Skip to main content

Empire List #436: Beauty and the Beast

Chances one of the first movies your parents showed you was a Disney movie. Disney is the safe choice: its movies always have cute and cuddly characters, moral lessons you can carry with you for the rest of your life, scenes depicting good triumphing over evil, and often, singing characters. Occasionally the Mouse House breaks new grounds in animation and gets a shot at an Academy Award for best film. “Beauty and the Beast” the 1991 version by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, is one such film.

I have to admit, the very first time I saw this movie parts of it scared me. In my defence I must have been around six years old and what the titular Beast got mad, I wouldn’t have liked to be sitting in his lazy-boy. It wasn’t even my choice. It was movie time in the first grade so of course the teacher went with the Disney catalogue and closed the curtains as we sat on the carpet. I am not sure if I even understood everything the first time since back then I was living in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and I was only beginning to learn how to speak English. What I am sure of is that I would have preferred “Aladdin” because nothing beats Robin Williams in genie mode. However, “Beauty and the Beast” does have its charms.

A prologue informs the viewers that “once upon a time” there was an enchantress disguised as a beggar woman who knocked at the door of a prince’s castle seeking shelter. He promptly told her to get lost, spurning her wrath and causing her to transform the prince into a hideous beast. The only way to lift the curse is for him to find true love before a magical rose loses all of her petals or else he will be a beast forever.

The Beauty comes in the form of Belle (Paige O’Hara), the daughter of an inventor in a French village. Belle loves her father, loves her books, and occasionally loves to spontaneously start singing in the streets to express how she feels about her life. What she doesn’t like is Gaston (Richard White); the pompous local hero who assumes the whole world loves him as much as he loves himself. He could have any woman in the village, but sets his sights on Belle believing she will immediately jump at the chance of being his obedient wife. What a dolt.

When Maurice, Belle’s father, leaves the village to take his latest invention to a fair, he gets lost in the woods and is attacked by wolves. He seeks refuge at the Beast’s castle and is surprised to be received by talking furniture, which are nonetheless very accommodating. Unfortunately the Beast (Robbie Benson) is furious at seeing they’ve let an intruder in the house and locks Maurice away in the dungeon. Led by Maurice’s horse to the castle, Belle convinces the Beast to let him go in exchange for her life.

Over time of course, the beautiful Belle manages the melt the cold Beast’s heart. It doesn’t hurt that the Beast owns a library the size of a theatre, leading to a great moment when he pulls the curtain to reveal the rows and rows of books much to her delight. Those are the parts that the girls loved. Isn’t that romantic? Being a guy I preferred the battle scenes in the third act when the jealous Gaston forms an angry mob with pitchforks and heads to the castle to slay the Beast. It never occurred to them they might get attacked by feather dusters, teacups, and wardrobes.

“Beauty and the Beast” is often praised for the dance number when Belle and the Beast dance in a computer-generated ballroom as the camera dollies around them in a simulated 3D space. Technically impressive, but my favourite musical number is when Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) the maitre d’ turned into a candlestick performs “Be Our Guest” for Belle in the dining room. He is so enthusiastic he manages to make the uptight clock-shaped butler Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) join in on the dance.

What was even more impressive was seeing all of this live on stage. During a high school trip to New York City I got to see “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway. I don’t care if you hate Disney, musicals, or even New York. You simply have to see this play for the costumes. You’d think it was impossible to make a clock costume with swinging pendulum inside, but they did it. Now, if only they could make “Aladdin he Broadway Musical” with Robin Williams…


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…