Tuesday, October 21, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 13th November 1991
Beauty and the Beast is such a landmark film in Disney history. The Little Mermaid began the new Renaissance of animation, but it was Beauty and the Beast that really made the world sit up and take notice. It seemed unthinkable in 1991, but for the very first time, an animated film was nominated for BEST PICTURE at the Academy Awards! (For the record, this has only happened once since, for Pixar’s “Up.”)

Taking everything that they had learned from The Little Mermaid and the technical wizardry that had been developed for The Rescuers Down Under, the artists at Disney once again reinvented a well-known fairy tale into a cinematic masterpiece... but it wasn't an easy road they travelled.

Beauty and the Beast had been on the cards since way back in Walt’s day, but they could never quite get the story to work. At the start of development in the late 1980s, the director given the job of adapting the "tale as old as time" to the screen was Richard Purdum. He and a team of story and concept people toured France, collecting inspiration and art designs, which they then used to create an 18-minute reel, showing the opening of the movie.

The problem is, it really wasn't very good. Purdum was apparently very strict about sticking closely to the original story. None of the characters seemed to have much personality or motivation, and to my thinking, it's just bad storytelling. Have a look...

Thankfully, the big-wigs at Disney watched this reel and quickly realised that this film was not going to be successful. So the entire slate was wiped clean and the project started from scratch with a new director. (This was not an isolated incident. Later on we'll hear about the horrendous troubles they had making "Kingdom of the Sun," which eventually became "The Emperor's New Groove." And don't even get started on the many reboots of Rapunzel!)

Two up-and-coming directors, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who had just successfully helmed a short animated movie to be used at Walt Disney World's EPCOT, were given the job of "Acting Directors," which in their words, meant that they had to "act like directors." After a probation period and once Jeffrey Katzenberg was happy that the project was moving in the right direction, he gave them the job officially.
Now, this was also during the time of the great animation exile at Disney. When Eisner and Katzenberg were put in charge of the company in the mid-90s, they decided that having the big large animation building on the Disney lot was just a waste of space. The entire animation department was swiftly shipped off to some run-down warehouses in Glendale. I'm sure Walt would have been horrified. The building that HE designed for animation was being taken over and the animators booted out.

The fact of the matter is though, it was in these horrible old warehouses that the Disney Renaissance was born. Out of adversity came success.

The place where all your favourite Disney movies were made.
With the new version of the story, it was quickly decided that it should be a musical. Coming off their huge success with The Little Mermaid, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were put to work inventing brand new songs for Beauty and the Beast. Sadly, Ashman would never see the completed film. It was during the production of Beauty and the Beast that Menken and all of the other Disney artists learned that Howard was severely ill with AIDS-related illness. The last time the creative team visited Howard in hospital before his death, they were telling him what a resounding success the recent preview screening had been. "Beauty and the Beast is going to be a great success," producer Don Hahn said to Howard. "Who'd have thought it?" Howard's reply: "I would have." He died a few days later.

Though crushed by the loss of such a large personality and key creative force at the studio, they pushed on and finished the film for its release at the end of 1991. By this stage the film's plot was locked down, but earlier in the production there had been a large amount of tension in the story department.

Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg hired a Hollywood screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, to write a script for Beauty and the Beast. She took all of the ideas being developed and began typing up pages of dialogue. This did not sit well with the story artists, particularly Roger Allers, who was head of story at the time. Katzenberg had told them to simply animate Woolverton's words, and not change anything. "That's not our process!" Allers implored. Things came to breaking point with Allers and Woolverton involved in a yelling match in Katzenberg's office. The boss's decision: move them into the same office. While this new arrangement wasn't initially a popular one, it did ensure that Woolverton got to see first-hand how the animation process worked, and in the long run it made for a much more workable collaboration.

An interesting true story - Nik Ranieri (the supervising animator for Lumiere) and Will Finn (the supervising animator for Cogsworth) really didn't get along in real life. Knowing that their characters would spend the majority of screen time together, the pair had to come to a reasonable working relationship, but some say that a lot of the characters' on-screen animosity is actually just a reflection of their real-life creators.
On the film's release, it saw a wild level of success that had not been seen at the Disney studios in a long, long time. Critics raved. Audiences watched it again and again. Everybody knew the songs. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to make over $100 million at the box office. It was the film that catapulted Disney well and truly back into the public eye and made animated movies wildly popular for the first time in decades.

A few years later, Michael Eisner made the decision that many considered a "no-brainer." He put Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. This was no small thing. Eisner was concerned that Times Square had become a seedy, dangerous and dirty area; not the kind of place he would want his Disney audiences visiting. He voiced his concerns to New York Mayor Giuliani, and was promised that the square would be cleaned up, and the mayor made good on that promise. Today, Times Square is a bright, colourful and safe place for people of all ages to visit, and that is largely thanks to the production of Beauty and the Beast in 1994.

The first place to house this stunning production outside of America was my own home town, Melbourne. Rachael Beck and Michael Cormick headlined the leads, and an unknown 27 year-old actor was cast as Gaston, a young man who seemed destined for greatness. His name?
Hugh Jackman.

In New York, Melbourne, and everywhere it has played since, Beauty and the Beast has been an enormous success. It is now continuously performed by amateur companies since the rights became available in 2006. I am lucky to have been in two different productions, the second time playing Lumiere!

But back to the movie.

 The story begins with some very uneasy, almost menacing sounding music. As the narrator begins to tell the backstory, we see a beautiful castle embedded in a rich forest.

We learn how a young prince who lived in this castle turned away an old beggar woman. After revealing herself to be an enchantress in disguise, the beggar transformed him into a beast, and enchanted everybody in his castle. The only way the prince could break the spell would be to fall in love with someone and have them love him in return. But who could ever learn to love a beast...?

Ten years later in a nearby village, a young girl named Belle heads into town to get a new book from the library. The villagers do not understand this strange intellectual. Both she and her father are seen as oddities who have never really fit in with "the normal people."

The only person in town who actually seems to like her is Gaston, an egotistical hunter, who has decided that since she is beautiful to look at, she is the only girl destined to be his wife. (The other girls in the village are heartbroken that he is so fixated on the weirdo inventor's daughter!)

Back at home, Belle's father Maurice is finishing up his new wood-chopping machine. With the knowledge that it might actually work, he heads off to the fair in the hope of becoming a world famous inventor. Unfortunately, he gets horribly lost on the way.

After being abandoned by his horse and being chased by wolves, Maurice seeks shelter in the imposing castle that looms before him. Inside he discovers an impossible group of household objects that seem to have a life of their own! Lumiere the candlestick, Cogsworth the clock and Mrs. Potts the teapot all welcome him to this mysterious castle, although Cogsworth is very nervous about the master finding out about the visitor.

Sure enough, the enchanted prince, overwhelmed with rage, throws Maurice into a tower cell and leaves him there. The following day, Gaston pays Belle a visit with a wedding proposal. What he doesn't expect is to be rejected and publicly humiliated!

Belle, horrified at the thought of being Gaston's "little wife," runs away to a nearby field, where she meets her horse Philippe, returning in distress without her father. Philippe leads her to the place where Maurice was lost and she enter the castle. Climbing the tower, she soon finds her father locked away in a cell. The beast appears and tells her that the only way she can free her father is if she takes his place. She regretfully accepts, promising to stay in the castle for the rest of her days.

Meanwhile, Gaston is down in the dumps after his refused proposal. His lackey Lefou does his best to cheer him up. Just then Maurice appears in the tavern ranting and raving about how a monstrous beast has kidnapped his daughter. Gaston and the other townsfolk swiftly kick Maurice out into the cold.

Back at the castle, Belle begins to meet all of the enchanted objects, starting with the wardrobe in her room, Madame de la Grande Bouche. The Beast impatiently waits for Belle to come to dinner, but she is not at all interested. Lumiere and Mrs. Potts attempt to help their master act like a gentleman, but he has not had much practice.

Belle's dinner refusal sends the Beast into a rage, insisting that she will starve if she doesn't eat with him. Little does he know that Lumiere and Mrs. Potts secretly make her dinner in the middle of the night while he is sulking away in the West Wing.

Dinner is followed by a tour of the castle, but the curious and rebellious Belle takes a detour into the forbidden West Wing, where she finds the Beast's magic rose. When she is discovered, the Beast flies into an even more furious rage, frightening her so much that she flees the castle, supposedly never to return.

Belle rides Philippe away as fast as she can, but they are soon set upon by a hungry pack of wolves. Just as things are looking dire, the Beast appears and fights the wolves, sustaining some injuries himself in the process. Unable to leave the weak beast alone in the snow, Belle has a change of heart and helps him back to the castle.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Gaston has arranged a meeting with Monsieur D'arque, the owner of the local asylum. He strikes up a deal for Maurice to be locked away unless Belle agrees to marry Gaston. This kind of blackmail appeals to D'arque's sinister nature and he agrees to go through with the plan.

As the days turn into weeks, the Beast begins to have genuine feelings for Belle, and tries to find ways to show his affections. Lumiere suggests introducing her to the enormous library. As Belle comes to know the Beast, she begins to realise that there is a very real and sad soul locked in the frightening exterior. They come to be friends.

If you are watching the extended version of the movie, you will now see the scene that was added in 2002. The song "Human Again" was originally written for the film but cut out for pacing issues. For the Special IMAX Edition, the song was inserted back into the movie, with all new animation matching the old style. The song shows the enchanted objects cleaning up the castle as they dream of being human again, while Belle and the Beast come closer as she teaches him how to read.

Finally, Belle and the Beast have their dinner. They both dress up for the special occasion and share a romantic dance in the grand ballroom.

That evening the Beast lets Belle look into his magic mirror to see what her father is doing. She sees him lost and alone in the woods. The Beast, realising that Belle needs to find her father, releases her from being a prisoner. She races off to find Maurice and the Beast sinks into depression, feeling that his last chance of becoming human again just walked out the door.

No sooner has Belle settled Maurice back into his bed than Monsieur D'arque appears surrounded by an angry mob. When Belle refuses Gaston's newest advances, the jealous hunter leads the mob to the castle to kill this beast that she has developed feelings for.

The villagers are beaten back by the enchanted objects, but Gaston manages to find the Beast hiding in the West Wing and a fierce battle ensues. Just as Belle returns, Gaston stabs the Beast before falling off the rooftop and into the ravine below.

Belle, sensing that the Beast is very close to dying, admits that she loves him just as the last petal of the rose falls. The enchantress's spell is broken and the Beast becomes a human once more.

All of the enchanted objects revert back into humans, Belle and the Prince are married and everybody lives happily ever after.

IRVYNE: What more is there to say about the story and characters? The film flows superbly. Every character has an essential part to play in the story, from the heroic leads through to the small bit-parts like Monsieur D'arque or the doggy footstool.

The character of Belle is somewhat of a revelation too. Gone are the days where Disney princesses were simple girls who things "happened to." Belle is a girl of her own making. How refreshing to have the pretty girl actually be a bit of a nerd, misunderstood by the common crowd and happy to play by her own rules! She is the kind of girl who could fall in love with a beast, because she sees everyone else as superficial and boring.

There are a few rather gaping plot holes, which we will discuss below. But these only become apparent on multiple viewings. And once I got my copy of Beauty and the Beast on video (that's V.H.S., kids... I've since bought copies on D.V.D. and more recently Blu-Ray) I watched it over and over again. I'm crazily familiar with this film, which is why I can pick apart the inconsistencies in the plot. But besides that, this is Disney at its finest. With two unproven directors leading the charge, the artists created a classic for the ages.

Beauty and the Beast was far-and-away the best-looking film Disney had ever produced up to this point. Every frame is a work of art. The word that keeps coming to mind when thinking of this film's look, is "rich."

Extending the painterly style of The Little Mermaid, each background here feels alive, and every frame is filled with stunning detail. I would be proud to hang many of the shots as paintings on my wall. There is also a tremendous use of colour. From the moody blues of the tower cell to the golden hue of the village, every scene has a particular colour scheme to set the mood.

The scene that had every tongue wagging in 1991 though, was the ballroom scene. The new C.A.P.S. system allowed much easier and smoother integration between hand-drawn animation and computer rendered 3D models. The entire ballroom was built in the computer as a virtual set, and the animators could then sweep the camera all around the scene, with the hand-drawn characters being superimposed over the top. Nothing like it had ever been seen before, and it still stands up as lovely-looking today.

While Menken and Ashman hit a home-run with their brilliant songs and score in The Little Mermaid, they took it even further with Beauty and the Beast. All of the songs are instantly singable and recognisable, and many a soundtrack was sold as the movie was playing in cinemas. It is a flawless collection of songs, with not a weak moment.

With their extensive knowledge of the workings of a stage musical, Menken and Ashman crafted the songs in that design. There is the big show-stopper with "Be Our Guest," there is the romantic love ballad in "Beauty and the Beast," there is the dramatic and operatic "Mob Song" towards the end. Even the cut-and-repositioned song "Human Again" is wonderfully entertaining and catchy.

Menken's score is likewise a masterpiece. This is no happy-snappy cartoon score, Menken wrenches real drama and emotion in his notes, while at the same time giving it a timeless feel.

Beauty and the Beast is just as beautiful, clever, funny, emotional and relevant today as it was in 1991. It is a classic in every sense of the word. I have no doubt that new generations of children will continue to enjoy it generations and generations into the future.

WENDY: Totally awesome!

PASCAL: I love this film… but I HATE Gaston! He’s such an arrogant so-and-so!

WENDY: It’s enough to put you off men, really.

PASCAL: I want to find a beast!

IRVYNE: Whoa! Careful what you wish for!

SHENZI: The music is amazing. I love all of these songs. It’s been a while since I watched this. I didn’t realise how many songs got a reprise.

IRVYNE: Yeah, I suppose there’s a few. The “Belle” and “Gaston” songs both get a proper reprise. And the bridge from “Belle” gets reprised during “Something There.” Aaaaand, I suppose they reprise “Beauty and the Beast” for the finale. You’re right, there are a few.

WENDY: That’s the form though. It’s such a stage musical.

IRVYNE: I can distinctly remember the very first time I saw this at the cinemas – on my own, because no one else would come with me – and as soon as the village scene started I had a real lightbulb moment: “This is just like a stage musical!” Then, just a couple of years later, the musical came to Melbourne. The rest is history.

MALEFICENT: It’s such a change from the previous decades, but the musical format works brilliantly in animation. The songs are all so emotive. The score is amazing as well.

SHENZI: The background music is like another character in the story. It explains what’s going on.

IRVYNE: Menken is a genius, no doubt about it.

SHENZI: Absolutely.

MALEFICENT: The songs all stick. You don’t leave this movie without at least one of the songs stuck in your head. I am glad they moved “Be Our Guest” to the middle of the movie; it was originally supposed to be sung for Maurice when he first arrives.

IRVYNE: It wouldn’t have worked at that point. That’s where the plot needs to keep moving to get Belle into the castle. Once she’s met the Beast, we can slow down a bit. It was a very wise decision.

PASCAL: I love the scene in the snow where he builds a gigantic snowball, and it ends up falling on his head!

MALEFICENT: Can you imagine the damage that would have done if it had hit her?

IRVYNE: She would have been knocked unconscious! Or killed! Instead of "Beauty and the Beast," it would be “Beauty Is Deceased.”

MALEFICENT: In terms of art, all of the backgrounds are beautiful. They look like a page in a storybook.

PASCAL: But they’re very flat.

IRVYNE: What do you mean by that? They're paintings…! You’ve probably just been watching too many CGI movies!

WENDY: I love all the light and shade in this film. It’s so moody.

IRVYNE: The castle itself is like a character. It’s a brilliantly realised space; you feel like you could just go there.

MALEFICENT: As much as I love this film, I have to admit… In some places, the animation is terrible. If you look at the background characters, all the villagers are horribly animated! Even just when they’re walking they look wrong.

HAKU: Yeah, I thought the characters in that scene were very ordinary.

IRVYNE: I have to admit, that stood out for me as well. It’s certainly nothing that I noticed in 1991. And it’s nowhere near as noticeable when you’re watching it on a little T.V… but blow it up to a big screen, and those characters stand out. I don’t know if maybe they were just rushed at the last minute...?

MALEFICENT: And Belle looks ugly every time she hasn’t got her mouth open.

IRVYNE: What?? Belle is gorgeous! I hope her animators James Baxter and Mark Henn don’t hear you saying that!

MALEFICENT: If Belle closes her mouth, she has a big fat ugly face. She does not look pretty.

ALL: *gasp*

MALEFICENT: But every time she’s surprised or scared, or whenever she opens her mouth, she looks hot.

IRVYNE: I think you're crazy! I tell you what though, do you know the shot I really dislike, and I cringe at every time I watch this movie? Towards the end of “Be Our Guest,” you see all of these plates and bowls moving in patterns. It’s terrible, and it doesn’t fit at all!

PASCAL: Yeah, what’s the point in that shot? They’re just dancing in the air in a weird pattern.

WENDY: It’s like for just a few seconds it’s trying to be Fantasia.

IRVYNE: I always used to wonder if they were like a day away from release and they were missing animation for one shot, so they just threw that in. Looking at that video above, you can see that it was planned from the start. It's supposed to be there.

WENDY: “We're out of time! Quick, just throw in some moving wallpaper!”

HAKU: Probably would have just rendered overnight.

SHENZI: I think the Beast looks ugly when he becomes a human.

MALEFICENT: Prince Adam?

SHENZI: Is his name Adam?

MALEFICENT: Yes it is.

IRVYNE: No it’s not. Not officially, anyway. There was a video game called “The D Show” that came out in 1998, and for some reason it called him Prince Adam, but the game wasn’t made at Disney. People seemed to take this new name as gospel and started calling him that. According to everybody involved in the film and the Broadway musical – including Linda Woolverton, who WROTE the thing - the Prince/Beast character has never had a name, and he certainly wasn’t called Adam.

WENDY: Meanwhile, apparently he was only 11 years old when he was cursed.

IRVYNE: Yeah, they kind of messed up the timeline in the movie. The narrator says the rose will die when he turns 21. But then Lumiere sings, “Ten years we’ve been rusting.” Which indicates that when the fairy cursed the prince, he was only 11. Which is pretty harsh! He was just a kid!

HAKU: I know. I think the sorceress is the real villain in this movie. Who punishes a child for being selfish, by cursing him for the rest of his life?

IRVYNE: They should make a Beauty and the Beast 2, where Belle and the Prince go on a witch hunt, to teach that enchantress a lesson!... Then again, no…

SHENZI: Where were his parents? If he didn’t have any parents, he should have been a king, not a prince.

WENDY: Maybe he killed them in a beastly rage soon after he was transformed!

IRVYNE: Ooh, that’s good!

PASCAL: In the portraits he looks a lot older than 11!

MALEFICENT: Maybe they were portraits of his uncle!

IRVYNE: Ha! An uncle he really didn’t like, which is why he shredded them! Anyway, they fixed this error in the stage musical. Instead of the flower blooming “until his twenty-first year,” it says it would bloom “for many years.” So he could have been 20 when he was cursed, and therefore 30 when Belle arrives.

MALEFICENT: What do you think of Chip?

PASCAL: I love Chip!

HAKU: He’s okay. As child actors go, he's passable.

IRVYNE: How busy did Mrs. Potts get though! She's got an entire cupboard full of children!

SHENZI: And only one of them ever got to hang out with her.

IRVYNE: That’s one of the things about this movie. There are a number of plot points that really don’t make sense. When you watch it the first time, you don’t even notice. But on repeat viewings you begin to notice stuff like Chip. Was he a 6 year-old when the curse was cast? If so, he’s only 5 years younger than the Beast... But then, the Beast has aged and Chip hasn’t… So was Chip born AFTER the curse…? I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to know how a teapot gives birth to a cup!

MALEFICENT: A friend posted something on Facebook recently; something that one of his students said. This kid was saying that the Beast doesn’t actually change his selfish attitude. When the mob are storming the castle he says, “Just let them come.” Wallowing in his own self-pity, he doesn’t stop to think of the safety of all these people he’s supposed to be leading and protecting. So those ten years as a beast didn’t even teach him anything. He still doesn't care about anyone but himself.

IRVYNE: That's true! Mind… blown. Also, when Belle and the Beast start getting along and they’re reading books together and being friends, why doesn’t he just say, “Okay, here's the deal... I’m really a human, and I got cursed? If we can make this relationship work, I can be a human again!” Problem solved, quick kiss, the end. Gaston didn’t even need to get involved.

And another one: When the Beast says, “I release you. Go and help your father,” why doesn’t he just tell her to bring Maurice back to the castle? Surely it’d a more comfortable life than in the little shack back in the village.

MALEFICENT: They’d come back to the castle, he’d say “You came back,” she’d say “I love you.” The end.

IRVYNE: Speaking of Gaston, I like that the villain in this movie is a very normal guy. I mean, he’s a pain, but he doesn’t have any kind of superpowers or anything. He’s literally the opposite of the Beast. Good looking on the outside, but horrible within. I think that’s a fantastic duality. And what better antagonist for a Beast than a man who hunts beasts for a living?

HAKU: Did you notice at the end of the tavern scene, he and Lefou just randomly walk towards the window for no reason?

WENDY: Well he was walking towards the camera, obviously!

IRVYNE: Did anyone else watch the bear rug in that scene? It changes its position in every single shot!

MALEFICENT: That’s like in the West Wing. Every time you see that room it’s been rearranged. The furniture and the pictures are all in different spots! Maybe the castle is alive.

WENDY: Maybe there are servants stuck in the walls!

IRVYNE: In the musical there is a character called Jean-Claude who gets turned into a brick wall!
MALEFICENT: Do you know who I love most of all in this movie? The man who runs the asylum, Monsieur D’arque! He is evil! Look at him go, with his red eyes and his gangly frame.

WENDY: And his long fingers!

IRVYNE: He was voiced by Tony Jay, who voiced Minister Frollo a few years later.

MALEFICENT: There you go. He has a beautiful evil voice.

IRVYNE: So how would we rank this against other Disneys?

SHENZI: Awesome.

MALEFICENT: It’s definitely up near the top.

IRVYNE: THE best, do you think?

PASCAL: No, not THE best. I like The Little Mermaid better.

WENDY: Yeah, me too.

SHENZI: I think this is better than The Little Mermaid.

MALEFICENT: Yeah, I would say Beauty and the Beast is better. Even though we found a lot of plot holes.

IRVYNE: The reason I ask, is because this film is one of – so far – only TWO animated movies that have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It ended up losing out to Silence of the Lambs. But how do you think this new generation of Disney holds up against the old one; the Cinderellas and the Lady and the Tramps?

SHENZI: Much better.

MALEFICENT: I don’t think so. I think the animation was better back then.

SHENZI: The story’s much better in the newer movies.

MALEFICENT: Yes, the story structure is better. But in an ideal world, I would prefer the more modern stories with the older style of animation.

HAKU: Yeah, I’m the same. Even the CGI that they used in Beauty and the Beast looks dated now.

IRVYNE: What, like the ballroom? I reckon that still holds up pretty well. This was only Disney’s second movie using C.A.P.S. to colour it, and I think it looks nice. There’s a couple of shots where they’ve done a really nice job with the lighting. Look at the scene where Belle first meets the Beast in the tower, with the shafts of light coming through. It’s really nice.

HAKU: Do you think the movie would have worked as well without the music?


WENDY: Definitely not.

IRVYNE: Well anyway, we've been chatting for a really long time now! I think it's time to leave Belle and her Prince and move on to the Arabian Nights!

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