When we judge animated films that are released today, we always seem to have Disney set as the benchmark? Is it Disney standard? And rightfully so. Disney is arguably the most ingenious company in film history, telling stories in a multitude of forms that people of all generations can engage and immerse themselves with. What’s more, Disney has created countless timeless animated classics in the past that are still loved worldwide today. It is this solidified relationship of trust and enjoyment with audiences that has allowed Disney to reinvent their classic tales into live action. And with Beauty and the Beast now in cinemas, which I will be seeing very soon, I thought it appropriate to revisit one of Disney’s most beloved classics, the original animated version (So impactful it was Nominated for Best Picture at it’s respective Academy Awards Ceremony). After rewatching it, I can safely say that this animated incarnation of the tale as old as time, is an outstanding one.
It’s safe to say that most people know the plot of the film. But the brief overview is this. An arrogant Prince is cursed by an Enchantress after his inability to love is demonstrated. He is transformed into a menacing Beast, with all the servants of his castle being morphed into inanimate objects come to life. Unless the Beast can learn to love again by the time the last petal of a magical rose falls, he will remain a horrific creature for the rest of his life. All hope seems lost, until he encounters a peculiar young girl named Belle, whom he can learn to discover the beauty of love, and that it’s not what we look like that people admire, it’s what’s inside that counts.
The nature of the film’s narrative is powerful, effective and certainly touching, demonstrating Disney’s ability to take an important life lesson, and translate it into an entertaining and stunning piece of filmmaking. The characters present in the film unquestionably aid the narrative in conveying its compelling message, all of which have become icons in animated history. Belle is not only an empathetic and kind character, one who is a fantastic role model for young females, but she has the ability to stand up for herself, especially when it comes to her interactions with the film’s menacing villain Gaston. What is ironic about the film is that the dashing attractive Male is in fact more horrific, horrendous and menacing than the Beast himself, teaching an important lesson of the importance of personality to audiences. Gaston is easily one of the film’s highlights, not only demonstrating a brutal outlook on any who he sees as inferior to him, but he has a bizarrely funny relationship with his sidekick LeFou, who is the comic relief when it comes to the humans of the film. Make no mistake though; Gaston is a brilliant villain, due to his hateful nature that we love to despise, cementing his position among the greats of Disney villains with Scar and Maleficent. The ever-changing nature of their companionship provides some effective slapstick moments, one which I am intrigued to see adapted to live action.
Despite the effectiveness of the human characters in the film, the incongruous humanity of the characters found within the castle is what cements this line-up as one of the greatest in Disney’s history. Concerning the Beast himself, there is an incredible element of internal torment that the film experiments with to add layers to the Beast. Despite the fact that on initially meeting the Beast, he is terrifying to Belle and immediately locks her up, suggesting that he has lost all unconditional care for others, we see a charming character arc throughout the story, making the Beats the most sympathetic character in the entire film. As for his servants, we have yet another interesting duo, coming in the form of Lumiere (A Candlestick) and Cogsworth (A Clock). Whilst Lumiere is flirtatious and exuberant, Cogsworth is far more uptight, providing for an absorbing and genuinely funny friendship. Characters such as Mrs Potts (Obviously a Teapot) embody calmness and intelligence, initiating the driving force for the Beast to begin to understand the power of love. With the incredible characters that are brought to life in this film, it I now doubt that they have gone down as some of the greatest in the plethora of Disney classics.
What’s also admirable and in fact incredible about the film is its stunning animation. Even though a film like Moana is visually gorgeous and realistically tangible, there’s nothing quite like the craftsmanship of the hand drawn environments found in the golden age of Disney. Both the interior and exterior environments are bold and beautiful in their design, the characters are designed inventively (especially the Beast’s household servants) and the overall aesthetic of the film is touching yet extravagant at the same time. It is the dedication of the animation team that truly personifies the films themes in unforgettable sequences such as Belle and Beast’s dance in the castle. Furthermore, the climatic confrontation between Gaston and the Beast, is surprisingly brutal for an animated film, which is a huge compliment to the animation team, who can engage the audience into a world so much that a two dimensional character can seem to feel real pain. For a film that is now over 25 years old, the animation is still gorgeous and a thing of beauty.
The musical numbers of the film are in contention for some of the greatest amongst the hundreds that Disney has created in its long history. The extravagancy of the production in these songs is outstanding, considering that the film in essence, is a series of drawings. For me, what makes these songs so supreme is there relevance in developing their characters and understanding the film’s context, without it feeling like bland and generic exposition. The opening number ‘Belle’ allows us to learn a wealth of information about Belle, as well as the community she lives in. The flamboyant ‘Be Our Guest’ allow us to gain an insight into the workings of the castle, whilst highlighting the energetic and dynamic nature of characters such as Lumiere. The film also handles the more personal and emotional musical pieces such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (Performed amazingly by Angela Lansbury) in an extremely effective manner. The combination of the luscious animation, powerful lyrics and memorable characters all make for an experience unlike any other, one that I can never see becoming ineffective, despite the numerous retellings of the classic tale that can be viewed today.
Is there really anything else to say? If you have seen the film, as I imagine most people have, then rewatch it. I never realised how much there was to appreciate found within its runtime. If you have never seen it, then I strongly advise that you do. At first glance, the film may seem like it is for little girls yet that is a total misjudgement, with Beauty and the Beast in fact being an excellent representation of the universal charm of Disney that is emblematic of its cinematic history. Let’s just hope that the live action remake it able to maintain the magic of the original. I’m certainly optimistic.
I give Beauty and the Beast 9.5 out of 10