Lumière: Be… our…
I love this castle!!!
Disney wastes no time in establishing how a spoiled prince demonstrates his superficiality and lack of generosity to a disguised enchantress who turns the prince into a beast as punishment. Of course, there is a way to break the spell. He must learn how to both give and receive love before his twenty-first year, as marked by the magical rose the enchantress offered in return for shelter from the cold. If the last petal falls before the beast can find true love, he and his grand castle will remain under the spell forever. At this point, Disney has shown us their hand—we all sort of know what’s going to happen. So what’s so good about the story? It is simple enough for kids to follow, and allows Disney to focus its efforts elsewhere.
The story may be simple, but the storytelling is complex, sophisticated, and magical. All of the information summarized above was told in the first three minutes by way of great, fitting music, a narrator with mystical dialogue, and wonderfully antique stained-glass art. If this introduction does not impress, then I don’t know what will. Fortunately, this sort of fairytale-feel storytelling resonates throughout as the hallmark of this classic story.
When you are working with a title like Beauty and the Beast and you know exactly who is going to be Beauty, the artists can easily wind up trying too hard to animate her as beautiful. Meet Belle: a modest yet definitely attractive brunette who seems poised to break the beast’s spell. She is the airheaded, oddball bookworm of the town who never grew out of the sorts of stories in “far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, and a prince in disguise.” The only thing holding Belle from superseding Ariel for my favorite Disney princess is that perhaps she is too perfect. This works well in the context of the film, but when judging Belle as a stand-alone character, I can certainly see the argument that maybe she is a little boring and unbelievable. This goes without saying that Belle is beautiful not because of her appearance but her character.
When you first see the beast, it is literally impossible to think of a better design for him. I mean, the beast’s animation is just so… beastly! But more importantly, he is never a beast in character. Sure, when we first meet him he clearly doesn’t understand how to love or control his temper, but he never seems to enjoy other people’s pain; he just has a lot of his own to deal with. In other words, the beast is only a monster on the outside.
Bringing it all together
Belle’s perfection works splendidly because the story revolves around the fact that we want Belle’s dreams to come true, which includes falling in love with someone more worthy for her than Gaston. The beast seems like an unlikely candidate, but the second the castle comes to life with Be Our Guest, Belle begins curiously exploring the castle—this is exactly the sort of stuff she read in those stories and is looking for when she says she wants “more than this provincial life.” But how does the beast play into this? Well, the beast saves Belle when she runs away from the castle and this allows Belle to see past his temper tantrums. As Belle treats the wounds that the beast suffered while saving her, he realizes that Belle isn’t your ordinary pretty-face who will run away from a beast like him for shallow reasons. As a result, he genuinely wants to do something special for her, and what better way to show that you care about Belle’s interests than by revealing your massive library? This is the start of a real friendship which gives the beast hope for potentially breaking the spell. Unfortunately, this nose-dives for the worse when Belle sees with an enchanted mirror her ill father searching for her. This is when we realize that there is something beyond the castle—we almost forget about the town because it’s simply so boring in contrast to the charming castle. The beast now has a crucial decision to make: on one hand, with the rose dying, he could force Belle to stay, or on the other hand, he could grant Belle’s wish to return to her father. That’s when you realize the game isn’t important to the beast anymore because he truly loves Belle. When the beast is dying, Belle realizes in a sort of “you don’t know what you have until you lose it” way that beast or no beast, she loves him too, and… well, it’s a Disney movie.
At first glance, you may not understand why Belle sings about living a grander life, why she won’t settle for the handsome and beloved Gaston, why she keeps her nose in those books. This radically changes as we fall in love with the beast’s enchanted castle, and soon enough, we are completely engulfed in Belle’s dreams because we are experiencing it for ourselves. When Belle sings about the prince charming of her favorite book, I get chills, but the sensation doesn’t quite match the emotions that overwhelm me when Belle and Prince Adam share their first kiss. Through the masterful storytelling of Beauty and the Beast, the stained glass introduction and Belle’s most cherished story come to life, in the same way the enchanted castle literally comes to life for us. And as a result, at least for those short-lived 82 minutes, the ideal of true love comes to life as well.
While romance may not be the ultimate kid-pleaser, this movie carries you to another place visually, emotionally, and conceptually. I can forever try to capture the essence of this movie in words, but nothing will compare to actually watching the magic that is Beauty and the Beast.