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Disney Films

Beauty and the Beast

1991

Easily Disney's most popular animated feature film of 1991, Beauty and the Beast is a compelling and tasteful mélange of cinematography, storytelling, musical composition, and a song about being covered in hair. It captured the hearts of both young and old and crushed them into a sweet pudding that remains fresh to this day.

Beauty and the Beast, mesmerizingly directed by Jean Cocteau, tells the story of Belle, a bookish bookworm with a passion for reading. She is the object du affeçion of Gaston, a manly man who thinks muscles can solve everything and wants to be the governor of California. Belle's father Maurice (a wacky inventor of such devices as a ray gun that can turn kettle steam into rain and a kind of super-bouncy rubber) is the only person who seems to understand her.

One day, when Maurice becomes lost on his way to an enormous Paris consumer electronics show, he stumbles upon a huge castle that nobody had noticed before. Inside he finds a weird, magical place where the very statues are alive and corridors are lined with disembodied -- but still living -- arms holding candles. Although he is warned not to eat anything while he enjoys the castle's hospitality, he downs a few pomegranate seeds and for that is thrown in the dungeon.

Belle discovers that her father is imprisoned and protests to the castle's master, the Beast. The Beast tells Belle that he will release her father if she can guess his name in three guesses. She guesses "Beast" right off, which really makes him upset, so he sets her father free but keeps Belle prisoner, making her sleep on a pile of mattresses with a single uncomfortable pea on the bottom.

The Beast, it turns out, was once a handsome prince who liked to ride around the countryside, spying on pretty girls and talking to his horse. But one year his parents forgot to invite a horrible witch to his birthday party and she cursed the prince, saying that he'd prick his finger on the sharp stem of a poison apple and be forever cursed until the petals fell off a magic rose on his 21st birthday, at which time he'd be old enough to rent adult movies. In the years since, he has become resigned to his fate and forgotten his dream of living under the sea with a beautiful mermaid he met while trying to find Atlantis in a film that was not financially successful and will never be spoken of again.

Adding to all of the confusion, the vast majority of the inanimate objects in Beast's castle aren't. In particular, there are Lumiere (a talking flashlight), Cogsworth (a talking cog), and Mrs. Potts (a friend of Bob Marley). They were all at one time members of the prince's household, but turned into his possessions as part of his curse -- with the exception of Mrs. Potts' son Chip who was born a teacup -- at the same time that the original inanimate objects were banished into some alternate universe or something. The living objects help fight off Gaston when he storms the Beast's castle accompanied by a mob in the hope that such a show of manliness will win Belle's favor since he can's show off by picking her up in a new Corvette since they haven't been invented yet.

At the climax of Gaston's battle with the Beast, Gaston falls to his death, unlike many other Disney villains who also fell to their deaths but were mostly women. After the day is won, something or other happens to turn the Beast back into a normal guy, completely disappointing Belle but opening the way for a future in which marriage does not violate the laws of nature.

Beauty and the Beast was an immediate success. It made massive amounts of money in every country but France (where an "Oh, that story again?" attitude prevailed) and was a marketing bonanza, with "beast-skin caps" adorning the heads of little boys across the globe.

The movie's soundtrack was also a resounding success. Angela Lansbury (known for such Disney musical comedies as Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Murder, She Wrote) sang the title song and it became a chart-topping hit, inspiring teenyboppers across the globe to "do the Beauty" on the dance floor. Other popular tunes were the subtly seductive "Gaston," the rousing "Mob Song" (sung by the Mob Squad chorus), and Howard Stern's naughty take on "Be Our Guest" ("Be our guest, get undressed," etc.). Pop band The Go-Gos also put together a tie-in album, Beauty and the Beat.

Some years after its original release, Beauty and the Beast was remastered and re-released in IMAX form. The IMAX version contained a new song (Beast's rendition of "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story) and corrected some animation mistakes that had crept into the original (a problem with a preacher's pants, a scene where Belle twirls and it can be seen that she is sans underwear, etc.). After the premier of the re-release, company head Michael Eisner was heard to say, "How can you watch this? There's almost no computer animation!" To which a soon-to-be-ex-employee responded, "Well, some people use their imagination."

In 1992 Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to be nominated for the best-picture Academy Award since The Private Life of Betty Boop. Despite all odds, it lost to another animal-centered film, Silence of the Lambs. It was also nominated for Academy Awards for best score and best song (which it won), and best sound and best makeup (which it lost). There was some level of controversy about the Academy nominations, since a large number of fans believed that Robin Williams should have been nominated for his fine performance. Unfortunately, Academy rules precluded Williams' nomination as a voice actor because he was not in the film.

The original Beauty and the Beast was followed by several direct-to-video sequels, including Belle's Magical Year Without a Santa Claus, Around Belle's Magical World in 80 Days and The Island of Dr. Moreau. There was a spin-off kids cartoon series featuring the animated objects from Beast's castle: Chip and Cogsworth's Rescue Rangers.

Trivia: The "beast" referred to in the film's title is not Beast himself, but Gaston, whose manners are horrible.

Trivia: Originally, Greta Garbo was cast as the voice of Belle and she was very excited about the role. Unfortunately, she passed away just a year before the film would have been completed, and upon learning that her ill health had forced the studio to replace her protested, "Give me back my Beast!"

Trivia: Belle's outfit is based on Maria's from The Sound of Music, a subtle reference to the French resistance to the Nazi occupation of France.

Trivia: The character of Gaston was animated by Home Improvement star Tim Allen.

Trivia: Tina Turner, Hillary Clinton, Lady Diana, and Cher have all been quoted as believing that Beauty and the Beast was intended to be about them.


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