beauty and the booty

‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991)

by Kirk Wise &  Gary Trousdale

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A film as great and universally beloved as Beauty and the Beast is a sign that Disney will always find a way back. After a streak of poorly received features and the occasional box office bomb, they came back big in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and even bigger a few years later with Beauty and the Beast, which also happens to be one of the first Disney films my mother showed me.

When I was young and dumb(er), I was still fond of it, but would claim otherwise because I considered it to be one of the Disney films made for girls. It was a movie for people like my two cousins who, at the time, always wore pretty dresses and owned a disturbing quantity of doll houses. Sexist implications aside, my opinion was also ignorant in the sense that, sure, the main character Belle has become included amongst the Disney princesses, but she only wears her trademark yellow ball dress for a sole scene and the rest of the film is exciting, touching, artistic and fantastical enough to be enjoyed by a person of any biological structure. Aside, perhaps, from people who prefer the much darker novel by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, but I believe we can let the family friendly company do their thing.

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In this animated version, the heroine is a young woman named Belle (Paige O’Hara), whose fascination with books and her relation to her inventor father Muarice (Rex Everhart) has made her an outcast to the folks of the small French town where she resides. That is with the exception of Gaston (Richard White), a local hero with muscles larger than his brain but not his ego. He is madly in love with Belle, but Belle sees through his heroic facade better than most women and looks for more in life.

And more in life she certainly gets, as her father gets lost in the forest and ends up in the castle of a fearsome Beast (Robby Benson) who wants nothing but to brood in solitude. Belle finds her father and puts herself in the Beast’s shackles in his stead. The castle is, of course, cursed after the young prince that the Beast once was refused to let a hideous old woman into the castle to shelter herself from a terrible storm. The woman revealed herself to be a beautiful enchantress in disguise who, after observing the shallow nature of the prince, turned his servants into talking furniture, gave life to inanimate objects and turned him into an ugly Beast. He is also destined to die if he doesn’t learn the value of inner beauty and true love, which would also lift the curse, before the magical rose he was given by the enchantress withers away. But who could ever learn to love a Beast?beauty and the beast rose

Belle hates the Beast at first, but things start to change after the Beast saves her life one night and she discovers a new side of the monster. The progress of their love is shown over a passage of time, represented by the shifting weathers and the colors of their clothes. However, when Maurice makes it back home to warn the townsfolk of the monster and Gaston learns of it, things quickly take a turn for the worst as torches and pitchforks are raised, Frankenstein-style.

The Beast’s talking furniture servants make up the cast of comedic side-characters and we all remember and adore them to this day. Lumiére, the charmful and snarky candle stick (Jerry Orbach); Cogsworth, the sycophantic clock (David Ogden Stiers); Mrs. Potts, the motherly teapot (Angela Lansbury); Chip, the naive teacup (Bradley Michael Pierce), and several others, including a walking wardrobe and a feather duster whom Lumiére appears to have a thing for. Other characters include Gaston’s pudgy sidekick LeFou (Jesse Corti) and a corrupt asylum owner voiced by the legendary Tony Jay. The world of cartoon villains was never the same after Jay left us.

The film is part of what is considered the Disney Renaissance, a time in the Disney Animated Canon where some of their most beloved films were released. The Renaissance era includes such films as The Lion King, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and, well, really anything released in-between The Little Mermaid and Tarzan. Unless Fantasia 2000 is included, which I strangely see few people do.

Directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and with music by the legends Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, its place in the Renaissance is most surely earned. Also understandable is that this is the first animated movie to be nominated Best Picture at the Oscars, which I’m sure solidified a whole new generation’s faith in the magic of Disney films. The movie has spectacular musical numbers, not only for the top class quality of the songs but also for such gorgeous visuals as those of the infamous ballroom sequence (the CGI in this bit was one of Disney’s earliest collaborations with Pixar), as well as unforgettable characters, a never-aging story, grade A animation, well-drawn scenery, and a valuable message for anyone who sees it. Every song, every character, every line of dialogue, every eye-catching visual and drawing; everything in this movie has come to mean something to me nostalgically. Others deserve an equally meaningful movie in their life.

I advice everyone to, quite simply, keep watching this movie. Keep exposing your children to one of the finest exemplifications as to why Disney means so much to so many. And finally: watch the film around Christmas this year and pretend the Christmas-themed sequel was never a thing. It’s better that way, trust me. (And yes, I might have posted this because I just saw the first video in Doug Walker‘s annual Disneycember marathon, what of it?)

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