it, and thank god she said it the second she did
  • Time for a firework show

Some guy who has been stuck in the back of a broom closet for 10 years trying to figure out how to walk again

  • Ahaha the fact that Belle gives the suspicious glance after the Prince says “Belle, it’s me” always gets me like girl he just changed in front of your eyes do you doubt him?!!
  • “It is you!” no duh
  • She’s gotta be hella relieved that she can kiss him without it being weird now
  • Wait didn’t Enchantress make the petal stop falling at his 21st year, does that mean it’s his birthday?
  • So much to celebrate!
  • Maurice, what’s with the casual vest? This is a fancy ball
  • One last time: I LOVE the stain glass window at the end!!
  • And now…the smooth jam version, take us out Celine AND Peabo Bryson
  • “To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

Wow, I love that movie so much. All the songs are bangers, the animation holds up and is still gorgeous, and the story is really lovely – two people becoming better versions of themselves together with the ultimate lesson that no matter how you look on the outside or how much money you have, it’s what’s in your heart that makes you a good person. Unless you have a dope library, than you’re automatically cool. Also, Belle made being smart seem cool, and with Gaston (who openly talks about how he doesn’t believe women should read or think for themselves) being the villain, it showed that misogyny and toxic masculinity are bad. Overall, it may be a “tale as old as time” but it certainly never gets old for me.

Next week, and yes, it will be next week, The Renaissance continues with Aladdin!

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