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Once upon a time, in a strange and wondrous land (uh, France), a selfish young prince is hanging around the castle when an old beggar woman comes by, offering him a rose in exchange for shelter for the night. The mean kid sends her away.
Turns out, he was rude to the wrong lady.
She's really a beautiful enchantress and punishes the prince by turning him into a monstrous beast. (And, because she's super vindictive, all of the prince's servants get turned into talking knickknacks—you know, for good measure.) She gives him 10 years to get a girl to fall in love with him and earn that girl's love in return. As a friendly reminder, she gives him the rose (enchanted, of course) whose petals will slowly fall off until he's 21. If he doesn't get a girl to fall in love with him before that last petal falls, he'll have to get used to permanent flea dips and generally freaking out anyone who dares to look upon his ugly mug.
Flash forward nine years and a bit. In a nearby village, the beautiful Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) ruminates on her outsider status while fending off the advances of a local "hero," the narcissistic Gaston (voiced by Richard White). That's before her father, Maurice (voiced by Rex Everhart), gets lost on the way to a long-distance inventor's fair and ends up at the castle belonging to the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson). Though he's welcomed by the servants, he finds the Beast a little less generous. The monster throws the poor old dude into a jail cell in a fit of anger, then storms off to brood for a bit.
Belle finds out about this when her dad's horse comes back with a disturbing lack of dad in tow. The horse takes her back to the castle, where she finds her father and reluctantly agrees to take his place as the Beast's prisoner.
(What's the last nice thing you did for your dad?)
Maurice heads back to town to rally the troops to free Belle but finds them reluctant to help. In fact, Gaston, still smarting from Belle's rejection of him, thinks he can use Maurice as a way to pressure Belle into becoming his bride.
Back at the castle, Belle is serenaded by the servants with show-stopping musical numbers and delicious food. But, she triggers the Beast's temper when she travels into the forbidden west wing and finds the enchanted rose that symbolizes his curse. He freaks out, and she flees the castle into the middle of a winter storm, running into local wolves who decide she'd taste delicious. The Beast arrives in the nick of time to save her, though he's wounded in the process. Stand-up gal that she is, Belle takes him back to the castle and nurses his injuries. They more or less agree to a mulligan and start their relationship again.
Weeks and months pass. While Maurice searches frantically for his daughter, the Beast learns to be more of a decent sort, and Belle finds herself increasingly attracted to him as a result. He falls head over heels for her…and because he can't deny his true love anything, he agrees to release her when she sees that her father is out in the woods alone. The selflessness of his act still can't stop the curse, unfortunately, since she needs to love him back.
Predictable? Yes. Still amazing? Of course.
The castle goes into full-bore mope mode while Belle races off to save her father, carrying the Beast's magic mirror that allows her to look in on him. She's got a secret stowaway: Chip the tea cup (voiced by Bradley Michael Pierce). The three arrive back at Maurice's farmhouse only to find Gaston and a mob waiting for them, ready to drag Maurice off to a lunatic asylum because of his crazy talk about a beast in a castle.
In a well-meaning effort to spare her father a padded room, Belle shows everyone the Beast in the magic mirror…and Gaston uses it to whip the villagers into a frenzy of fear and hate. The mob marches on the castle after locking Belle and Maurice in the cellar. Help arrives in the form of Chip, who commandeers one of Maurice's inventions to spring them from the cellar. Belle races off to the castle.
Luckily, the servants at the castle aren't going down without a fight. While the Beast continues to sulk in his chambers, they set up a stalwart defense against the mob and send them packing. (Note to self: do not pick a fight with sentient cutlery.) But, Gaston slips through their defenses and finds the Beast unwilling and unable to defend himself. Before the killing blow can fall, the Beast spots Belle racing toward the ramparts and his spirit is rejuvenated.
Cue: climactic battle on the castle ramparts in the middle of a howling storm.
The Beast eventually gets the better of Gaston, who begs for his life. Having found his spirit of generosity, our hero allows Gaston to live, then turns away from him to embrace Belle. Gaston takes advantage of the lapse to literally stab the Beast in the back before losing his balance and tumbling to a messy end at the bottom of the castle ravine. The Beast dies in Belle's arms, just as the last petal on the enchanted rose falls…and Belle confesses that she loves him.
Way to get it in under the wire.
As she sobs over her beloved's corpse, the rain turns into shoot-y, sparkly enchantment and not only does the Beast return to life, but he does so in a demonstrably hunkier form. The curse is lifted, the servants return to human form, and there's hugs all around as Belle and her true love enjoy a well-earned happily ever after.
(Happily-ever-after endings are the copyright of Walt Disney Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved.)