Having watched the Cocteau's 1946 version last week, this weekend I curled up and watched Disney's 1991 animated classic. Well I had to, you know, for research!
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Dir: Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale
Composer: Alan Menken. Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Starring: Paige O'Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Rex Everhart (Maurice), Richard White (Gaston), Jesse Corti (Le Fou), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth/Narrator), Bradley Michael Pierce (Chip)
Beauty and the Beast has the distinction of being Disney’s 30th animated feature and the first to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Film (it won for Best Song and Best Score). It should have won the big one, as this is a film worthy of the Best Film Oscar.
Beauty and the Beast is a great film, not just a mere cartoon. It serves to remind us why animation is an ideal medium for the fantasy genre. Fears and dreams can be realised, to a far greater degree than a mere live action film. What castle, anywhere in the world, can compete with the Beast’s gothic labyrinthine castle with its dark recesses, grim gargoyles and gloomily colossal rooms. How else could a director create distinct and individual characters out of singing and dancing teaspoons, feather dusters and a whole host of household objects.
The plots bears only a slim resemblance to the original fairytale, but still possesses a certain darkness, surreal romanticism and eroticism of the original. Belle is a wilful, unpredictable 18 year old girl who spends all her time reading, dreaming of escaping her “small provincial town” and fending of the attentions of the boorish village heartthrob, Gaston. One day, Belle’s father, a crackpot inventor, becomes lost in the woods and stumbles into the Beast’s enchanted castle where he taken prisoner by the ‘imprisoned’ beast.
So into this strange castle, Belle comes, she offers to take her father’s place. Is she the girl to melt the Beast’s heart? Can Belle look beyond the Beast’s appearance to find her prince? Well of course they can. This is, after all, a fairytale. What makes this film so effective is that appeals not only to children but the whole family. Belle and the beast are fully realised characters that unfold across the screen. They are not just a sequence of pictures. These are characters with a past, a present and therefore a future. Their romance is touching and tragic (once he falls in love, he lets her go). But as with all fairytales they are reunited and as Chip, a little boy transformed into a broken cup, asks his mother, Mrs Potts, a teapot voiced by Angela Lansbury “are they going to live happily ever after?” to which she knowingly replies “of course they will”.
It will be interesting to see how Emma Watson and Dan Stevens fair in Disney's planned 2017 live-action version, to be directed by Bill Condon.