Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beauty and the Beast


Disney's proven time and again that a tale as old as time is most attractive to children when stuffed with with stock anthropomorphic characters. Sure, we may like Cinderella or The Little Mermaid as stories, but to whom would we have turned for laughs save for Gus the mouse or Sebastian the crab? It's just not the same without musical numbers featuring animals or ordinarily inanimate objects singing and dancing their little hearts out. We may never have considered that a teacup could be adorably naive or a feather duster sexy, but Disney is always there to show us the way.

In the 90s Disney Animation Studios was at the peak of its renaissance period, churning out hit after hand-drawn hit on an annual basis. The films were of consistently high quality and offered much in the way of catchy music, stunning visuals, and much-needed kid-friendly comic relief. Kids and adults alike enjoyed these movies; adults for the quality and kids for the cuddly, easily merchandisable characters. It was an especially easy sell for young girls, banking on two magic words: Disney princesses. Put those girls in skimpy enough outfits (Jasmine, anyone?) and you'll have adolescent boys on board, too.

Compared to many other Disney animated features, Beauty and the Beast played it pretty safe in sticking with the original story. Beauty and the Beast is based on the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bete and follows the 18th century version fairly closely. Disney, though, has a charming way of Disney-fying everything in its path, meaning inserting the aforementioned anthropomorphic characters whenever deemed necessary. In the case of Beauty and the Beast, Disney dreams up a full menagerie of living decorative homegoods to entertain us, giving us a world filled with French-accented candelabras and wise, matronly teapots. They might not advance the plot any, but they are pretty damn cute.



Disney worked and reworked their version of the story many times, with the studio considering a Beauty and the Beast movie since its early days. Most critics agreed that it was indeed worth the wait; Beauty and the Beast remains one of the best-reviewed animated films of all time, not to mention the only one to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Their final product was a cinematic bouillabaisse of their various attempts at telling the story.

The movie opens on the Beast's backstory, depicting him as a cruel and selfish prince who is unkind to others. After he gives the boot to a sorceress in disguise as a beggar, she turns it back on him and turns him into some unholy cross between Chewbacca and a Minotaur. As a consolation, he gets a handy magic mirror (that serves little purpose other than to move the plot forward later in the movie) and a magic rose. The rose will die on his 21st birthday, leaving him a beast forever unless he can learn to love. That's kind of a downer, huh? Not exactly how I'd like to have spent my 21st birthday, if I remembered it. I'm pretty positive it didn't involve an eternal fate as a hideous monster, though.

We jump to Belle and her nutty inventor father, Maurice, an oddball family living in the French countryside. Belle is extraordinarily beautiful, loves to read, and has a sophisticated vocabulary that includes words like "provincial". The town's resident beefcake Gaston seeks her affection based on her looks, overlooking what the rest of the town perceives to be her strangeness. Belle, though, just isn't having it. As romantic as it sounds to have your home decorated in early big game hunting, I think I'd pass too.



Belle's father, Maurice, is on his way to some wacky inventors' fair when he takes a wrong turn and ends up at the Beast's secluded castle. I'm not sure if any of you ever saw the Disney on Ice version, but those bats he encounters in the woods were downright scarring. Clearly, I'm still not over it. Anyway, Maurice is pretty taken by the talking household objects, who are really the prince's faithful servants under the same curse. The Beast isn't going for the whole generous hospitality thing and locks Maurice in a cell. He agrees to trade his new prisoner for his daughter when the ever-goodly Belle offers to take his place.

The Beast tries to be hospitable, but it's obviously not really his thing. Belle denies his dinner invitation, so he tells his decorative servants not to feed her. In what may be the greatest act of defiance ever performed by a candelabra, smooth-talking Lumiere pulls out all the stops for her. He even throws in this incredibly entertaining song-and-dance routine:



Fast forward a little and we're at Belle's near-escape. She and her horse encounter some vicious wolves, the Beast steps in, Belle nurses him back to health. One thing leads to another and the two are friends. He gives her a library, you know, like you do to express your friendship. I suppose we should give him a break, he's a furry horn-sporting shut-in, it was a kind gesture. They have a little on-site date where she wears an enviable gold gown, the Beast tries his best to be gentlemanly, and Mrs. Potts provides the song:



Remember that magic mirror that served to set up a later plot point? Well here it is. Belle looks in the magic mirror and sees her father dying and insists she must rush to his side. The beast lets her go, despite the fact that his rose is nearly withered. Needless to say, his servants are pretty pissed. Sure, it was nice to let her go, but would you want to be an armoire forever?

No one back in town is buying Maurice's seemingly tall tale about a mysterious beast, so Belle proves it with the mirror. Gaston rounds up an angry, torch-wielding mob and goes after our now-gentle giant. Gaston calls for the townspeople to hunt and kill the beast, and they all seem to be pretty on board with it:



The Beast has no will to fight back, but he spots Belle and finds it within himself to shove Gaston off a cliff. Unfortunately, Gaston managed to stab the Beast before his demise. Beast is fading fast, till Belle utters, "I love you". Presto-Change-o, the Beast is a handsome prince, and we get to see all of our servant friends back in human form. Remarkably, they all look pretty much exactly the same. Who would've thought?

In true Disney fashion, it's a happy ending for all, at least until they can milk the franchise for more profits on a direct-to-video sequel. Lucky for all of you, I never saw those sequels (actually, midquels) and thus will not be subjecting you to a lengthy and snarky synopsis.. Instead, we can just let the story ends where it ends here: happily. The good guys prevail, the bad guy dies a retributive death, and the other sort-of-bad-guy with a secret heart of gold is reformed. The only question left to ponder is why Lumiere is the only guy with a French accent if this whole thing is taking place in France. Any takers on that one?

25 comments:

sarah said...

sometimes we go to karaoke and do disney themed nights,

is that lame?
:p

Literary Crap said...

I would love to go to a Disney themed karaoke night. Love. I am so incredibly jealous now.

Cee said...

I always wondered why more characters didn't seem French too.

Shannon said...

Such a timeless classic.

Melanie's Randomness said...

This is actually the first movie I remember going to see. I know tho I missed the beginning montague about the rose so i was VERY Confused in my lil kid self. Omg I hope they never make one of those sequels for this. Pretty please Disney don't do it to this one!! It's one of my absolute favorites!!

Ice Queen said...

2 things...

1. When I was in college we had the whole Disney debate and they tore this movie to shreds because it depicted men treating women like property and told little girls that it was okay for a man to treat you like crap. I rebutted with the fact that I didn't even understand that as a child and I felt it showed that someone could love you no matter what you look like.

2. The only thing that bothered me about this movie was the fact that at one point Mrs. Pots tells Chip to go to the cupboard with his brothers and sisters. How many kids did this woman have and why is Chip the only one she recognizes?

Jenn said...

absolutely love this movie. one of my favorite movies of all time - no joke!

all of the songs in it are the best. good call on lumiere. no idea why he's the only one with a french accent!

and the sequals were HORRIBLE. i bought the one that came out right after - i think it was a christmas one. terrible.

Emma said...

I <3 Beauty & The Beast! :D

Melly said...

LOVE Beauty and the Beast!

Amy said...

I want to go home and watch this movie right now. Such a wonderful classic !

Christy said...

This movie came out in theaters when I was about 4 or maybe 5. I saw it 4 times in the theater and to this day it's one of my favorite movies! I also saw it on stage (not the official Broadway play, but an off Broadway production). It is still awesome!

Lauren Kelly said...

Beauty and the Best was always one of my favorite Disney movies along with Lady and the Tramp!! :)

Pana said...

Plus it was FUNNY. That Gaston song makes laugh even more as an adult.

Ali said...

Haha, now I have the song stuck in my head. And I'm actually more than okay with that! ;)

Julie said...

LOVE this movie. The soundtrack (and the cast recording to the Broadway show that followed) = FABULOUS.

You know, looking back, Belle was a bit more clothed than some of the other princesses of her time (Ariel, Jasmine). That's kind of refreshing.

Kristen said...

I watched this movie so many times that I went through two VHS tapes. I still have the third one. I would literally watch it, rewind it, watch it again, rewind it, etc. And then I'd run around singing all the songs, pretending I was Belle. Ah, good times.

Dani said...

This was my favorite Disney movie has a kid...I love, love, loved it!!! And I still do!

Heather Taylor said...

This was the first movie I ever saw at a movie theater! It's such a gorgeous film. Makes me teary-eyed every time.

Amanda said...

Love Beauty and the Beast! Total classic

Kimberly@PrettyPinkMomma said...

We love this one - and of course my husband had to buy it!

carissajaded said...

I hadn't thought about this movie in ages!! I miss it now though!!! I once did a Beauty and the Beast show and I was the clock... hmm should probably keep that to myself. Loves it though!!

Molly said...

Ice Queen, did they even SEE the movie?! Belle behaves like someone who's lost everything and is only civil to the Beast after he saves her from the wolves. She only truly starts to warm to him after he begins to treat her with kindness. When he treated her like crap, she told him where he could shove it.

If they want sexism in Disney, go to The Little Mermaid. But as you say, they're also missing the part where kids don't generally pick up on those "undertones" adults always seem to sense.

Lil' Woman said...

THE BEST DISNEY MOVIE EVER!!!!
MY ALL TIME FAVORITE!

(it's in all caps, that's how serious i am..lol)

Sadako said...

They made midquels of B&B?! NOOOO!

Seattle Kim D said...

My favorite Disney movie, ever. Love the post! :)

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