There exists no “perfect movie.” For one, everyone’s tastes are different. What aspects of a movie one person will love, another person might hate. You also have people who have different tastes in genre. Some people despise animation and think it’s just “kid stuff,” the same way other people (like me) dislike horror or war movies.
The Academy Awards are humanities attempt at finding that perfect movie (and perfect actor/actress). When I was a kid, the Oscars were on every year in my house. We enjoyed attempting to stay up late to watch them. We cheered for our favorites and cried when they lost (or grew overly angry… that was actually more common, especially as I got older). Although as an adult I now have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars, I still watch them. Every year. While it can be argued that the Academy is all about artsy movies and seem to ignore the movies that cater to the masses, I am a bit more forgiving. Movie-making is a form of art. I’m not saying I’m not upset because certain movies were never nominated, or certain actors/actresses weren’t nominated (heck, every year I get upset about that!! *cough*EmmaThompsonthisyear*cough*). I’m just saying that I understand.
That being said, it’s like the entire world turns upside down when the Academy goes and nominates a movie that doesn’t seem to “fit” its strange little imdi-movie mold. Like animation. Sure, now there’s a “Best Animated Movie” category, but in the 90s, there wasn’t. In 1992, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast made headlines as the first full-length animated movie ever to be nominated for best picture (along with Silence of the Lambs, Bugsy, JFK, and Prince of Tides). Although it didn’t win, being nominated meant something: This movie was good. Not just family fun good, but good.
So let’s look back and see if it deserved to be nominated. Let’s see if we can find out why this movie was nominated when others weren’t. Let’s see if it’s deserving of my 5/5 rating (which so far only 3 movies have gotten – The Iron Giant, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke).
First thing I have to say: Holy Shit does this movie look AMAZING on Blu-ray. I have seen this movie so many times I’ve lost count. I know what it looks like on VHS and DVD. What they did to restore it is unbelievable. Seriously.
So alrighty. Everyone knows the story of Beauty and the Beast. The beast used to be a prince until he turned an old woman away from the cold one night because of her appearance. She was in fact an enchantress and as punishment for not seeing the beauty within, transforms him into a beast.
Years later, we meet Belle, a beautiful but “odd” girl who enjoys things like books as opposed to men. The most handsome man in town, Gaston, believes he should marry her, seeing as they are both so beautiful. But guess what? Gaston’s not exactly a nice guy, so Belle has to turn him down over and over. Belle’s father Maurice is an inventor, and on the way to a fair, he gets lost, gets attacked by wolves, and ends up at the Beast’s castle, where he is taken prisoner. Belle finds out and finds him in the castle, striking a deal with the Beast that he can take her instead and let her father go. The Beast agrees, let’s Maurice go, and Belle is left in the castle.
The other “people” in the castle get excited because this girl could break the spell, but there’s one problem: their master, the Beast, can’t control his temper. After he angers her, she runs away, but runs into those wolves. The Beast comes to her aid, they strike an understanding, and love begins to unfold. It’s only after Belle finds out her father is sick in the woods looking for her that the Beast lets her go. Belle and her father return home to find Gaston and the village wants to have Maurice committed for the ranting he did about the Beast. Belle proves he’s alive, and suddenly Gaston senses she loves him and decides they must go destroy him. The village men go marching on the castle, there’s a bit fight, and… well, I’m not gonna give away the end. (although I’m sure everyone knows it…)
Here’s the thing about this movie: Everything is just so well done. The characters are well done and memorable. They’re deep and well developed. The songs are good (this is one of the few Disney movies where I actually like ALL the songs), the animation is BEAUTIFUL. The plot is well thought out, easy to follow, and seamless. This movie is as close to perfect as you can get.
I love characters, so let’s talk about them first. Belle is my mother’s favorite disney character, and in all honesty she’s one of the few Disney Princesses I could actually stand as a little kid. I think part of that reason is that she’s not overly girly, and she’s not searching for a guy. She doesn’t need romance to be happy; it just happens to find her. She knows what she wants in a man, and is willing to wait for it. She’s confident in herself, even though she’s different than everyone else. She knows what it’s like to be judged, and although the Beast’s appearance startles her at first, she never is really “terrified” of him. Also, she loves books. What a great roll model!
I’m (strangely, I know) going to talk about the Beast and Gaston at the same time. The portrayal of these two characters is seriously why this movie is so good. They could have just gone and made an evil villain and a Beast who looks menacing. They could have made both these characters with no personality, but they didn’t. And the reason I’m talking about them together is because they both change during the course of this movie, but in opposite directions.
Gaston starts out as an over the top, pompous, handsome, conceited man. There’s nothing really villainous about that, it’s just who he is. It’s annoying, sure, but it’s not evil. He really wants Belle to be his wife, because in his mind, that’s his perfect mate; she’s beautiful, like he is. He grows more angry as she turns him down and humiliates him over and over. He’s pushed to the brink to do some pretty evil stuff, like getting Maurice committed if she doesn’t marry him, to get what he wants. It’s only after Belle shows the Beast on the magic mirror and talks about him does Gaston go into full blown evilness and insanity. He doesn’t understand how anyone could love this creature, especially someone like her. Jealousy rears its ugly head, and he’s willing to do anything possible, even kill, to get Belle to be his.
The Beast, on the other hand, is the opposite. He’s been in this animalistic form for so long that he’s essentially become what he looks like and what he thinks he should be. He’s not evil in the beginning though, he’s just hopeless. He’s given in to the fact that he’s going to be like this forever and knows he can’t change. But here’s what I love: you can see even early on that this guy does have a good heart, and a soft spot for others. When Belle’s up in the tower after he drags maurice away, she complains about how she didn’t get to say goodbye. His face softens ever so slightly as he seems to have a change of heart. It’s subtle (and animated wonderfully), but it’s there. He’s not a bad guy. It’s like he suddenly realizes at the point after he saves Belle from the wolves that he doesn’t have to be this monster anymore. That he can change and he can be better. In the final battle, the movie even goes so far to show that the Beast doesn’t have it in him to kill anyone. He’s not that creature anymore, and probably never was.
This movie is all about how looks can be deceiving and how it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. These two characters show this beautifully, and over the full course of the movie. It’s nice and subtle. You don’t have someone smashing it over your head, talking about “oh he may look evil, but he’s really nice.” You learn the lesson through the movie. This movie believes its audience is smart and can figure things out for themselves.
Our other characters in the movie, despite being supporting, are surprisingly fleshed out. Sure we have some characters there simply for humor (Lefou) but again – it’s subtle. There’s very little slapstick. There’s no inappropriateness. The humor instead comes from either stupidity (in Lefou’s case) or simply the glaring differences in personalities, like Lumiere and Cogsworth. These two are the odd couple of this movie, and it works to the movie’s advantage.
We also have grounded side characters, like Maurice (yes I’m calling him grounded), and Mrs. Potts. They’re there to remind the characters to be realistic, and pull us all back if it gets too crazy. They’re both sweet and caring, willing to go to lengths to give a good pep talk or protect the ones they love.
Ok, enough on characters. I’ve mentioned how I really enjoy all the songs in this movie. I actually didn’t used to. Sure they were all catchy, but I never thought they were anything special. In all honesty, I thought a lot of them sounded the same. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized the reason these songs are so catchy. I’ve realized why I like them: They’re actually used correctly.
Let me explain: I am a HUGE broadway fan, and I believe Disney is what started me on that love affair (that and my older sister’s favorite movie as an 8 year old was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). Songs in shows and movies have a few different reasons for existing. 1) they move the story along in a more entertaining way, 2) they convey emotion in a better way than words, 3) they convey thoughts and messages better than just words, 4) they convey something about the personality of the character that’s singing them/character development, or 5) They’re there for the show stopping number (come on: every show/movie needs to have one of these!)
Sometimes, you have songs that just seem stuck into a movie. Sometimes you can’t understand why for the life of you they chose to put that song there. Either it doesn’t convey anything, or the words don’t match the animation, or it’s pointless. Disney’s actually pretty good (although some movies better than others). They normally don’t put songs into the wrong places. The difference between other Disney songs and these though, is that these songs fit perfectly. Every single one of them. This movie was tailor made as a musical, and it’s no wonder it does well on Broadway. (only a few Disney movies are like this, btw).
“Belle” tells us about our main character and her quirks and personality. The reprise of the song tells us what she longs for. “Gaston” tells more about our villain and is remarkably good character development for him (even if it just solidifies what we thought before). “Be Our Guest” is our show-stopper. It also introduces Belle to the idea that the castle is enchanted and helps get from point A to point B. “Something There” conveys incredible emotion from both main characters. “Beauty and the Beast” is a waltz that somehow conveys emotion and brings a nice change to scene that would become the scene in this movie. “The Mob Song” helps moves the story along. I mean, can you imagine that scene without the song? boring….
Now I do want to talk about one other song. This is the song “Human Again,” that was written at the time of all the others (and recorded) but ultimately cut from the theatrical release. They put it into the Broadway show, and when the movie came out on DVD for the first time, they animated a scene around it and added it back in as an “extended” edition. First off: I LOVE this song. I’ve seen the broadway show and it’s beautiful. The song conveys the emotion of all the objects in the castle. It’s a good glimpse into our side characters that we didn’t have before. That being said, the animated scenes around it – not so good. They’re honestly stupid, silly slapstick that does not fit the rest of the movie. This song works well in the Broadway show, but not the movie. I’m glad they pulled it.
I have a few more very random things to talk about. They’re not issues I have with this movie (because honestly I have none…), but more just things I’d like to share.
~ A lot of people online argue about what the curse the Beast was under actually meant. At at the beginning we’re told that the rose the enchantress gives him will bloom until his 21st year. A LOT of people have taken this to mean that the Beast was 12 (I dunno how they got that age…) when he was transformed. They wonder how Chip can be alive, etc. Here’s how I take this whole thing: They were all time-locked. He was the age he is now, as was everyone in the castle, when he met the enchantress. He had 21 years to find a person to break it. This explains chip, how everyone looks so young, why Adam (yes that’s his name) is still in his 20s. It’s not that hard to figure out people.
~ Can we just talk for a second about how awesome Maurice is? He enters a castle and then doesn’t really freak out about the inanimate objects being alive. All he says is “fascinating, how is this done” and “incredible.” It’s just like after that, he’s ok with it. “Oh ok, so the automan is a dog. Cool.”
~ My favorite scene, hands down, is the one in front of Belle’s door after she doesn’t come down to dinner. You know which one I’m talking about:
~ And yes, there is an easter egg (I saw it this time!). When Gaston falls to his death, little skulls flash in his eyes. You know, in case we didn’t believe he actually died from that fall…
So what? Did this movie deserve all the attention it got? Definitely. Although it really wasn’t a favorite of mine growing up, I’ve grown to adore it as an adult. There really is nothing that I can find wrong with this movie. The characters are amazing. The plot is seamless. The animation is beautiful (did I mention that already?), the songs are good. It’s family friendly. It teaches a good lesson but doesn’t shove it in your ears. It believes the audience is smart. I can’t believe there’s people out there that haven’t seen this movie. It should be required watching for anyone over the age of 6.
I give Beauty and the Beast (1991) a 5 out of 5. Classic in every sense of the word.
Up Next: Aladdin (1992)