Directed by Gary Trousdale (“Shrek the Halls,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) and Kirk Wise (“Atlantis: The Lost Empire”) and written by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”) and 11 other co-writers, “Beauty and the Beast” is an enchanting and awe-inspiring love story centered on the beautiful Belle and the monstrous-looking Beast.
The film’s story is simple and straightforward, even being introduced with a traditional-sounding prologue (narrated by M*A*S*H alum David Ogden Stiers, who also plays Cogsworth) which sets up the characters and situations.
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold.”
The nameless Prince, disgusted by the old woman’s appearance, refuses the exchange not once but twice, only to repent when the beggar woman morphs into a beautiful young woman. He tries to apologize, but the enchantress has seen how selfish and unkind the Prince is. As punishment, she casts a spell, transforming him into a hideous Beast and his once beautiful castle into a scary-looking haunted edifice. Additionally, all of the Prince’s household staff members are turned into non-human but animated objects – clocks, candelabra, wardrobes, footstools, dishes and silverware.
The enchantress gives the Prince one chance for redemption – the rose she originally offered him in her old woman guise is a magic rose which, as the narrator tells us, “would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
This is a rhetorical question, because as the narrator’s last words are echoing in our minds and the movie title fades in, Trousdale, Wise, lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken whisk us a few years forward into time and introduce us to the “Beauty” of the tale, a young woman named Belle (Paige O’Hara) whose love of books and desire to not conform to the expectations of “small provincial life” in a small French town mark her as a misfit.
Belle: [singing] I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand, to have someone understand… I want so much more than they’ve got planned.
Not only is Belle considered “rather odd” because she has “her nose stuck in a book” and lives with her loving (if rather goofy) inventor father Maurice (Rex Everhart), but also because she’s the only single young woman who is not interested in the handsome but oafish hunter and man-about-town Gaston (Richard White).
Gaston, who is as conceited and mean as he is buff, has vowed to marry Belle, but she has, much to his chagrin, other ideas.
Gaston: This is the day your dreams come true.
Belle: What do you know about my dreams, Gaston
Gaston: Plenty! Here, picture this: A rustic hunting lodge, my latest kill roasting on the fire, and my little wife massaging my feet, while the little ones play on the floor with the dogs. We’ll have six or seven.
Gaston: No, Belle! Strapping boys, like me!
Belle: Imagine that.
Gaston: And do you know who that little wife will be?
Belle: Let me think…
Gaston: You, Belle!
Belle: Gaston, I’m-I’m speechless. I really don’t know what to say.
Gaston: Say you’ll marry me!
Belle: I’m very sorry, Gaston… but… but I just don’t deserve you!
Belle’s rejection irks the heck out of Gaston, who does not understand the meaning of the word no and is more determined than ever to get his way, even if he has to be mean and underhanded to do so.
As Gaston recovers from the public humiliation of having been turned down in front of the entire town, Maurice takes a fateful trip to an inventors’ fair where he wants to show off his latest Rube Goldberg contraption.
After taking a wrong turn at a crossroads and a scary trek with his horse, Philippe, Maurice arriving at a forbidding-looking castle, where he not only meets the enchanted clock Cogsworth and the candle-holder Lumiere (the late Jerry Orbach) but the castle’s unwelcoming Master….the monstrous-looking Beast (Robby Benson).
Fortunately for Maurice, Philippe makes his way back to Belle, who then rides back to the ugly castle, where she finds that her dad has been locked up in a damp and cold cell by the seemingly cruel Beast. In a bid to gain Maurice’s freedom, Belle makes a deal with the ugly-looking creature: if the Beast lets her father go, Belle will remain in the castle as a prisoner…forever.
This being a fairy tale, and a love story one at that, we can be certain that the movie’s central question – For who could ever learn to love a beast?- will be resolved and that the various plot threads will be neatly tied up in a “happily ever after” ending.
A True Classic
Though there’s very little in the story that’s unpredictable, “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the best films ever made by Walt Disney Pictures’ animators and clearly deserves its unprecedented Best Picture nomination.
Part of the credit for the quality of “Beauty and the Beast” – which had a shorter-than-usual production schedule – is owed to the producers’ decision to work from a completed screenplay and avoid production cost overruns. The old way of creating a movie from storyboards and then writing a script would have slowed down the process and increased the studio’s expenses, so Don Hahn asked screenwriter Woolverton and the other writers to do a finished screenplay and then go from there.
Another big plus was executive producer/lyricist Howard Ashman’s insistence that “Beauty and the Beast” be approached as a Broadway musical. This eventually led Disney to adapt the film as a real Broadway stage production several years later.
Not only did Ashman’s concept give “Beauty and the Beast” its structure and format, but it influenced its casting of New York-based theater actors such as Jerry Orbach and Richard White, who were not only good line reading thespians but were great song-and-dance artists.
Collaborating – for the last time, as it turned out – with composer Alan Menken, Ashman penned such songs as the operetta-styled Belle, the hilarious Gaston, the lovely duet Something There, the Maurice Chevalier/Busby Berkeley show-stopper Be Our Guest and the indelible “Beauty and the Beast”, which not only are there to entertain but also handle much of the character development and plot exposition.
Because Ashman was dying of AIDS, Don Hahn took the entire cast and crew to a hotel upstate New York which wasn’t far from the lyricist and executive producer’s home. The songs, including one which was deleted from the 1991 version (Human Again) were finished shortly before Ashman passed away. (The film is dedicated to Howard Ashman.)
The 2010 Blu-ray Diamond Edition Re-Release On October 3, 2010, Walt Disney Video re-released “Beauty and the Beast” in a three-disc “Diamond Edition” Blu-ray/DVD combination pack in one of those “for a limited time” reissue periods.
If you are familiar with Blu-ray sets from Disney, you can expect to get more than just the original 1991 version of “Beauty and the Beast”, because the Diamond Edition contains two additional versions – the 2002 Special Edition (which was altered and cleaned up for the IMAX/DVD edition) and a Picture-in-Picture “compare and contrast” look at the 1991 theatrical edition which shows a “rough draft” of storyboards and rough animations of the movie in a PIP square within a “normal” presentation of “Beauty and the Beast”.
The extra features on the Blu-ray edition include not only the usual audio commentary track, a Disney Sing Along track option and the aforementioned variations of the film, but also a separate Blu-ray disc with behind-the-scenes featurettes, a rather lame Jordin Sparks video of the title tune and various kid-friendly games and options.
For those who haven’t yet upgraded to Blu-ray players or whose kids might want to watch this movie on the family minivan’s DVD player, the three-disc package comes with a standard DVD, presumably the 2002 Platinum Edition with its “classic DVD” features.
Not only does “Beauty and the Beast” look and sound nicer on Blu-ray (or on DVD, for that matter), but it is still a very entertaining and emotionally moving movie.
Blu-ray Technical Specifications
- Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (24.06 Mbps)
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
- Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
- French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
- English, English SDH, French, Spanish
- 50GB Blu-ray Disc
- Three-disc set (2 BDs, 1 DVD)
- DVD copy
- Bonus View (PiP)
- Slipcover in original pressing
- Region free