Study Guide

Beauty and the Beast Introduction

Beauty and the Beast Introduction


Release Year: 1991

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Writer: Linda Woolverton

Stars: Paige O'HaraRobby Benson, Jerry Orbach


Have you met the Disney fairy-tale machine?

Yeah, of course you have.

And it kicks into full gear with Beauty and the Beast, Disney's version of the classic French story of a cursed monster and the woman who learns to love him.

Translation: it's what's on the inside that counts. (Who knew?)

The source story was originally penned in the 18th century, but it's been told time and time again as a "once upon a time" bedtime tale. Walt Disney himself tried to tackle it back in the '40s but gave up when a live-action French version came out in 1946 (and, to be fair, kind of rocked the doors off the whole thing). So, it stayed that way until 1991, when Disney's rejuvenated animation wing—led by Jeffrey Katzenberg—decided to take their own stab at the tale.

They added their share of Disney touches, of course:

  • They reimagined the original version as a love triangle.
  • They made Bachelor #2, the narcissistic Gaston, a fill-in for the wicked sisters of the original story. 
  • Belle herself underwent a modern updating, becoming less of the guileless innocent that she was in the first story and more of a liberated woman eager for adventure and unwilling to let anyone decide her future.

The whole Belle change made her much different from most of Disney's other princesses, who mostly just waited around in pretty dresses to be rescued. It signaled that the studio was happy to change its formula to match the times.

  

That formula proved utterly magical, turning Beauty and the Beast into a massive box office hit (raking in almost $425 million globally on a $25 million budget) and equally massive critical darling. Plus—yeah, there's more—it became the first animated feature ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. This flick perfected the template of the Disney princess story, all while building momentum on the company's big renaissance in the late '80s and early '90s. And, it has stood the test of time, to boot: it remains one of the shining jewels in Walt Disney's crown.

Bottom line: everyone stinkin' LOVES this movie.

  • Kids love it because it embodies Disney at its best, with funny singing characters and lots of comic pratfalls. 
  • Grownups love it because the romance is moving and genuine—something few live-action movies have managed as well as this "cartoon" does.
  • And, film fans love it because its animation ranks as one of the most sumptuous and beautiful ever put on film.

This cinematic classic not only defines brilliant animation, but brilliant filmmaking in general. Uncle Walt's vision never felt as strong as it does here, leaving his legacy in good hands and reminding us why we still go gaga over the name Disney.

What is Beauty and the Beast About and Why Should I Care?

Short answer?

Because it's awesome.

It's impossible to overemphasize the fact that a great movie is a reward in itself. But, Beauty and the Beast also ends up embodying the high point of an entire art form.

Walt Disney Pictures has long been recognized as the lion king of the animation jungle, with a bevy of established classics and a format that stands as the default definition most people still have for animation. But, as hard as it may be to believe, in the late '80s, the studio was really on the skids. It never really recovered from Walt Disney's death in the 1960s and for 20 years had been wandering in the wilderness looking for magic that they feared had vanished forever.

Enter CEO Michael Eisner, who brought animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg with him to reverse the studio's fortunes. Katzenberg didn't waste time, starting with the live-action/animation mash-up Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, then knocking the ball out of the park with Disney's return to the fairy-tale genre: The Little Mermaid in 1989.

That put them back on the map and reminded animation fans that the House of Mouse wasn't going to go quietly into that good night. But, Katzenberg and Disney needed to prove that The Little Mermaid was no fluke.

The result was Beauty and the Beast.

It was a game changer. Following The Little Mermaid's formula of reimagining fairy tales as Broadway-style musicals, Beauty and the Beast roared into theaters in the winter of 1991 and became a massive hit. Some of that was due to the gorgeous animation that reminded everyone how awesome Disney had been back in the day. Some of it was the fantastic songs from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (names that are still spoken of with hushed reverence at Mouse World headquarters). And, some of it was the winning story and characters: taking an age-old story of magic and romance and making it feel fresh and new.

Whatever the reasons, Beauty and the Beast became a success on every level, keeping the Disney ball rolling through a string of subsequent hits and ensuring that the industry leader in animation kept on trucking well into the 21st century. More than that, it scored an accolade that no animated film of any sort had done before it—earning an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 1991, reminding those stodgy Academy types that animation can be an art form, too.

On top of all of that, it also heralded a huge change in the medium. It capitalized on the new computer animation trend and signaled the beginning of the full-bore CG cartoons that are pretty much standard these days. All of that arrives in a film that's fun to watch, easy to sing along to, and never grows old no matter how many times you see it.

And believe us, we've seen it a lot.

Trivia

Disney's 2007 movie Enchanted poked ever-so-gentle fun at the princess genre they established. Among that film's tricks was bringing back a number of actual princesses in sly little cameos. For example, at one point, Prince Edward (James Marsden) watches a sleazy soap opera on TV. The woman on the screen is Paige O'Hara, doing it just like she did in Beauty and the Beast…if Beauty and the Beast were sleazy and gauche and full of people wearing too much makeup. (Source)

Lumiere's name is French for "light," which makes all kinds of sense for a guy stuck being a candelabra. But there's a second, subtler meaning there. Lumiere is also the name of a pair of brothers, Auguste and Louis, who patented the world's first movie camera. Their 1895 film, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, is generally credited with being the first motion picture in history. That gives the character a subtle but distinct connection to the very medium on which he's portrayed. (Yes, Thomas Edison came before the Lumieres, but his kinetoscope could only be used by one person at a time. These guys made it possible for a whole audience to see the images.) (Source)

Many of the actors voicing the characters were stars of the Broadway stage; megastars, in the cases of Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach. (Yes, he had quite a career before Law & Order.) Disney hoped all along that the film would eventually be made into a Broadway production, and they cast it accordingly. (Source)

Beauty and the Beast Resources

Websites

Disney's Official Site
A very kid-friendly site with games, puzzles, and other assorted goodies from the House of Mouse.

Rotten Tomatoes
And here are the critics' feelings on the matter from Rotten Tomatoes. (Spoiler alert: they dig it.)

Book or TV Adaptations

The Cocteau Version
Walt Disney may have given up on early plans to do Beauty and the Beast because of this live-action French version directed by Jean Cocteau and released in 1946. Besides actually being in French, it was visually gorgeous, with beautiful black-and-white cinematography and a lot of sleight-of-hand illusions that gave it all a very surreal air. It also presents a more grown-up version of the story, including a slightly sadder ending and a very complex relationship between the two lovers. We're not going to pick a favorite here (both films are awesome), but they do show how it's possible to tell the same story in two very different but equally fulfilling ways.

The Stage Version
Never one to pass up an opportunity to make more money, Disney produced a highly successful Broadway version of the story, which makes a lot of sense since the movie itself follows the format of a Broadway musical.

The Sequels
Disney has an unfortunate habit of releasing direct-to-video sequels of their most beloved animated classics, and Beauty and the Beast is no exception. Two of them were produced—The Enchanted Christmas in 1997 and Belle's Magical World in 1998—and even the most hardcore Disney fan has to admit that the quality took a really big tumble.

Beastly
A modern and not at all bad retake on the story, featuring a modern-day prince (a New York upper-crust type) turned into a monster.

The Live-Action Movie
Disney has recently turned to making live-action versions of their classic animated movies. As one of their most beloved classics, Beauty and the Beast is currently on the slate for a 2017 release. It stars Emma "Hermione" Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast.

TV Show v.1
In the late 1980s, a TV version of the original story hit the airwaves. Set in modern New York, it covers the romance between a beautiful district attorney (Linda Hamilton) and the leonine monster living down in the sewers (Ron Perlman). Before you laugh, we gotta confess: it was pretty cool.

TV Show v.2
That show did so well that it prompted a new, updated version in 2012.

Articles and Interviews

The Script
Here's the script of the film, assembled by a dedicated fan.

Villain Analysis
MoviePilot has an analysis of the bad guy in Beauty and the Beast.

The New York Times Review
Here's Janet Maslin's review from The New York Times. Except for thinking that the post-Beast prince was a "paragon of bland handsomeness," she loved everything else about it.

Roger Ebert
The late legendary film critic sums up his views on the film. He digs it, too.

Video

Behind the Scenes
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, starting with Walt's original idea. It's very cool, even if it is produced by Disney. You get a great look at the evolution of the characters through the animators' images.

Paige O'Hara Q&A
An interview with the voice of Belle.

O'Hara and Benson Together Again
A quick interview with the two vocal stars of the film.

Howard Ashman Interview
The late songwriter speaks about his work with Disney.

The Oscar Number
Here's the cast performing two of the Oscar-nominated songs at the 1992 Academy Awards. See what we meant about Jerry Orbach?

The Oscar Winners
Alan Menken picks up his Oscar for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Howard Ashman's partner, Bill Lauch, accepts the award in Ashman's name.

The Trailer
Here's the trailer from the original release. The voice-over encourages you to buy the video—it's a limited-time offer!

Images

The Poster
The original poster for Beauty and the Beast became the video cover as well.

The Teaser Poster
We like it better than the main poster.

Disney World Performance
The live-action show at Walt Disney World.

The Broadway Show
Here's an image from the Broadway version of the show. Is it just us, or does the Beast look like he wandered over from the Pirates of the Caribbean set?

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