It is only until the rose dies, along with its meaning of hope and despair, are we able to accept that both Belle and beast loves each other. There is no hope necessary to believe these characters are in love: they simply are.
Now, it’s rare that I’ll ever single-handedly point out an animator, mainly because all of Disney’s animators are top-notch, but I have to recognize Glen Keane for his outstanding performance in Beauty and the Beast. He labored over the design of the beast for 6 months and served as the supervising animator. However, what I think he deserves recognition for is the beast’s transformation. It would not do justice to show pictures of this transformation—it’s just something you have to see for yourself. When I think about best Disney moments, this transformation is my all-time favorite.
As the beast revives into human form, I love Belle’s reaction to all this: she doesn’t just trust this is the same person she fell in love with. In fact, it isn’t until she gazes into Prince Adam’s eyes does she realizes that this is her beast. This concludes the last analysis we expected from the first ten minutes of the film: what is the significance of Belle’s color of blue? We talked about how it represented temptation, but the only other character with Belle’s color of blue is now dead. It is only until Gaston and his sky-blue eyes disappear does the color blue transform its meaning. The color blue now represents true beauty, and Belle can live happily ever after knowing that she was beautiful the whole time. When Belle stares into Adam’s eyes, she sees a bit of herself in him.
In an unprecedented move, Disney screened a 70% completed Beauty and the Beast on September 29th, 1991 at the New York Film Festival—it received a ten minute long standing ovation. Roger Ebert didn’t believe this claim until he actually sat down to watch Beauty and the Beast himself. Beauty and the Beast is one of those movies that makes you stand on your feet cheering, burst out loud laughing, tap your toe humming, hold your heart sighing, and on the verge of crying. For what the film offers to children in timely comedic moments and some of Disney’s most glowingly warm batch of side-characters, it offers adults a soaring, Oscar-winning score and state of the art animation to cast a spell on the entire family. But beyond the emotional impact, the jokes, the characters, the score, the artwork, the technical achievement of a 25 million dollar budget film, lies a greater beauty within and that is its story. A majority of this review has been spent simply analyzing every little detail of the story because this movie made me look for them and made me believe they were important. In the process of doing so, I can’t help but to feel that I’ve underplayed the significance of the music within all this: there is roughly a total of 25 minutes of Broadway musical numbers in Beauty and the Beast’s 80 minute running time. Disney even went to great lengths to go to New York and search for the best and brightest Broadway musical stars. And yet, it manages to extend my review close to 5,000 words without talking much about these voice actors and the songs they sing. That is because every musical number is an integral cog in the story, as all good Broadway musical numbers should be.
If there is a singular image I want my readers to leave this review with, it is the portraits of Prince Adam I’ve re-shown above. Beauty and the Beast runs chronologically in regards with time, but it bypasses very important details involving the prince’s initial transformation, as is the prince visually obscured in his portraits. It is precisely this that Disney is cryptic about, and it makes for a far more engaging story than pretending the audience doesn’t see the romance coming into fruition. The beauty of Beauty and the Beast’s storytelling is that it fills in these details as the story moves along not through flashbacks, but through Gaston. Hence, two interwoven stories are being told at the same time: the story of the prince becoming the beast and the beast becoming the prince, before these stories conflict and the characters literally fight to death in the final act.
If you look closely, Gaston wears a navy-blue cape when he fights the beast. This color once represented Belle’s dreams, but as Gaston dies, Belle’s old notions of adventure transforms as well. Belle thought she knew exactly what she wanted: to live in a fairytale. With clocks that give her tours, with a library that matches the size of her imagination, and a castle so enchanting that it must be explored. In fact, this is one of those rare Disney films where the protagonist gets everything she wanted before the ending. However, when the one person who ever cared for her dreams is dying, she realizes that sometimes, love is life’s greatest adventure. For us mere mortals not living in fictional worlds where servants can be turned into household objects and entertain us at dinnertime, Belle’s most cherished story gives us hope that our own fairytales can come true as well. When the rose makes its final appearance as a glass stained window, do we realize the transforming power of love. So go read books, use your imagination, dream as big as you can dare, don’t be constrained by society, find the beauty within, and most importantly, don’t forget to love.
Beauty and the Beast offers the familiar Disney experience. The anthropomorphic comic relief characters, magic spells for good or for ill, and the happily ever after kiss. Beauty and the Beast also offers the best of the Disney experience. The terrifying sequences rivaling those in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the lush background style of Bambi; the fantastical castle as imaginative as the underwater palace of The Little Mermaid. Most of all, Beauty and the Beast offers the foreign. It offers something unfamiliar, unexpected, and new. Disney princess movies have always been about love conquering evil. Once the dwarfs scared away the witch, the conflict was over. Once the prince slayed the dragon, the conflict was over. Once Gaston falls to his demise off of a cliff, the conflict is far from over. Although Gaston arguably received his punishment, the town have not been proven wrong. Belle is still weird. Belle is still strange. Belle is still not justified for believing there is something like a fairytale that exists in the real world. Although this is the beast’s story, for he goes through the most radical of transformations, the narrative is wisely constructed around Belle’s point of view. Without witnessing Belle’s journey exactly as it panned out, we may have had our faith renewed in the redeeming quality of love, but we surely would have not had our faith renewed in the magical quality of love. That is a sure sign of first-class writing. The ending could have not been any different. The beast had to die in order for love to conquer all. After experiencing Beauty and the Beast, the enchantress’ spell might not seem so unbelievable in a world where such beautiful love can blossom.
This is what lifts Beauty and the Beast above the stiffest of Disney competitors for me. The movie is a many different things: it is Disney’s best, it is the best animated film to date, it is a family film that requires no children attendees, it is a sophisticated fairytale adaption, it is one of cinema’s essential love stories, and it is Broadway musical’s eighth longest-running production. In fact, it is the only animated feature to be honored in American Film Institute’s top 10 best animated films, top 25 best movie musicals, AND top 100 best songs. It is difficult to try and describe the musical treasure that is Beauty and the Beast without actually listening to the soundtrack. But strip away its Broadway musical vigor and at the very core, Beauty and the Beast is still a great movie. Beauty and the Beast is a guilty pleasure of sorts for me since I adore traditional animation and the movie musical, but it’s a guilty pleasure I’m not just proud of, it’s a movie I’ll share to anyone who asks: Kevin, why do you like traditional animation? Why do you like the movie musical? If an enchantress comes knocking on my door in the dead of winter asking why I even bother to watch movies, Beauty and the Beast will be one of the first movies I show her. Even someone like her might agree that Beauty and the Beast is nothing short of pure enchantment.
This review is dedicated to Howard Ashman, the man who helped give a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul. We will forever be grateful. Howard Ashman: 1950-1991.