This film is not only one of the greatest animated movies of all time, but I dare say, one of the greatest movies of all time. This was the Disney Renaissance encompassed into one film and was Disney in their prime. The more I look back on it and think about it, Beauty and the Beast is the ultimate achievement and is still, to this day, the only traditionally animated film to receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture. That is a remarkable feat in itself, but let’s get to the story first before the gushing goes further.
Belle (Paige O’Hara) is a beauty, but a funny girl living in a village in France and constantly hounded by the handsome, but all around creep Gaston (Richard White), which no one seems to be like, and his sidekick LeFou (Jesse Corti). One day, Belle’s father Maurice decides to go off to the fair until he comes across a castle going the wrong way. This castle harbors The Beast (Robby Benson) and his enchanted servants, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and her son Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce). The Beast was cursed by an enchantress for deeming her ugly as an old maiden begging to come in from a storm. He was turned into a foul beast to represent his arrogance and would have the spell broken if he were to find true love. Cut to Belle coming to find her father and take her rightful place in the circle of life, I mean, the plot of the film. During her stay, Belle and the Beast struggle to talk, keep it together and build a romantic bond. Meanwhile, back in the village, Gaston is ready to save her from the wicked beast and propose to her whether she likes it or not. What follows is a story of romance, the acceptance of one’s heart over appearance and one hell of a fantastic musical.
First things first, the music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is some of the greatest collections of songs ever put in a Disney film. Every song, and I mean every song, is memorable and there is no dud. From the ensemble opening with “Belle,” the boastful hilarity of “Gaston,” the showstopper “Be Our Guest” and the soft and somber “Beauty and the Beast,” these are classics that are still remembered to this day. “Be Our Guest” is the one that may stick out the most with Orbach giving his all and the wonders of Disney animation coming to make a splash on the number. It’s extraordinary and the score to accompany the songs is brilliant as well with a touching score toward the end of the film as the Beast’s true form is finally revealed.
The characters are likable, even the villain despite being the biggest ass on the block. Belle is a charming independent woman more focused on what she wants, yet falls in love in the process for seeing what the Beast truly is. The Beast is one of the best designs of any character mixing up a grand scale of animals ranging from the buffalo to lions in order to make his appearance. His eyes make the character as he is so expressive with them to show his humanity, be it when he is yelling, sad or in utter happiness. It’s gorgeous to look at. Gaston is without a doubt a favorite villain of mine next to Maleficent for just being the definition of a cocky bastard. He is big, brawny and a dimwit, but that melts away when he becomes a killer and meticulous in trying to get to the Beast.
The animation is the highlight through and through with a rich scope harnessed in classic Silver Age and Golden Age films and brought to the new era at the time. This is taken to the extreme by brilliantly combining CGI and traditional in the famous ballroom sequence. The Great Mouse Detective used it for the great clock tower scene, but this perfected it by creating a lush space of marble and gold to make this characters come even more to light. It never has a dull moment and the animation shines from expression to movements. It’s absolutely perfect because this film is perfection, even if the next films are a bit more perfect than usual, but that’s okay. This is a tale as old as time and now forever.
Let’s just pray the live-action remake does not ruin the legacy.
Critic’s Quote: ““Beauty and the Beast” reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 1991
Signature Moment: See the featured image? Yeah, it’s the ballroom scene.