Anthony's Film Review
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
As simple as it is, Beauty and the Beast tells an unforgettable love story...
The 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast has one amazing distinction. It is the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It didn't win this award, though it did win a similarly significant honor: the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. To me, that's saying a lot. Disney has always been known for relatively light entertainment, both animated and live action, and for Beauty and the Beast to be recognized this way shows that the studio is definitely able to tell meaningful stories for both kids and adults, people of all ages.
That's not to say that the formula for Disney animated films is wholly reinvented here. If anything, Beauty and the Beast follows the formula down to the core. It has a lovely female protagonist (a Disney "princess"), a fairy tale setting, a villain, an exciting and emotional story, light-hearted humor, and (perhaps most important of all) great musical numbers. The movie simply does it all very well. On the other hand, Beauty and the Beast does have two things that make it more unique than other Disney animated films: a slight twist to the handsome prince cliche and a timeless theme that is illustrated rather effectively.
What do I mean by the handsome prince cliche? Well, consider how princesses from other Disney animated movies have good-looking princes who would fall in love with them and live happily ever after. It's a bit different with Beauty and the Beast. As the film's opening illustrates, in a series of colorful glass window mosaics, a handsome prince who once had it all had fallen victim to a curse. Because of his arrogance, he refuses to help an old woman seeking shelter. That woman reveals herself to be an enchantress who teaches the prince a lesson by turning him into a monstrous beast. The only way to break the curse is for a young woman to love him just as he loves her. But there is a time limit. Once the last petal of a magic rose falls, he will forever remain a beast.
The female protagonist who would soon encounter Beast is a woman in the French countryside named Belle. She ends up at Beast's castle because her father had gotten lost on horseback and stopped by the castle for help. To free her father from imprisonment, Belle willingly allows herself to be imprisoned. The moments featuring Beast are startling at first, but the audience sees, before Belle does, the Beast's gentle side. This marks the beginning of the film's theme, which is that one's true character is reflected in feelings and actions, not by outer appearance alone.
As Belle remains at the castle, she meets a rather interesting menagerie of anthropomorphic objects, including a candelabrum named Lumiere, a clock named Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts the teapot (voiced by Angela Lansbury), and Chip the little teacup. She is also made welcome in the castle as Lumiere leads a dance number to a song called "Be Our Guest." Meanwhile, Beast desperately wants to woo Belle, knowing that she could be the one to break the spell. At first, Belle and Beast remain far apart. Soon, Beast performs an act of sacrifice for Belle, and an amazing thing happens. Belle, instead of running away when she has the chance, chooses to help Beast in return. The mutual kindness is traded back and forth to the point where Belle is not just comfortable with Beast. She also seems to like him.
Another character in Beauty and the Beast provides the twist to the handsome prince cliche. A man named Gaston, who truly is handsome and even muscular, is desperate to win Belle's heart. Unfortunately, Gaston is also very narcissistic and self-centered. It is this character who is the real villain of this movie, not Beast who looks like a villain on the outside. Like I said before, one's true character radiates from the inside, and here, Gaston's ugly personality makes him nowhere near admirable, despite looking like a handsome prince.
I could comment a bit on the man versus beast conflict that eventually ensues late in the film, but I'd rather talk about the relationship between the beauty and the beast. Perhaps the most memorable scene of the film is the ballroom dance scene. Belle, dressed in a shining yellow dress, shows no hesitation as she dances with Beast, who is well groomed and wears a handsome blue coat. This is just like any lovely ballroom dance between two human beings, even if it's human and beast here. Because emotional connection is a beautiful thing, and that's all it matters. This scene is also made memorable by Mrs. Potts singing the title song "Beauty and the Beast."
It's amazing how a Disney animated film could do so much with a running time of just 84 minutes. It may be formulaic, but it's not stale. If anything, it's one of the more emotionally charged Disney stories, because it's a romance story that makes one cry and lifts one's spirits. I am willing to go as far as to say that Beauty and the Beast is an animated classic. People many years from now might watch this film with awe the same way the current generation might be discovering the magic of Snow White. Beauty and the Beast, as the title song goes, is truly a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.
For more information about Beauty and the Beast, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my review of the 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast.