Directed by: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury
Witnessing magic on-screen should not be taken for granted. The 1990s brought a golden age of Disney animated classics where their storytelling reached their apex. Through its incredible wit, stunning animation, and thoughtful characters, Beauty and the Beast remains the best of them all.
Wanting to strive for more than what her town allows, Belle (Paige O’Hara) sees the repetitive routines of the townsfolk, as they think her to be odd because of her love of reading. The young woman lives with her father and has to continually fend off the advances of the town hunk, Gaston (Richard White). When her father sets out to a fair, but then gets trapped in a castle, Belle asks the captor to allow her to take her place instead as she promises to stay forever.
Beauty and the Beast has been one of the Disney animated films that I watched as a child, knew every scene, but never viewed it as an adult. It demanded a rewatch before I could properly review it and I’m glad I decided to do it. The film captures a type of magic that Disney mastered during the golden age. The animation style looked gorgeous from the deep colors utilized and how each outfit of the characters said plenty about their personalities and what they represent in the story. The visual flair of this style popped off of the screen specifically in the musical numbers, which vividly displayed the magic this feature had to offer.
Thematically, the film shows a connection between two individuals seen as outsiders in different ways. Sure, it could also be about Stockholm Syndrome. However, both Belle and the Beast struggle in different ways and are seen as menaces in their own ways. For Belle, it comes from her dreams of being bigger than the small town with the books she reads. The opening number shows how much she loves to be engrossed in other stories that help her escape from her current reality. It’s something the other townsfolk think makes her odd. The Beast feels that outsider status because he happens to be a large animal and once the villagers know of his existence, they know they must charge and kill him. This little town that seems to be accepting with the fresh bread being made every day actually harbors some serious negative feelings towards anyone that lives outside of the norm.
While Belle and the Beast get to know each other, the true star of the movie reveals himself as Lumière (Jerry Orbach). From the second he appears in the narrative to the very end, Lumière does so much heavy lifting. He brings life to these animated houseware items and produces an air of positivity as compared to Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers). He likes to burn other household items if you catch my drift, and the performance in the song “Be Our Guest” is nothing short of spectacular. A gorgeous song that allowed the animation to shine bright in welcoming Belle to the home in a positive way.
Along with “Be Our Guest,” every other song fits perfectly into the narrative and pushes the story forward. The song of Gaston perfectly encapsulates a style of narcissism that seems cartoonish, but unfortunately exists beyond these fairytales. The titular song performed by Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) still holds up with its beautiful simplicity and capability of capturing a beautiful moment between the budding lovers. It’s a soundtrack that meshes incredibly well with the narrative and has a strong purpose beyond the obligatory nature of having it because it happens to be a Disney princess movie.
There are plenty of things to nitpick about the story, including the sudden acceleration of the rose when Belle suddenly appears. It’s pointed out that the curse has been in place for ten years, so that rose should have been immense prior to Belle’s arrival going by how quickly it began to wilt. Also, how in the world does a town that seemingly hates the thought of reading have a bookstore that remains open? It’s small things that easily get swallowed up in the magic of the story.
Decades after its release, Beauty and the Beast still holds up incredibly well and helps define the greatest Disney animation has ever had. Through its beautiful visuals, spectacular soundtrack, and voice acting, the thought of Belle falling for the beast seems believable. It’s simply movie magic and it continues to dazzle just as much as I remembered it from my childhood.