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Wayback Wednesday: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Forget Gaston, forget the Beast, JUST GIVE ME THAT DAMN LIBRARY!!!

I’ve known that this day was coming for a while now but I still cannot believe that this week marks the 30th anniversary since the release of Beauty and the Beast (1991)! Even when I used to watch this movie as a kid I knew it was already old but wow, I somehow can’t wrap my head around the fact that this beloved movie from our collective childhoods is now three decades old. I’m pretty sure that I get around to watching this movie every couple of years and every time that I do I am struck by how in every sense of the term this movie HOLDS THE FUCK UP. It cannot be stated enough! One of Disney’s most treasured classics, I can confirm that Beauty and the Beast only gets better and better the more times you see it. And trust me, I think I’ve seen this movie roughly about, oh, 12,000 times now?

Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Loosely based on the fairy tale of the same name, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Belle, an independent and intelligent young woman who doesn’t quite fit in with the small-minded citizens of her provincial village. When her father is held prisoner by a fearsome beast, she valiantly exchanges her freedom for his own. As the months pass, Belle learns that the Beast is not as terrible as he first appeared and is instead the victim of a powerful curse that affects him and all of the servants in his enchanted castle. 

Literally from the opening moments of Beauty and the Beast this movie has you under its spell. The enchanting score, the gorgeous stained glass animation, the mesmerizing narration…The magic that runs so rampant throughout this movie is established from its opening scene, a feat no one like Disney could pull off. And the opening number! “Belle” Is one of the best opening numbers in a musical. Not just in a Disney movie, but in any movie ever. And that’s on period. A fun and bouncy tune that is sure to be stuck in your head, it does a fantastic job of perfectly telling you everything you need to know about Belle, Gaston and the town in which they live. The reprise is just as memorable. It’s one of my favourite Belle moments. When she is feeling her oats and getting her life during the reprise, bitch that is the moment where it really sells it home for us how desperately she needs to get out of her provincial life and experience the world. Growing up, who couldn’t relate? There isn’t a single song in this movie that isn’t amazing and iconic. “Be Our Guest” is an incredibly fun comedy number and “Beauty and the Beast” is the perfect romantic song to waltz to. The score throughout this movie is just as fantastic to listen to. It goes from being haunting and eerie to joyous and wonderful but all the time being magical and beautiful. I expect nothing less from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, two of Disney’s most iconic composers. Speaking of, the ENTIRETY of the waltz scene between Belle and the Beast is one of the most iconic sequences ever put to film and if you disagree you are more than welcome to argue with the wall. That gold dress is EVERYTHING.

Belle is definitely tied with Jasmine for my favourite Disney Princess. She knows exactly who she is, she is intelligent, strong, brave and compassionate. When she was first introduced she was such a game-changing character for Disney. And even today decades later, she is still an outstanding role model that so many of us both see ourselves in and aspire to be more like. She doesn’t hesitate to take her father’s place in this damn terrifying situation! The courage! Undoubtedly one of the most selfless and brave moments in Disney history in my humble opinion. One thing the movie is so upfront about which I absolutely love is showing how Belle’s free-thinkingness, her independence and her courage (everything the small-minded villagers view as her oddities) are actually her greatest strengths. Not only are those great qualities to have in a protagonist but also a fantastic example for the kids who did / will grow up watching Beauty and the Beast. Belle may be physically beautiful, but it’s everything she’s got going on inside that makes her so special and lovable. 

It’s interesting that Disney made this movie (before they had such amazing female characters) and their heroine wasn’t a princess from the get nor is she married or becomes one by the end. This is also the first time in a Disney movie, especially one featuring a princess, where she doesn’t immediately fall in love upon first sight. Belle and the Beast really put the work into their relationship and it grows over time. He changes for her and she sees the kindness within him. You can’t help but smile as they genuinely fall in love especially during “Something There.” I think the writers did a fantastic job of showing him to be a brute and a “beast” but not evil or unredeemable. Like, the Beast is never violent or abusive. He has a temper and he broods sure, but he’s cursed. Wouldn’t you be grumpy? The screenwriters take the time to show that he’s not actually a monster on the inside and what’s even better, show him growing into the gentle soul Belle brings out in him. He loves her so much he let her go and she loves him so much that she returns…that’s probably the most accurate, beautiful and well done example of “if you love something let it go” I’ve ever seen. 

I miss the days when Disney used to hire legitimate voice actors for their movies rather than A-list stars. Voice acting is such an art and Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and Richard White do such a fabulous job of bringing their characters to life. As Belle, the Beast and Gaston respectively, the trio deliver performances that are so amazing so moving and so full of boundless energy and emotion. And don’t even get me started on the fucking phenomenal comedic yet heartwarming chemistry between Lumière and Cogsworth! An instantly loveable pair of Disney sidekicks, their playful love/hate relationship reminds me of the back-and-forth you’d see out of an old comedy movie from the 1950s or 1960s. Whoever’s idea it was to make all of the furniture enchanted was brilliant. It is so charming and makes all of Belle’s friends stand out from the usual mice and bird sidekicks that you see in a lot of previous princess movies.

Also unlike a lot of previous princess movies, Gaston was a new kind of villain for Disney. What’s so interesting about Gaston is that I think this was the first time in a Disney movie that the villain didn’t explicitly look like the obvious villain. Like, you see The Evil Queen and Maleficent for the first time and every character in the movie is like, “oh so they’re the bad guy? Got it.” But Gaston looks just like everyone else and as the movie goes on the horrible disgusting monster he is on the inside becomes clear. It’s a nice touch that in a movie so full of magic and enchantment, Gaston represents the very worst of human evils: arrogance, vanity, prejudice, misogyny and fear mongering. He’s a straight up a dick which makes him so much worse (as a person) than Cruella De Vil or Jafar. “The Mob Song” is great at expressing that. Acting out of fear and attacking someone simply because you don’t understand them? It’s straight up loathsome. It really made me sad.

Perhaps more so than any other Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast is brimming with iconic imagery to me. I mean, duh, Disney is obviously super famous for its renowned animation, but every background in this movie looks like a piece of art. The animation is breathtakingly beautiful. Disney! Bring back traditional 2D animation! CGI is admittedly visually stunning but there’s a charm and magic to old-school animation that makes watching movies like Beauty and the Beast feel like stepping into a story book. You can tell the attention to detail and intricate care that went into each design, especially when it comes to the Beast’s castle. Which has always been my favourite Disney castle, BTW. It’s no wonder why besides Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010), Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated movie nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I think it deserves an honorary one. It’s perfection! This tale as old as time is timeless and always will be.

What amazes me about Disney movies is how they are able to pack so much story into such a concise runtime. I don’t know if it’s because of the animation, the music, or the magic but so many of the studio’s movies are great when it comes to pacing. Oh my God, I love that on top of this musical-romance fantasy there’s also an epic and hilarious final battle between the invaders and the servants and then a dramatic final battle between Gaston and the Beast. It’s a fantastic cinematic finale that is both heart-pounding and tense. This movie nails every emotional beat and trust me, it runs the gamut of emotions. Hello, I’m 25 years old and still tear up when it looks as though the Beast has died. But then those ending transformations of the characters and the castle are glorious and amazing and lift my spirits once more. The perfectly magical end to a perfectly enchanting movie. And as if it can’t get any more perfect, a Celine Dion cover over the credits!

I don’t know what else there is to say about Beauty and the Beast. This movie is an absolute joy and so wonderful and severely underrated when we have the discussion of greatest movies ever made. Does Citizen Kane (1941) feature a flirtatious candelabra? Does Jaws (1975) feature a fussy clock? Does The Godfather (1972) feature international treasure Angela Lansbury as a singing teapot? I think not!

Are you a fan of Beauty and the Beast?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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