100 Film Favorites – #42: Beauty and the Beast
(Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise, 1991)
“No one plots like Gaston, takes cheap shots like Gaston, plans to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston.”
I don’t know about you, but I have a weakness for those “my year in review” Facebook apps that gather up your old status posts in a neat little presentation and give you statistics about them. Often, this information will include a list of “most commonly used words.” And invariably, my list reads something like this:
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is yet another film that the vast majority of you have likely seen. Based on an 18th century French fairytale, it tells the story of Belle, an inventor’s daughter who enjoys progressive hobbies, such as reading and thinking. Due to her intellectual pursuits, Belle’s fellow townsfolk regard her as odd. Gaston, a skilled hunter and the village he-man, is willing to overlook this, because she’s hot. Belle, however, wants nothing to do with the boorish Gaston, calling him “positively primeval,” which he takes as a compliment.
One day, Belle’s father hits the road to take his latest invention, an automatic wood-chopper, to a nearby fair. He gets lost on the way, and seeks refuge at a mysterious castle. It just so happens to be the same castle from the film’s prologue, wherein dwells a prince, magically transformed into a hideous beast until he can demonstrate kindness and earn the love of a woman. The Beast does not take kindly to the inventor’s intrusion, and imprisons him in the dungeon.
Belle learns of her father’s fate when the family horse returns to the village alone. She returns with the horse to the Beast’s castle and begs for her father’s release, offering herself in exchange. The Beast accepts the deal, freeing the inventor and locking Belle in the dungeon.
Gradually, the Beast (influenced by the advice of his servants, whimsically transformed by the curse into assorted household objects) allows Belle to roam the castle more freely. As he learns to show kindness, Belle notices “something there that wasn’t there before” and begins to develop feelings for the Beast. In recent years, people have criticized this transition as simply Stockholm Syndrome taking hold. But I think it’s more of a 50 Shades of Grey thing. You see, Gaston, Belle doesn’t want some dude who’s going to be a jerk and try to dominate her. She wants a guy who’s going to be a jerk and try to dominate her IN HIS DUNGEON.
Belle’s kinky like that.
Rabid with dungeon-envy, Gaston resorts to various dirty tricks to try and “win” Belle away from the Beast. These ploys include threatening to commit her father, “crazy old Maurice,” to an asylum if she won’t marry him. When that classy tactic fails, Gaston sings what is probably the greatest song ever to inspire a violent mob (simply titled “The Mob Song“), which motivates the villagers to take up arms and attack the “vicious” Beast in his castle. While the townsfolk engage the living object-servants in an epic battle, Gaston confronts the Beast personally. They brawl on the castle roof, and the Beast nearly hurls Gaston from the parapets, but Belle, anxiously looking on, convinces him not to. Then Gaston makes the bright decision to stab him in the back anyway. The injured Beast swats Gaston off the roof, and in an almost-subliminal moment, skulls totally flash in Gaston’s pupils as he plummets to his death:
As he lies dying, Belle tells the Beast she loves him…and magic rain begins to fall. Amidst a neato fireworks display, the big scary castle becomes a nice pretty one, the servants are restored to their human forms, and the Beast becomes a prince once again. And, in the fairytale tradition, errbody (except Gaston) lives Happily Ever After.
People who know me (and my history of devastating my opponents in Disney-themed trivia contests) may marvel that it’s taken me this long to include a traditionally-animated Disney film in my Countdown. Well, okay. Let’s be real. If this were simply a list of “movies I’ve watched the most times,” there would be a far greater Disney presence. And like as not there are other films among the “Disney animated canon” which merit a slot here. But I really wanted to try to present a variety of films from different genres, studios, and eras. So, much as yesterday’s post was “one documentary I enjoy, serving as a representation of All Good Documentaries,” try to think of this one as “Disney Animated Features, with an emphasis on one that’s really good.”
So, why this one in specific?
-The music: The film features songs by the dream-team of Ashman and Menken, who wrote previous Countdown entry Little Shop of Horrors and who provided music for another Disney mega-hit, The Little Mermaid, in 1989. Beauty and the Beast is one of only four films to have three of its songs nominated for the “Best Original Song” Oscar (“Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” which won the award). Every song is memorable, but a personal favorite has to be “Gaston,” in which the man himself boasts of things like being “especially good at expectorating” and biting his opponents in wrestling matches. The sheer craftsmanship of the lyrics (including finding a rhyme for “specimen”) puts the song in a class of its own.
-Gaston himself: One of the first Disney “villains” to assume his role as the film progresses, Gaston gradually shifts from simply an overbearing narcissist to a crazed back-stabber. Say what you will about him, at least he’s confident as Hell. He even uses antlers in all of his decorating! So really, what’s not to like? The recent “New Fantasyland” addition to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom includes a restaurant called Gaston’s Tavern, and a “cast member” portraying Gaston can often be seen walking around the area. This news pleases me greatly.
-The movie’s place in Disney history: The film marks the second major success of the “Disney Renaissance” which restored the studio’s image and financial success in the wake of the semi-stagnant 80s. It was the first animated feature ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an honor which would not recur for another 18 years, with Up being nominated in 2009.
-As mentioned, much of the film’s success results from the reunion of Ashman and Menken. Howard Ashman was dying of AIDS during the film’s production, and was only reluctantly pulled away from working on his pet project, Aladdin, to finish it. Menken died before the film’s premiere, and “Beauty and the Beast” is dedicated: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his humanity.”
-During “Be Our Guest,” Lumiere sadly remarks, “ten years we’ve been rusting, needing so much more than dusting.” If the curse has really been in effect for ten years, and the Beast needs to earn love before his 21st birthday (when the last rose-petal falls), that would have to mean that the prince was no older than 11 when he got cursed. That sorceress doesn’t take any lip from bratty kids, I guess.
-The iconic ballroom dance scene marks one of Disney’s earliest collaborations with a small computer-imaging company called Pixar.
Now, as at the end of the Wizard of Oz review, here’s a hodgepodge of related videos. First, one of the best “YouTube Poop Music Videos” I’ve seen to date. Here’s Intensive Gaston Unit.
Next, a more “traditional” YouTube Poop…Gaston Seeks Satisfaction. And really, doesn’t he deserve donuts?
Finally, here’s Todrick Hall’s Beauty and the Beat, a parody of the film’s sweeping opening number featuring Belle as a resident of a stereotypical black neighborhood. I particularly like how Gaston’s minion LeFou becomes Lil’ Foo’.
Ok, I’m done.