Tale as old as time…
Or 1991, at least.
In the early 1990s, Walt Disney Animated Features was in the midst of a renaissance. “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “The Lion King” were all released within a five year span.
“Beauty and the Beast” was the most successful animated film in Disney history at the time of its release. It was the first animated feature film to utilize computer animation. It was the first animated picture in U.S. box office history to gross more than one hundred million dollars, and the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture.
It is truly one of the greatest animated motion pictures of all time.
“Beauty and the Beast” is based on the classic fairy tale “La Belle et la Bête”, which was first published in 1740. It’s not exactly a “tale as old as time,” but 250 years is pretty close.
It’s the story of a prince, who is placed under a spell which turns him into a hideous beast. Although, this is a Disney movie, so “hideous” means looking like a handsome lion with bull horns. He is cursed to remain in that form forever, unless he can find a woman who loves him before a magical rose (acting as a prettier version of an hourglass) dies.
Of course, fate intervenes to bring him exactly the woman he needs.
Belle is an intelligent, attractive young female who lives in a nearby village. She loves to read, and sing, and twirl around as if she were in “The Sound of Music”. She longs for more than “this provincial life”, and dreams about men who aren’t morons.
You certainly can’t blame her, as her father is an absent minded inventor who’s always coming up with crazy invention ideas, and the village’s alpha male, Gaston, is shown to be a vain, pompous, inconsiderate oaf.
Gaston naturally assumes that Belle, the most attractive girl in the hamlet, will be his, but she has no interest. She seems put off by his assertion that women shouldn’t read, because that leads to ideas, and… thinking. Gaston goes so far as to arrange a marriage ceremony prior to even asking her to marry him.
The rest of her village appears to be comprised of old men and morons.
“I use antlers in all of my de-cor-ating!”
When her father gets lost in the woods, he stumbles into the Beast’s enchanted castle.
It turns out that the prince’s entire house-staff was polymorphed at the same time he was. Now they live as enchanted objects; talking tea cups and tea pots, a candle and a clock, a barking ottoman. Of course, this being Disney, none of them seem to be maladjusted to their fate.
While these happy household objects welcome Belle’s father in to the castle warmly, the master of the house is less than pleased. He throws the old man in a cell. The Beast is a very angry person.
It’s not long before Belle tracks her father down, and in a unselfish act of bravery, she offers to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. Aware of the potential for having his curse lifted, the Beast accepts.
Of course, the Beast isn’t exactly Casanova. His relationship with Belle gets off to a rocky, growling, frightening start.
Thankfully, the servants are around to help. Not only do they gently remind the Beast that she could break the curse, they coach him in the finer points of romance. While he and Belle are still hostile to each other, the house staff reach out and make her feel… welcome. They break out singing and dancing in the rousing and unforgettable “Be Our Guest”.
When the beast risks his life fighting a pack of wolves that Belle encounters during an escape attempt, things begin to soften between the two. The romance is on.
And so is the movie. The true magic of “Beauty and the Beast” lies in the slowly unfolding romance between Belle and the Beast. Atop of the fact he’s falling for her, it’s obvious he completely lacks social skills. Bit by bit, they get to know each other, get to like each other, and eventually fall in love with each other as they house staff looks on in approval.
The two eventually dance in the magical, computer rendered ballroom sequence. But that night, when Belle confesses she wishes she could see her Father, the Beast shows her a magic mirror. Seeing her father is in danger, she worries for his safety aloud. At which time the Beast releases her from his captivity, allowing her to go to her father, and epitomizing the phrase “If you love something, set it free.”
Back in the village, Belle is forced to show the villagers the Beast through the magic of the mirror. The people get up in arms, ready to march on the castle and kill the Beast, led by the headstrong and bloodthirsty Gaston. The movie builds to the basic Disney climax, which features such Disney standards as heights, lightning, a villain who falls to his… disappearance, and a death scare by one of the principals.
Of course, it all resolves itself well, and everyone lives happily ever after.
You’ll be happy too.
This is a movie filled with magical characters, wonderful songs, and a heart touching romance. It’s incredibly animated, and was groundbreaking at the time of it’s release. It remains one of the finest jewels in the Disney crown to this day, and one of the greatest animated pictures ever made by any motion picture studio.
It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See.”