Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Beauty and the Beast

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Beauty and the Beast

Year: 1991

Source materials : Based on Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Budget: $25 million

Box office: $425 million

Plot: One winter’s night, an enchantress disguised as a beggar offers a cold-hearted prince a rose in exchange for shelter. When he refuses, she transforms him into a beast and his servants into household objects. She bestows the Beast with a magic mirror before hexing the rose and warning him that, unless he learns to love another and earns their love in return by the time the last petal falls, he and his servants will lose their humanity forever.

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Ten years later, a beautiful girl named Belle dreams of adventure and brushes off advances from Gaston, an arrogant hunter.

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Lost in the forest while traveling to a fair to present his latest invention, Belle’s father Maurice seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle. After Maurice befriends the castle’s servants, however, the Beast discovers and imprisons him. Belle ventures out in search for him and finds him locked in the castle’s dungeon. The Beast agrees to let her take Maurice’s place.

728full-beauty-and-the-beast-(three--disc-diamond-edition-blu--ray-slash-dvd-combo-in-blu--ray-packaging)-screenshotBefriending the castle’s servants, Belle is treated to a spectacular dinner.

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When she wanders into the forbidden West Wing (where the rose is kept), the Beast flies into a rage, causing Belle to flee the castle and into the woods.

belle-beauty-and-the-beast-disneyShe is attacked by wolves, but the Beast rescues Belle and gets injured in the process. He begins to develop feelings for her while she nurses his wounds and he delights her by showing his extensive library.

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Returning to the village, Maurice tells the townsfolk of Belle’s predicament, but Gaston convinces the townsfolk to send Maurice to an insane asylum if Belle refuses to marry Gaston.

1*6DTL71Bgx8x6HUpFrDEa1QAfter sharing a romantic dance with the Beast, Belle discovers her father’s predicament using the magic mirror. The Beast releases her to save Maurice, giving her the mirror to remember him with.

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Back at the village, Belle proves Maurice’s sanity by revealing the Beast in the mirror to the townsfolk. Realizing that Belle loves the Beast, Gaston has her thrown into the basement with her father and rallies the villagers to follow him to the castle to kill the Beast. With Chip’s aid, Maurice and Belle escape and rush back to the castle.

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During the battle, the servants fend off the villagers, including Gaston’s companion Lefou. Gaston attacks the Beast in his tower, who is too depressed to fight back, but regains his will upon seeing Belle return. He spares Gaston’s life before reuniting with Belle. Gaston stabs the Beast, but he loses his footing and falls to his death.

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The Beast dies from Gaston’s stab before the last petal falls. When Belle tearfully professes her love to him, the curse is broken, repairing the castle and restoring the Beast’s and servants’ human forms. The Prince and Belle host a ball for the kingdom, where they dance happily.

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Background: After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt sought out other stories to adapt into feature films. Attempts to develop the story into a film were made in the 1930s and 1950s, but were ultimately given up because it “proved to be a challenge” for the story team. 1

Decades later, during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1987, the Disney studio resurrected Beauty and the Beast as a project for the satellite animation studio it had set up in London, England to work on Roger Rabbit. Richard Williams was approached to direct but declined in favor of continuing work on his long-gestating project The Thief and the Cobbler. In his place, Williams recommended his colleague, English animation director Richard Purdum, and work began under producer Don Hahn on a non-musical version of Beauty and the Beast set in 19th-century France. At the behest of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Beauty and the Beast became the first Disney animated film to use a screenwriter. Linda Woolverton wrote the original draft of the story before storyboarding began, and worked with the story team to retool and develop the film.

Upon seeing the initial storyboard reels in 1989, Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered that the film be scrapped and started over from scratch. A few months after starting anew, Purdum resigned as director. 2 Disney then hired first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. 3

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In addition, Katzenberg asked songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who had written the song score for The Little Mermaid, to turn Beauty and the Beast into a Broadway-style musical film in the same vein as Mermaid. 4

To accommodate Ashman’s failing health, pre-production of Beauty and the Beast was moved from London to the Residence Inn in Fishkill, New York, close to Ashman’s New York City home. The production flew story artists back and forth between California and New York for storyboard approvals from Ashman, though the team was not told the reason why. 5

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Changes from the Source Material: Since the original story had only two major characters, the filmmakers added new characters in the form of enchanted household items who “add warmth and comedy to a gloomy story” and guide the audience through the film, and added a “real villain” in the form of Gaston. These ideas were somewhat similar to elements of the 1946 French film version of Beauty and the Beast, which introduced the character of Avenant, an oafish suitor somewhat similar to Gaston, as well as inanimate objects coming to life in the Beast’s castle.

Animation: Beauty and the Beast was completed on a shorter timeline of two years rather than the traditional four-year schedule, due to the loss of production time spent developing the earlier version of the film. Most of the production was done at the main Feature Animation studio, housed in the Air Way facility in Glendale, California. A smaller team at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Disney World Florida assisted the California team on several scenes.

Beauty and the Beast was the second film, after The Rescuers Down Under, produced using CAPS. It was used during the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz sequence, in which Belle and Beast dance through a computer-generated ballroom as the camera moves around them in simulated 3D space.

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James Baxter and Mark Henn were the supervising animators for Belle, and based her look on Vivian Lee and Audrey Hepburn.

Glen Keane, supervising animator for the Beast, refined his design by going to the zoo and studying the animals on which the Beast was based.

Gaston’s supervising animator, Andreas Deja, was pressed by Jeffrey Katzenberg to make Gaston handsome in contrast to the traditional appearance of a Disney villain, an assignment he found difficult at first.

Will Finn was the supervising animator for Cogsworth. The filmmakers went through several names for Mrs. Potts, such as “Mrs. Chamomile”, before Ashman suggested the use of simple and concise names for the household objects. David Pruiksma served as the supervising animator for Mrs. Potts. Tony Anselmo served as the supervising animator for the Wardrobe.

Music and songs: The songs were mostly recorded live with the orchestra and the voice cast performing simultaneously rather than overdubbed separately, in order to give the songs a cast album-like “energy” the filmmakers and songwriters desired. The pop version of the song “Beauty and the Beast” was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys, and it won the Grammy for Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson for Best Pop Duo/Group Vocal Performance.

  • “Belle” *
  • “Gaston”*
  • “Be Our Guest” 6
  • “Something There” 7
  • “The Mob Song”
  • “Beauty and the Beast”* 8

*reprised later in the film

Voice Cast:

Paige O’Hara as Belle. She made her first appearance on the Broadway stage as Ellie May Chipley in the revival of Showboat in 1983 starring Donald O’Connor. She repeated the role for the Houston Grand Opera’s 1989 production and continued with them when the show was moved to the Cairo Opera House in Egypt. Robby Benson as Beast. He made his film debut with an uncredited role in Wait Until Dark and his Broadway debut in The Rothschilds. He’s probably best known for Ice Castles where helearned to skate in order to film the movie, which had numerous skating scenes, including ice hockey.

Richard White as Gaston. He played the character of Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat at Paper Mill Playhouse and Robert Mission in The New Moon, at the New York City Opera. White also created the title role of Erik in the world premiere of Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston’s musical, Phantom. White has performed on Broadway as Joey in The Most Happy Fella and has had roles in New York revivals of Brigadoon, South Pacific, and Auntie Mame. Jerry Orbach as Lumière. On the New York stage, he created roles such as El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks, Billy Flynn in Chicago, and Julian Marsh in 42nd Street. He won the Tony for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises. He appeared in Prince of the City, Dirty Dancing, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. He had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote as private detective Harry McGraw. However, he is best known for his starring role as NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe on the long-running crime drama Law & Order.

David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth. 9He first appeared in the Broadway production The Magic Show. His early credits include The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kojak, and Rhoda. He joined the cast of M*A*S*H. as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III. He also lent his voice to Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire , and Lilo & Stitch. Jo Anne Worley as the Wardrobe. She was discovered by Merv Griffin in 1966. Worley’s stint on Griffin’s show led to her discovery by George Schlatter, who soon cast her in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. She made appearances on Love, American Style, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Andy Williams Show, Adam-12, Emergency!, Murder, She Wrote, The Middle, and different game shows such as Super Password, Hollywood Squares, and the many versions of Pyramid. She remains involved with Disney, making cameos in several Disney Channel sitcoms such as Kim Possible, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Jessie.

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts. Her first film roles, Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray earned her two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe Award. Her appearance in the film The Manchurian Candidate received widespread acclaim and is cited as being one of her finest performances. She played the title role in the Broadway musical Mame and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and appeared in the hit Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. She achieved worldwide fame as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, which ran for twelve seasons from 1984 until 1996.

The rest of the cast includes Bradley Pierce as Chip, Rex Everhart as Maurice, Jesse Corti as Lefou, Hal Smith as Philippe, Mary Kay Bergman and Kath Soucie as the Bimbettes, 10Brian Cummings as the Stove, 11Alvin Epstein as the Bookseller, Tony Jay as Monsieur D’Arque, Alec Murphy as the Baker, Kimmy Robertson as the Featherduster,12 and Frank Welker as Sultan.

Critical Reception: Beauty and the Beast won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and became the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. 13 It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its title song. 14 15

Awarding the film a perfect score of four stars, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times compared Beauty and the Beast positively to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, writing, “Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.”

Hal Hinson of The Washington Post gave the film a positive review, calling the film “A delightfully satisfying modern fable, a near-masterpiece that draws on the sublime traditions of the past while remaining completely in sync with the sensibility of its time.” Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, saying “It is a surprise, in a time of sequels and retreads, that the new film is so fresh and altogether triumphant in its own right.” Dave Kehr of The Chicago Tribune gave the film three out of four stars, saying “Beauty and the Beast is certainly adequate holiday entertainment for children and their more indulgent parents … But the film has little of the technical facility, vivid characterization and emotional impact of Disney past.”

Animation legend Chuck Jones praised the film, in a 1992 guest appearance on Later with Bob Costas he claimed he “Loved it. I think it should have won [Best Picture] … I think the animation on the beast is one of the greatest pieces of animation I’ve seen”.

Legacy: In addition to appearing in the parades, Belle has her own meet and greet in The Magic Kingdom called Enchanted Tales with Belle. Guests interact with Belle as she tells the story of Beauty and the Beast. The attraction features animatronic versions of Wardrobe and Lumière.

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A restaurant at The Magic Kingdom called Be Our Guest is modeled after the Beast’s castle. Guests can dine in the ballroom and the west wing. Try the gray stuff, it’s delicious. 16

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There is also a quick service restaurant called Gaston’s Tavern designed like tavern from the film complete with a statue out front.  Gaston frequently meets out front.

On Monday, April 18, 1994, the stage version of Beauty and the Beast premiered on Broadway at the Palace Theatre. It ran for over a decade, received a Tony Award, and became the first of a whole line of Disney stage productions. The original Broadway cast included Terrence Mann as the Beast, Susan Egan 17 as Belle, Burke Moses as Gaston, Gary Beach as Lumière, Heath Lamberts as Cogsworth, Tom Bosley as Maurice, Beth Fowler as Mrs. Potts, and Stacey Logan as Babette the feather duster. As of 2017, it is Broadway’s tenth-longest-running show in history.

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In June 2014, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a live-action film adaptation of the original film was in the works, with Bill Condon directing and Evan Spiliotopoulos writing the script. Emma Watson starred as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, and Luke Evans as Gaston. The rest of the cast included Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Composer Alan Menken returned to score the film’s music, with new material written by Menken and Tim Rice. The film was released on March 17, 2017.

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There are several video games that are loosely based on the film: Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Quest, Beauty & The Beast: Roar of the Beast, Beauty and the Beast for the NES and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for the SNES. There is also the game Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: A Boardgame Adventure for the Game Boy Color. The video game series Kingdom Hearts features a world based on the film, named “Beast’s Castle”, along with several of the film’s characters.

My take: I noticed a few things this time that I hadn’t caught before. I noticed that during the opening number, Belle is the only character wearing blue, so it’s easy to spot her in a crowd. Your eye goes right to her. The only other character who wears blue is the Beast, but only during the ballroom scene. Also, the background of the village is very soft, almost as if done in chalk. I can’t imagine that technique could have been done without CAPS.

I also noticed that the first time you see the Beast, he is crawling around on all fours, the most animal-like he appears in the entire story. That’s where his journey begins and as the story progresses he becomes more and more human, as well as gentle and goofy.

Out of all the Disney princesses, Belle is my favorite. She values knowledge and wisdom.

Next Week: Robin Williams and Aladdin