Beauty and the Beast (1991)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #10

The most beautiful love story ever told.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 84 minutes | 92 minutes (special edition)
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 15th November 1991 (USA)
UK Release: 9th October 1992
First Seen: VHS, c.1993

Stars
Paige O’Hara (Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Enchanted)
Robby Benson (Ice Castles, Dragonheart: A New Beginning)
Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Directors
Gary Trousdale (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
Kirk Wise (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire)

Screenwriter
Linda Woolverton (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent)

Story by
Deep breath… Roger Allers, Brenda Chapman, Burny Mattinson, Brian Pimental, Joe Ranft, Kelly Asbury, Christopher Sanders, Kevin Harkey, Bruce Woodside & Robert Lence.

Based on
La Belle et la Bête, a French fairy tale originally by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, but in this case (and most others) adapted from the retelling by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

Music
Alan Menken (Aladdin, Hercules)

Lyrics
Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin)

The Story
An arrogant prince is transformed into a beast, with one hope of redemption: someone must fall in love with him before his 21st birthday; if not, the curse’s effects become permanent. When elderly inventor Maurice is imprisoned by this Beast, his bookworm daughter Belle offers to take his place. Spying a chance to alleviate the curse, the Beast agrees. With only a short time until his 21st birthday, could a girl ever learn to love a beast?

Our Hero
A girl who’s strange but special — a most peculiar mademoiselle. With a dreamy far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book, she really is a funny girl, a beauty but a funny girl, that Belle.

Our Villain?
The Beast’s got fangs, razor sharp ones; massive paws, killer claws, for the feast. He was mean and he was coarse and unrefined, but now he’s dear and so unsure. Perhaps there’s something there that wasn’t there before…

Our Villain!
No one’s slick as Gaston, no one’s quick as Gaston, no one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston. Uses antlers in all of his decorating, my what a guy, that Gaston.

Best Supporting Character
The comedy double act of French candlestick Lumiere and English clock Cogsworth, voiced (respectively) by Law & Order’s Jerry Orbach and M*A*S*H’s David Ogden Stiers. Funny old business, acting.

Memorable Quote
“Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious / Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes / They can sing, they can dance / After all, miss, this is France / And a dinner here is never second best.” — Be Our Guest

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas, and thinking…” — Gaston. (I didn’t say it should be used.)

Memorable Scene
The film’s prologue tells the story of how the Prince became the Beast through the medium of stained glass windows. It’s a beautifully realised fairy tale within a fairy tale.

Best Song
Titular Beauty and the Beast may’ve won the Oscar (“Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme” — that one), but the actual best song is clearly Be Our Guest. A toe-tapping tune married with fun lyrics, fantastic choreography and superb animation combine to make it, for me, one of the greatest numbers in any musical, animated or otherwise.

Making of
Be Our Guest was originally to be sung to Belle’s father, Maurice, when he’s trapped in the castle. It was writer Bruce Woodside who pointed out that it was in the wrong place because such a key song shouldn’t be performed to a secondary character, so it was moved later to be sung to Belle. This is why you should always listen to writers.

Previously on…
Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s 30th Animated Classic, their official canon of animated movies. It’s the third film in the “Disney Renaissance”, the decade-long period (starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan) when the studio enjoyed revived creative and financial success. In terms of this particular retelling of the tale, it owes a clear debt to Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.

Next time…
Two direct-to-video animated sequels and a spin-off educational live-action TV series. In 1994, it was the first Disney animated film to become a Broadway musical. In 2002, it was extended with a new song, and in 2012 was re-released in 3D. An all-star live-action remake is out next year.

Awards
2 Oscars (Original Song (Beauty and the Beast), Original Score)
4 Oscar nominations (Picture, Sound, Original Song (both Belle and Be Our Guest))
2 BAFTA nominations (Original Score, Special Effects)
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Music)
2 Annie Awards (Animated Feature, Individual Achievement in the Field of Animation)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“A lovely film that ranks with the best of Disney’s animated classics, Beauty and the Beast is a tale freshly retold. Darker-hued than the usual animated feature, with a predominant brownish-gray color scheme balanced by Belle’s blue dress and radiant features, Beauty engages the emotions with an unabashed sincerity.” — Variety

Score: 93%

What the Public Say
“The voice cast are perfectly suited to their roles and imbue them with dexterity and flair. Paige O’Hara splendidly combines strength and touching bravery as Belle. Her singing voice is a marvel as well, singing with clarity and loving kindness. Robby Benson’s deep but engaging voice is ideally suited to the Beast, and gives him depth and mournful sorrow that subsides into happiness as he develops feelings for Belle.” — vinnieh

Elsewhere on 100 Films
Back in 2010 I reviewed The Special Edition of Beauty and the Beast (to give its full on-screen title), describing it as “impossible to fault in any significant way. The design and animation are beautiful, the voice acting spot-on, the score exquisite, the story fast-paced and enthralling […] It’s hilariously funny, remarkably exciting, surprisingly scary, relentlessly romantic […] Every [song] bursts with memorable tunes, witty rhymes, genuine emotion — even the Soppy Girly Song is a good one!” Beat that, verdict section…

Verdict

Beauty and the Beast was, famously, the first (and, for a long time, only) animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and you could hardly think of a more deserving candidate. Every element of it displays artistry, from the the witty dialogue and lyrics, to the likeable and engaging characters, to the fluid and detailed animation, to the songs which help the film to run the gamut of emotions. In the field of Broadway-style Disney musicals, Beauty and the Beast is animation perfection.

#11 will be… a long nap.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

2014 #10
Robert Stevenson | 112 mins | streaming | 1.66:1 | USA & UK / English & German | U / G

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney attempted to replicate the success of Mary Poppins with this, another musical adaptation of a fantastical British novel set in Britain with British people in it — including some kids who, based on their accents, must be from the same part of London as Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. A childhood staple for others, it somehow passed me by ’til now.

Set during World War Two, it follows a gaggle of evacuated siblings who are placed with Angela Lansbury’s white witch. Or, rather, white-witch-in-training — via a correspondence course, which has stopped just before the end. So off they pop to find the course’s director, after which hijinks ensue, culminating in a stealth invasion of Britain that can only be thwarted with magic.

Tonally, it’s every inch Mary Poppins 2, helped no doubt by having the same director, screenwriters and songwriters. There’s the bemused-but-game kids, the quirky magic-performing woman, a male adult to round out the gender-coverage; the story is a series of loosely-connected vignettes, many of them featuring songs, Yellow submarine?and one that’s mostly animated with our live-action heroes integrated; plus a climax where the good guys defeat one of the world’s great evils, with Poppins’ bankers here switched for the almost-as-bad Nazis. The magical special effects in that final sequence won an Oscar — and well deserved it was too. They look great, definitely holding up today, and it’s actually hard to be sure how they were all achieved.

As a whole, it’s good fun, though lacks the je ne sais quoi that has made Mary Poppins so beloved across the generations. Not being quite as good as one of the all-time-great children’s movies is hardly something to be sniffed at, however, rendering Bedknobs and Broomsticks a perhaps-underrated success.

4 out of 5

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

2008 #5
Guy Hamilton | 105 mins | TV | PG

The Mirror Crack'dA star-studded cast and the director of Battle of Britain, Goldfinger and three other Bond films can’t raise this adaptation of an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery far above the level of an ’80s TV movie.

There are some good lines, and it’s a Christie so obviously the fundamental story is good, but the direction is flat and lacks suspense, half the cast phone in their performances, and Angela Lansbury, lumbered with a sprained ankle and premature aging, seems to be in a dry run for Murder, She Wrote. The lack of involvement by the main character is something I always find problematic with Marple stories, even when the actress involved has the necessary twinkle. Edward Fox is her match as the detective who actually does most of the detecting for once (but is still robbed of the final revelation, of course).

The best bit, which I’ll just take a moment to highlight, is the opening. It’s a black & white murder mystery, the scene of the final revelation… and the print burns up just before the killer is revealed. The film cuts to a village hall, where the film was being screened and the projector’s just died. Miss Marple proceeds to explain what will happen to everyone, based on what she’s deduced from the film so far. A man at the back who’s seen it confirms she’s right. Much better than my summary makes it sound, this is by far the film’s highlight, one of the few whole scenes that rises above the pervading flaws.

Despite a few commendable elements, this is a good tale that’s not told as well as it could be.

2 out of 5