THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LOVE STORY EVER TOLD.
One of Disney’s most popular films is dedicated to the memory of Howard Ashman. The lyricist died of AIDS the same year as Beauty and the Beast was released and Disney thanked him in the closing credits with the following words: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” A moving tribute to an Oscar-winning artist who helped the company realize its potential as a full-blown, money-making Broadway partner.
Once upon a time there was a young prince who turned away an ugly old woman who came to his castle looking for shelter. She punished him by turning him into a hideous beast; she also gave him a rose and told him that he must love and be loved before all the petals have fallen off or he will remain a beast. The story then takes us to a picturesque little village where we’re introduced to Belle, the stunningly beautiful young daughter of an inventor. She’s courted by the handsome Gaston, who’s admired by every other woman in the village, but this is a girl who loves reading books and simply has no intellectual interest in the smug womanizer. One day, her father is lost in the woods and ends up at the Beast’s castle where he’s imprisoned. Belle finds her way to this dark place and discovers that the Beast’s servants have all been turned into (very lively) clocks, cups, kettles and cupboards. Belle offers to take her father’s place and the grumpy Beast agrees to the deal. The inventor puts up a fight but is kicked out of the castle…
Songs are funny, sweet and very engaging
This is truly a classic fairy tale, and in 1991 the world seemed ready for it. Beauty and the Beast became part of Disney’s renaissance that had begun with The Little Mermaid and made a lot of money, even garnering several Oscar nominations (the first animated film ever to get a Best Picture nod). It certainly has interesting aspects. This was the second animated feature film to use computer-generated animation; its effect is obvious in the sequence where the Beast is dancing with Belle in the ballroom and the camera seems to capture the background with an unusually steady, smooth and lively hand. It looks marvelous, and the animators handle the new technology with good judgment, never allowing it to clash with the hand-drawn work. The story may seem a little too conventional for adult audiences, but the filmmakers balance the traditional approach with dialogue and jokes that are more contemporary. That goes for some of the lyrics as well. This is largely a Broadway musical (even before it was actually turned into one) and it would never have worked without the efforts of Ashman and Alan Menken (who also wrote the excellent score). Together, they came up with a bunch of songs that are funny, sweet and very engaging; some of them are complete show-stoppers even, such as “Be Our Guest” and the title tune. The numbers are intentionally staged to evoke memories of Hollywood’s golden age of musicals. Veterans Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury shine as two of the enchanted servants; Robby Benson’s voice has been appropriately altered to seem more… beastly (except when he’s performing the title tune with Paige O’Hara).
Nasty villains, curses, thick villagers and innocent beauties. There are times when one is almost willing to give up on Beauty and the Beast. But the filmmakers always have one more ace up their sleeve. The final battle between the Beast and Gaston has us definitely rooting for the cursed one – and for love to finally conquer. That’s no small feat.
Beauty and the Beast 1991-U.S. Animated. 85 min. Color. Produced by Don Hahn. Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Screenplay: Linda Woolverton. Story: Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Music: Alan Menken. Songs: Alan Menken, Howard Ashman (“Beauty and the Beast”, “Be Our Guest”, “Gaston”, “Something There”). Voices of Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), Angela Lansbury, Richard White, David Ogden Stiers.
Trivia: A song called “Human Again” was cut for the original version, but recorded and added to a newly animated sequence for a 2002 rerelease of the film. Released again in 2012, in 3D. Julie Andrews was allegedly considered for the part of Mrs. Potts. Later a Broadway musical. Followed by a TV series (Sing Me a Story with Belle (1999)) and two direct-to-video sequels, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) and Belle’s Magical World (1998). Remade as a live-action feature, Beauty and the Beast (2017).
Oscars: Best Original Score, Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”). Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Original Score, Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”).
Last word: “The release in 1991 was extraordinary. Everywhere it showed, there was an outpouring of appreciation. Later, when they announced the Oscar nominations, it was like an out-of-body experience: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ became the first animated film ever to be nominated for best picture. I tossed my coffee away and went running around the garden in my underwear. When you get into animation, you just think you’re going to sit in dark rooms and make funny drawings. You don’t expect to be going to the Oscars and sitting next to Barbra Streisand.” (Hahn, The Guardian)