The Beauty of “Beauty and the Beast”

I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere…I want it more than I can tell. ~Belle, “Beauty and the Beast”

"The hills are alive...with the sound of talking teapots"

My faithful readers know how much I love The A-Team now. 20 years ago? I felt the same passion, if not even greater, for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And I just now realized I’ve never written a blog post about this, far and away my favorite animated movie and a solid contender for my favorite movie as a whole.

Just the other day I accompanied a friend of mine to see Beauty in 3-D. This was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen in almost 20 years. Two decades have not dulled its impact nor lessened its appeal. In fact, I enjoyed it even more this time. It’s one of those rare films that seems to improve over time and subsequent viewings.

Why this one? Why not the (admittedly excellent) The Lion King or Mulan? Trying to figure out my unique affinity for Beauty is like fingering just one reason I love Shakespeare, or Mozart. I can’t pick just one quality. So I tried to narrow it down a bit.

It’s the only Disney movie where both romantic leads are fully developed and multidimensional.

In looking at Belle and the Beast/Prince, it’s hard to believe they’re just drawings on paper. That’s how effective the animators and voice artists (Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson, respectively) made these characters. Belle is an ordinary girl, not a princess, who longs for a better life. She’s also the only Disney heroine who displays much of an intellect. The Beast could have come across as silly, or too scary, but he’s that perfect blend of gentle and menacing.

The songs help tell the story and are entertaining and witty.

I’ve seen the stage musical version of Beauty at least 10 times, and the libretto is just as good as anything Rodgers and Hammerstein ever concocted. The songs are catchy and funny and romantic; they’re also bittersweet, as they were the some of the last things lyricist Howard Ashman ever wrote. Admit it…you were humming “Be Our Guest” on your way out of the theatre the first time you saw it.

The villain is unorthodox but ultimately scary as hell.

Can you think of any other Disney animated flick where the villain is actually better-looking than the hero? (I can’t.) With a chin that would put Bruce Campbell to shame, an Elvis pompadour and an ego bigger than Jerry Jones’, Gaston is the ultimate antihero. I admittedly had a weird crush on him when I was younger. He’s funny and kind of amusing at first, and certainly handsome, but takes a nasty turn toward sadism and sociopathy in Act III. Sorry about that one, mon ami.

The layouts and backgrounds are some of the most stunning in any film I’ve seen.

Disney’s artists clearly took a leaf from some of Europe’s classic destinations, among them Versailles, Mont St.-Michael, and King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle. The result is a truly beautiful series of settings for a beautiful story. Every time I watch the movie I feel myself transported back to Europe, from the quaint villages to the soaring castles. There’s also the brilliant use of stained glass windows in the awe-inspiring Prologue.

The voice cast is one of the best in Disney’s history.

In addition to O’Hara and Benson, Beauty features three wonderful veterans in the roles of the main Enchanted Objects: Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth) and the late Jerry Orbach as Lumiere. One thing I hate about many current animated films is the need to cast megastars in every single role. That’s not the case with Beauty; one can simply sit back and enjoy the character instead of being overwhelmed by celebrity. And they sing their own roles, too…Lansbury sang the Oscar-winning title song in a single take. Top that, Justin Bieber.

The story is timeless, and one we can all relate to.

It’s no coincidence just about every world culture has its own Beauty and the Beast story. A beautiful girl falling in love with a man/monster is, as the lyric goes, a tale as old as time. But don’t we all secretly want to be loved for our internal beauty and not what society would define as beautiful? Aren’t many of us locked away in a castle of our own fears, waiting for that one person to come along and help change our ways? Don’t many of us have servants who’ve been magically transformed into clocks and candelabras? (All right, I’m just being silly now.) But I think you get where I’m going here.

If you can, treat yourself to a 3-D screening of Beauty and the Beast while it’s still on the big screen. Better yet, take your kids or your niece or nephew and let them discover the magic for the first time. If you can’t, why not check out one of the many regional productions of the stage musical? You can thank me later…be my guest!

“Is that your wick or are you just happy to see me?”

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on January 30, 2012.

6 Responses to “The Beauty of “Beauty and the Beast””

  1. This is also my favorite Disney movie, for many of the reasons you mention. When I saw it on its original run in the theater, to me it seemed like the ballroom scene was almost real. I think there are shadows and such that just make it seem like that. Along with that, the story is really touching….a great story about redemption of the Beast. Add to that a song where the villian brags about the hair on his chest I just love that song about Gaston, it is so hilarious), plus a Busby Berkeley tribute with dancing cutlery, and what more could you want?

  2. […] – Heather Murdock PRAWN AND QUARTERED […]

  3. I’m especially good at expectorating, but Sleeping Beauty will always be my favourite. I even have a Maleficent tattoo. 🙂

  4. Weird also how the beast is more handsome than the man he becomes…

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