Wednesday, 7 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 82 - Beauty and the Beast

#19 - Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time, true as it can be
Just a little change, small to say the least
Both a little scared, neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast
Well in the early 90s Disney were still rolling from the unexpected success of The Little Mermaid and they immediately followed it up with what is now considered to be one of the all time classics of the studio. In fact, I consider it to be the best Disney film there is which is fairly obvious considering this is the last Disney film on my list. You want some even more awesome trivia – it holds the distinction of being the first animated film to ever be nominated for the Best Film Oscar. It lost to Silence of the Lambs (up yours, Hannibal Lecter) but it bagged the Golden Globe for Best Film – Musical or Comedy. Now shall we go in deeper?

We open with a nice prologue artistically done on stained glass windows telling the story of a young prince who lived in a large castle and had everything he could have ever wanted. However he was a spoilt and selfish brat and, one night an old woman came to the castle and asked for shelter. He turned her away and she revealed herself to be an enchantress in disguise. As punishment she transformed him into a hideous beast and stated that he would remain that way until he fell in love with a woman and earned her love in return.
Fast forward several years and we are in a small village (in France actually) where we meet a young lady called Belle. Everyone in the town considers Belle to be odd, because even though she is quite pretty all she does is read and daydream. Belle longs to escape from the predictability and boredom of her everyday life and her chance comes when her father becomes lost in the woods. Tracking him down to an old castle, she finds him being held prisoner by the Beast. Belle offers herself in exchange for letting her father go and agrees to stay in the castle forever. At first she hates the castle but she soon bonds with the servants (people transformed into inanimate objects) and slowly but surely, something of an attraction develops between Belle and the Beast.

Let’s talk about the characterisation for a moment. True we have gone past Ariel, Esmerelda and Mulan as Disney feminists but Belle is a different type of feminist, considering she’s not an action girl or really a very active person. She offers an alternative to the view that you have to be an action girl to be feminist. She’s given interests of her own like her love of reading and she doesn’t simply marry Gaston, wanting to have adventures of her own and longing to see the world. She’s also quite brave, offering herself in her father’s place. The Beast is also quite interesting because we are initially pretty scared of him when we first see him but then once Belle is in the castle, we see how he behaves more like a spoiled child. For those who claim this is a bad metaphor for abusive relationships and that Belle falling for the Beast is “Stockholm Syndrome” take a closer look at what happens; Beast is verbally abusive to her for the whole West Wing thing and she leaves. She doesn’t put up with that and she only goes back because he saves her from the wolves. She doesn’t give him a chance until he starts acting halfway decent to her. It’s quite a good lesson to teach to kids if you think about it.

If I’m being honest the animation isn’t as stunning as it is for The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty or Mulan but I do especially like the design of the Beast’s castle. It has a pretty cool gothic feel to it and all the different sculptures are nice to look at. Apparently most of them are early designs for the Beast. The West Wing is a particularly stand-out set piece with all the destroyed furniture and the ripped painting. I especially love that shot of Belle holding up the ripped canvas to see the Prince’s eyes. And the balcony that is the setting for the final scene is especially well designed. Disney are shown experimenting with CGI for the first time in film and you can see it in the ballroom scene where they dance. The entire ballroom is CGI animated and I think it looks really sleek and polished, much better than the CGI used in the crowd scenes in Hunchback of Notre Dame or during the cave escape scene in Aladdin. As I said earlier, the prologue done with the stained glass windows is pretty and quite visually stunning. I also really love that opening shot going through the woods with the castle in the distance.

Aw, I’m getting a little choked up because this will be the last time I talk about songs in a Disney film. The “Beauty and the Beast” song is truly beautiful to listen to, sung perfectly by Angela Lansbury and accompanies the well-animated CGI dance in the ballroom. Even listening back to it now gives me chills. I also like the song “Something There” where we have the start of the Beast and Belle falling in love. It’s nicely sung by both of them and the scene it goes along with is quite cute. The film’s big show stopping signature song is “Be Our Guest” where the servants give Belle a little show during dinner (she says she’s hungry but we never actually see her eat anything). I’ll admit it’s a pretty striking performance but the song doesn’t do it for me. I don’t enjoy listening to it and I honestly don’t get why that was nominated for Best Song. The opening song “Belle” is equally uninspiring and just not memorable for me. To me it just slows the film down and gets kind of overlong. I absolutely despise the song “Gaston” and I always fast forward through that part whenever I watch the film over again. But for some it might be worth it for Gaston’s line “every last inch of me is covered with hair”

I mentioned the dance in the ballroom but I will mention it again as one of the film’s best scenes. The entire montage of the two of them descending the staircase all dressed up and then going onto the dance floor is beautifully done. Going back to “Something There” there’s a nice scene just as that song starts where Belle and the Beast are eating breakfast. Belle, being the perfect lady is using a spoon while the Beast is slobbering his porridge down. After the servants try to get him to use a spoon we see Belle lift up her bowl and start drinking from it too, showing the first sign of them both making the effort for each other. The ending transformation scene is one of the most epically done Disney scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s just stunning to watch as we see the Beast rise up from the balcony and start transforming. The music that goes along with it is just made of awesome, especially that note as he transforms back into the prince. I remember me and my brother watching this as kids and preferring him as the Beast. It seems like the filmmakers went that route as well by having Belle seem a little wary of him but only warming up when she sees the eyes. The kiss that literally sets off fireworks might be a bit too sweet for some but for me it’s perfect.

So there you have it, my pick for the best of all the Disney films. It came out the year I was born too, though I probably wasn’t alive to see it and I think I only ever saw it on VHS in the living room. I think The Lion King was probably my first Disney film in the actual cinema. I personally believe the Oscar nomination was well deserved though I would have been shocked to find out it actually won because...well come on. Anyway there’s not much else to say about this film except it’s awesome and of course that’s why it got into my top twenty. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter guys.

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