Tale as old as time, true as it can be. Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly…
This is my review of Beauty and the Beast (1991)!
Long ago, a selfish prince refused to give shelter to an ugly old woman. This REALLY backfires on him when the woman transforms into a beautiful enchantress who curses him by turning him into a beast. She leaves him with a magic rose that blooms and blooms, but once he turns 21, the Beast must learn to love and be loved before the last petal falls or he is doomed to remained a hot-tempered, gigantic beast-dude forever.
Enter Belle, a beauty but a funny girl who, as she puts it, “wants adventure in the great, wide somewhere” and wants it more than she can tell. She is frequently pursued by the boorish, brainless Gaston–and no one pursues a girl like Gaston–but is way more interested in diving into the world of books. After her father Maurice goes missing on his way to some inventor’s fair or whatever, Belle sets off to find him only to come across the Beast’s darkened castle. Finding her father imprisoned in the Beast’s dungeon, Belle pulls a Maximilian-Kolbe-style tradeoff by offering her freedom in exchange for her father’s. With the help of the delightful and colorful home appliances, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, her little boy…teacup…son kid Chip and others, Belle could just be the one who lifts the curse from the tormented Beast in this gorgeously animated Disney classic.
The opening prologue is just wonderful! I’ve always loved stained glass, so seeing the Beast’s backstory presented via stained glass illustrations is an absolute treasure. I love the use of watercolor in the animation. The animation overall is smooth and gorgeous to look at. I particularly admire the use of the colors red and blue to illustrate good and evil. The first time we see blue is when we meet Belle in her iconic blue dress. By the way, I’m adding extra brownie points for her blue dress and white apron reminding me of Mother Teresa and her blue & white sari. 🙂 ^_^ Anyway, notice how when we first meet the Beast, he is cloaked in all red while his blue eyes almost glow. As he grows and comes to the light, his final outfit is the blue suit which he is wearing when he dances with Belle. Meanwhile, Gaston is seen throughout the film in a harsh, threatening shade of bright red, and he soon becomes a beast in his own right. The film ingeniously incorporates subtlety and never resorts to insultingly spelling out symbols and motifs. The messages of redemption and beauty being on the inside speak for themselves via imagery, colors and the story itself.
Speaking of this most peculiar mademoiselle, I have always loved Belle! When I was a little girl, I would tell people, “I like Belle because she’s a girl with brown hair who reads books.” Now as a brunette young woman who still loves to read books, I love Belle even more. Kind, gentle, adventurous, Belle is a character who I would argue embodies the feminine genius. She never lets anyone step on her nor does she trample on others to get ahead. She stands up for herself when she has to all while holding a compassionate outlook on people. What I love the most about her is that she is not a character of extremes, but rather maintains the balance of strength and tenderness. I have always believed that kids need to be shown that you can be a warm-hearted person without being a doormat, and that you can be independent without alienating others. Belle is that role model that both girls and boys could learn from.
Now while Belle is the best character, the Beast is the most complex character of the bunch. This is by no means a knock on Belle, but rather an acknowledgement of the Beast’s more three-dimensional (internal) transformation. Granted, his arch, the “angry-hermit-learning-to-love” is cliché, but the script brings depth to it. I love how he is taken aback by Belle’s self-sacrificial act for her father. This is not only believable, but also breaks any notion of the Beast being an unrealistically cold-hearted dude. As the film goes on, we see small hints of reluctant mercy from him towards Belle (you know, minus that one rage fit he has in the West Wing) that slowly but surely turn into genuine concern and care for her personally. The Beast’s redemption arch is exceptionally well done with his moments of goodness and the eventual breaking down of the inner walls he has surrounded his own broken heart with.
Yes, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip and the rest of the gang are wonderful supporting characters. I like how Lumiere is the one who leads the “she-is-the-one-who-will-break-the-spell” mission, but he never comes off as objectifying Belle, i.e. treating her as a means to an end. Though they all seek to reclaim their humanity, the supporting characters never fail to treat Belle with respect and dignity spell or no spell, all while they await the lifting of the curse.
I know, I know, if you do the math the enchantress essentially cursed an eleven-year old. I would get into a question of culpability, i.e. did the eleven-year old have a mature understanding of the selfishness of his act? Again, I would do so, but that’s another argument for another day.
I know I went on and on about how great Belle is, but even I have to admit that she doesn’t have a whole lot of development. I hate to break it to ya, but her trading her own freedom for her father’s is not character development. Let me explain: It is a noble act and I love her even more for it, but it’s not character development because she has been established to be the kind of person who would do that without prompting. Had she been, say, a sweet but superficial character who barely helps her father on a day-to-day basis, then it would be a dramatic development in her character arch. This particular point isn’t so much a criticism, but a response to the consequence of creating a character to be an idealized version of humanity. Keep in mind that Belle was actually created as a response to Ariel, who was seen by feminists at the time to be only boy-crazy and having no goals of her own. As a result, Belle is someone we all want to be, but in being so, lacks necessary flaws of her own.
Okay, so as Cinema Sins rightfully pointed out, the Beast’s castle is a little too lax. Basically anyone can just walk through the unguarded gates willy-nilly, which would be fine except that it makes no sense given that the Beast is clearly someone who just wants to be left alone, so why wouldn’t he keep the place heavily guarded or at the very least make the guards next to impossible to open?
Cue the music! (Plays Beauty and the Beast theme score) This is a tale as old as time, true as it can be. Ever a classic, Beauty and the Beast stands the test of time with its charming characters, excellent camerawork (have you watched the dancing sequence recently? It’s fantastically shot!), and well-handled script. A heroine deserving of admiration, a troubled character who finds redemption, no wonder it was nominated for Best Picture in its day and no wonder many people say that this is a Disney treasure. And I must admit this film’s fans are most certainly right. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Best is a beautifully-animated, brilliantly-told gem that should watched again and again.
Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us.