May the best movie win!*
*Nine categories have been carefully picked to decisively crown the deserving winner
Why are these movies facing off?
Another Disney princess face-off today: The Little Mermaid versus Beauty and the Beast, two of my most beloved hand-drawn films.
Both films played an important role in animation history. The Little Mermaid made a big box-office splash and brought back the Broadway musical in cinema, kick-starting what is now known as the Disney Renaissance. Beauty and the Beast then validated animation as a true art form when it received a nod from the Academy Award for Best Picture, even if it would eventually lose that title to Silence of the Lambs. So which Disney Renaissance film is the better? The one that started it all or the one that took home the big nomination? Let’s find out in this Taestful Face-Off!
Category One: Animation/Backgrounds/Effects
And… we start out on a tough one.
Both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast played around with a little bit of computer animation in their films. Pixar’s CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) can be seen in the final show-down against giant Ursula and in Beauty and the Beast’s ballroom dance sequence. Beauty and the Beast definitely used the technology better, but with the expected benefit of 2 years worth of advancements.
Although Glen Keane did a wonderful job serving as the supervising animator of Ariel–which cannot be said of every frame of Belle, as done by James Baxter–Glen Keane objectively did a better job with the Beast, even if you didn’t like his human design. Coupled with some wonderful backdrops for Belle’s village and the Beast’s enchanted castle, and I’m going to give this one to Beauty and the Beast.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast (1-0)
Category Two: Soundtrack/Songs
Under the Sea. Be Our Guest. Kiss the Girl. Something’s There. Poor Unfortunate Souls. Gaston’s Song. Even though Beauty and the Beast has a couple more songs in its running time, for almost every song it has, The Little Mermaid has one that rivals it. Who the heck am I gonna give this one to?
It’s simple. I’m going to boil it down to each of the film’s best song: the titular song of Beauty and the Beast and Ariel’s Part of Your World. I love me some Part of Your World.
Little girls rightfully get this song stuck in their heads after viewing The Little Mermaid. I think it’s because the song makes them fall in love with the character. Not only is fun to sing, having great moments of dynamics and lyrics, but it is such an important keystone to the film, laying out Ariel’s motivations and the direction of the plot. And don’t even get me started on that iconic reprise.
Winner: The Little Mermaid (1-1)
Category Three: The Princess
I love both Ariel and Belle. I think they function in their respective films marvelously–Ariel is the proactive, teenage rebel while Belle is the introverted, book-loving day-dreamer–both are seen as weird and have ambitions outside the plans laid for them by society.
However, I think Ariel is a bit more charismatic than Belle. I can relate to both character’s desire to fit in, but Belle is a bit more mature and practically makes no mistakes in a film featuring one of Disney’s most troubled characters. Ariel, on the other hand, makes tons of mistakes and is allowed to take more of the spotlight in her film. From missing her own concert to disobeying her father and practically signing away her life for legs, Ariel is far from perfect. And that’s what makes her so interesting. And although she doesn’t necessarily grow too much as a character by the end, I think The Little Mermaid does a great job at legitimizing our teenage experience through Ariel, as imperfect and naive as it may have been.
Winner: The Little Mermaid (2-1)
Category Four: The Prince
Both films feature princes for the princess’ love interest. While Eric has plenty of heroic moments–from saving his dog from shipwreck and ultimately killing Ursula so he can be with a mermaid–the Beast’s story is far more engaging.
The cool part about Beauty and the Beast’s approach to Prince Adam is that they are cryptic about how he becomes the Beast. We never get to know Prince Adam, but Gaston offers many insights into Prince Adam’s plight from selfish pig to literal monster. For the film to have the audience believe in the Beast’s metaphysical transformation back to nobility, and to have the relationship that he had with Belle, was not only difficult but splendid and immensely satisfying.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast (2-2)
Category Five: Comic Relief Characters
Sebastian. Cogsworth. Flounder. Mrs. Potts. Scuttle. Lumiere. I feel like I’m nitpicking here.
Sebastian is perhaps one of the more underrated side-characters of Disney. Sure, he’s a bit grumpy and resembles an old man in character design, but he gives the film a very important Caribbean feel with his accent and his music. As the main spark and singer for musical numbers Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl, the movie would have been far different with the English accent that was originally intended for him. Another brilliant decision by lyricist Howard Ashman, and the reason why The Little Mermaid takes this one. Sorry, Lumiere, Be Our Guest just wasn’t enough.
Winner: The Little Mermaid (3-2)
Category Six: The Villain
Once again, both villains are very good. Gaston has a believable turn from stupid to evil, and Ursula’s rigged contract with Ariel reveals just how despicable she is.
I think Ursula has the better villain song in Poor Unfortunate Souls, and I’m gonna lean towards her on this one. Apparently, much time was spent debating the size of Gaston’s chin–and the final product rightfully reeks with testosterone–while Ursula went through a voice casting change due to conflicts with Howard Ashman. I think Pat Carroll does a wicked job at voicing this no-good scheming sea witch, and it played a far more important role than any chin modification could.
Winner: The Little Mermaid (4-2)
Category Seven: Story/Substance
Both stories are about dreams. However, there’s something a bit more to Beauty and the Beast’s message which puts it over The Little Mermaid.
While The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast tells us that our life–the human life–can be as exciting as a fairytale, Belle’s experience with love as her source of adventure is made a bit more tangible than Ariel’s. Sure, Ariel and Eric goes on dates, but Ariel is unfortunately made speechless during this time. Belle, on the other hand, bickers and fights with the Beast before warming up to him, making her relationship with the Beast seem a bit more familiar and down to Earth, yet as magical as the objects that have come to life around her when it finally works.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast (3-4)
Category Eight: Storytelling/Execution
Magical. Lovely. Remarkable. These are all words that could describe these film’s powerful sense of storytelling. The Little Mermaid is a bit more light-hearted and fun, and Beauty and the Beast is more brooding and complex. Although kids may prefer the former, I almost always side with dark and complex because I think it is generally more captivating.
There are many instances that show Beauty and the Beast cares about the way it tells its story. From color scheme to wayward strands of hair that gets in Belle’s way, to the frequent use of mirror reflections and symbols, Beauty and the Beast is a family film that lacks no sophistication for its parent viewers.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast (4-4)
Category Nine: Lasting Impact and Legacy
I guess it depends on how you define “impact” and “legacy.” There are really only two films that breathed new life into Disney animation–Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Maybe Frozen if you want to include music and the role of princesses and sequels in computer animation. These movies came at important–and trying–times for the studio. However, I think it makes Beauty and the Beast as a cultural phenomena just that more fascinating. It wasn’t like audiences hadn’t seen a good Disney princess movie stylized to Broadway music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken in a long time. No! The Little Mermaid came out just two years prior. And yet, here we are with Beauty and the Beast, an animated film no less with a third of its running time done by song, holding a nomination to the most distinguished honor that can be awarded by the Academy.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast (5-4)
Final Verdict: Beauty and the Beast (5-4)
The Little Mermaid gave Beauty and the Beast a run for its money in this Taestful Face-Off, but–simply put–the Academy got it right. There has never been an animated film–hand-drawn or otherwise–of Beauty and the Beast’s caliber since or thereafter.
Did the right movie win? Which movies do you wanna see face-off next? Let me know in the comments below and come revisit this site to catch the next Taestful Face-Off.